Premium Hatchbacks; Is India Ready ?
Modified On Oct 20, 2015 01:54 PM By Arun
For the regular Indian Joe, a hatchback is usually the stepping stone into the four-wheeled world. More often than not, the first car one usually buys - is a hatchback and it does have it’s advantages. It is relatively easy to maneuver, is sufficiently peppy for the quick dash to the grocery store and is adequate for a humble family of four.
Decades upon decades have passed of the Maruti 800 or the Hyundai Santro or something similar being the first car for many aspiring owners. Although the cars themselves were justifiably good at the price point, they managed to imprint a ‘hatchback = cheap’ mindset into the minds of the consumer. This, I believe, is precisely why the first iteration of the Honda Jazz failed to register good sales figures in India. The market never really warmed up to the concept of a premium hatchback. The Jazz, when launched, was leagues ahead of the competition. Be it the space, the refinement or the equipment on offer. Thanks to its relatively small size, it was labelled as just another hatchback and was forced to go head-to-head against the then newly launched Maruti Suzuki Swift. What happened then on, is history.
The overlapping of prices between B2 Hatchbacks and the Compact Sedans, not to mention the low-starting prices for the hatchback derived MPVs (read: the Ertiga / Mobilio) have managed to confuse the buyer for good. For example, for around 8 lakh rupees - one can choose between a Maruti Ertiga, a Volkswagen Polo and a Honda Amaze. Three different categories of cars, catering to the same price bracket. When comparisons get skewed in such a manner, it is the hatchback that is the first car to be struck off the checklist. Prime reasons cited? “Lack of Space”. The compact sedan is a sedan nonetheless and offers the ‘big car’ feeling for cheap. And the MPV is a properly big vehicle. That said, the B2 Segment is slowly pushing the envelope in terms of features and build quality. Features such as climate control, bluetooth telephony, keyless entry, electronically folding mirrors etc. which would be the USPs of cars a couple of segments higher are now standard on many B2 segment offerings. With the feature list climbing steadily, it is obvious there is going to be significant rise in the sticker price as well. With top-spec versions of cars like the Elite i20 and the Polo costing well beyond 9 lacs, one does wonder if shelling out that kind of money for what essentially is a hatchback is justified. You do get the features, but you sacrifice on rear legroom and boot space.
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The barrier has more or less been set at a very rigid 10 lakh rupees. The majority of the Indian car buying folk is simply not willing to pay more than a million rupees for a hatch. One of the key reasons, I believe, that the Polo does not get an automatic diesel variant. The GT TDi already dangles very close to the 10L mark and adding the DSG to the equipment list is only going to push it well beyond that. The cause is we tend to equate money spent with the size of the vehicle. Small cars equal small money and vice versa. The Small Car Big Money concept hasn’t really taken off, although we are getting there. Questions like ‘You could’ve bought a sedan’, ‘You should’ve got the MPV’, ‘You could’ve laid your hands on an SUV for that price’ are common for anyone who owns a high-end hatchback. So much so, the owner has to justify why he has paid his hard-earned money for something he likes.
The case is completely different when you compare hatches in the European markets. Yes, they do have base hatches which are as cheap as they are in India, but what they also have are proper premium hatchbacks. Hatchbacks which cost as much as a D1 segment sedan in India. Hatchbacks, which I believe shall not see the light of the day in India, at least in the near future. And they aren’t expensive for no apparent reason. For example, in UK - a Polo GTi gets a 1.8 litre TSi engine putting out a massive 192PS of power and 320Nm of twist. To put that into perspective, the Skoda Octavia is pushed around by the same unit. Factor in the fact that the Polo weighs considerably lesser than the Octavia, and what you have is a go-kart for the road. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? But the fun quickly subsides when you look at the ~ £ 19,000 sticker price. Loosely converted, that is 19 Lac rupees. Try explaining that sticker price to your relatives! Something like a 3 door Suzuki Swift Sport as seen in the UK market with a 1.6 litre engine making 134bhp, if priced correctly, can be an ideal launch for our market.
India is one of the largest economies in the world and has the world’s largest youth population amounting to nearly 356 million. So the concept of premium hatchbacks makes sense for India now. All said and done, India still has a long way to go before manufacturers introduce such cars in the country. They can act as halo cars and build the brand value right now, but that is pretty much it. Slowly but surely, we are witnessing a shift of loyalties from an entry level sedan to a premium hatchback. With automotive awareness increasing due to various car shows on television, trending automobile topics on social media, it might just be the right time that we got over our ‘space for price’ mindset. For example, the sales of the Polo GT TSi have far surpassed the expectations of Volkswagen themselves. This willingness to pay the right price for the right product by the Indian consumer is certainly a step in the right direction. Consumers would rather have a well-equipped hatchback rather than a skimpily equipped sedan for the same money. I know I do! I’d reiterate, the only reason premium hatches haven’t taken off in India is because the car simply isn’t big enough for the money it commands.The consumer still equates the price tag of the car with the space it offers. Only when this mindset changes, can we expect proper premium hot hatches in the country. All that the Indian consumer needs right now is a comfortable hatchback with performance to match!
Watch the First Drive Video of Honda Jazz