Will The New Grand Vitara Open The Door For More Premium Models From Maruti?
The Indian market seems ready for pricey but feature-loaded models from its most popular homegrown brand
Maruti Suzuki is getting ready to launch its biggest product in India, quite literally, in over a decade. It is reviving the Grand Vitara moniker for its new compact SUV that is positioned as a premium offering to rival the Hyundai Creta and the Kia Seltos.
For the longest time, Maruti has avoided offering premium products, opting to stick with its value-for-money positioning. It’s not like Maruti has not tried competing in premium segments in India, it just never enjoyed success with those models.
Maruti’s attempt at the mid-size premium segment
The most premium examples would be the original Grand Vitara SUV and the Kizashi mid-size sedan, both as CBU imports. These mid-size offerings were appealing products in terms of features and design but failed to attract buyers away from brands that had established themselves as makers of premium products.
The Kizashi was a CBU import with prices starting just over Rs 16 lakh (ex-showroom). It was a rival to the likes of the Honda Accord, Volkswagen Jetta and Skoda Superb. It did not offer similar levels of premium as the others but packed a fairly competitive powertrain – a 2.4-litre petrol engine producing 178PS. Suzuki globally pulled the plug on the Kizashi in 2013.
Meanwhile, Maruti made multiple attempts with the original Grand Vitara SUV. The first one arrived in 2003, followed by the next-gen model in 2007, and an updated model was introduced in 2009, also with a starting price just north of Rs 16 lakh, ex-showroom. It had the same 2.4-litre petrol engine as the Kizashi but with 4WD. This version even earned accolades in motorsports with its off-road prowess. However, this was before the SUV craze had truly caught on and the Maruti’s interior was too simplistic in comparison to premium models like the Honda CR-V.
Then came the S-Cross
Following the commercial disappointment of the Grand Vitara in India, Maruti had lined up its next premium offering for the country. It was smaller, more affordable and would be made locally. In 2015, Maruti introduced the S-Cross, which was openly positioned as a crossover and not an SUV unlike the already successful Renault Duster. While the crossover craze was quickly taking over in various global markets like Europe, it never caught on among Indian buyers who preferred more distinction between hatchback and SUV, even if it was semantics.
Maruti even set up a new division called Nexa with the sole aim of distinguishing its premium products from its more renowned affordable cars. The S-Cross was Nexa’s debut offering. Once again, a well-built product failed to catch the eye of new buyers who were more interested in something more rugged like the Duster, or something more premium like the Hyundai Creta.
The diesel-only S-Cross was priced to undercut diesel variants of its rivals, starting from around Rs 8.3 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi). However, it lacked more than just a petrol engine option compared to its rivals such as an automatic transmission option. While the S-Cross did not lack any of the essential features as a premium model, it had very little to excite buyers who were used to more technology on offer from Hyundai.
The Maruti S-Cross has since survived the discontinuation of the 1.6-litre diesel engine, the introduction of the Vitara Brezza sub-4m SUV, and the replacement of the 1.3-litre diesel unit with a 1.5-litre petrol engine. Its affordability in comparison to the prices of newer models saw a steady demand for the S-Cross at around 2,000 units a month. However, it never really caught up with the Hyundai Creta, Kia Seltos and the now discontinued Mahindra Scorpio as a top seller.
High expectations from the new Grand Vitara
Despite the disappointments from previous Maruti models positioned as premium offerings, the all-new Grand Vitara is expected to have a much brighter future, and for good reasons. In the nine years since the discontinuation of the original Grand Vitara, the Indian car market has matured immensely and every model that offers modern tech has become a lot pricier than before. Even models priced around Rs 20 lakh (ex-showroom) are witnessing more volume sales than the S-Cross, while top-spec premium hatchbacks have crossed the Rs 12 lakh mark. The segment-leading Hyundai Creta still enjoys average monthly sales of more than 10,000 units with prices ranging from Rs 10.44 lakh to Rs 18.18 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi).
Maruti has learned that it cannot be the cheap option to compete with the premium rivals. Its latest models now pack features that are on-par or ahead of many of its competitors. In terms of styling as well, the latest design language from Maruti has a lot more road presence. The Grand Vitara’s front fascia is easily distinguishable from the crowd and looks premium too.
Like its rivals, the new Maruti compact SUV offers a host of upmarket features in the top variant like a panoramic sunroof, 360-degree view camera, 9-inch central display and ventilated front seats. It’ll also offer the choice of AWD, a rarity in this segment.
On top of the premium design and features, Maruti is introducing Indian buyers to an affordable hybrid powertrain. It offers the benefit of both increased fuel economy as well as more performance. The 1.5-litre petrol engine with the electric motor has a combined output of 116PS and 141Nm and a claimed fuel efficiency of 27.97kmpl. The hybrid option will fill the gap left by the discontinuation of diesel models in the BS6 era.
Like its competitors, we expect the 2022 Grand Vitara to have introductory prices ranging between Rs 9.5 lakh and Rs 19 lakh (ex-showroom). Those are steep prices for a Maruti for sure, but today even a top-spec Brezza sub-4m SUV is nearly sold at Rs 14 lakh (ex-showroom).
The Grand Vitara will also have a twin as the Toyota Urban Cruiser Hyryder. They have the same powertrains and features but distinguishable exterior designs. While Toyota has long been known as a premium brand with premium offerings, Maruti is yet to make that impression among the same category of car buyers, and this association is bound to help the country’s largest brand in that regard.
All these factors combined put the new Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara in a position to finally make a mark in India’s compact SUV segment. It may not be a runaway success like the Vitara Brezza subcompact SUV, but it will surely be a serious contender for market share.
Will Maruti consider a Tata Harrier, Mahindra XUV700-rivaling SUV?
The new Grand Vitara is likely to be the biggest model Maruti plans to offer in India; at least the biggest one with a combustion engine. The possibilities with locally made EVs are still some years away and the first one is expected to be a typically affordable Maruti compact. The brand is unlikely to risk bringing another large SUV to India, even with local assembly, as the price jump would be too steep. For now, the mid-size SUV segment is not one for Maruti.
What other premium Maruti models are expected?
The Nexa lineup already offers the likes of the Baleno, Ciaz and XL6 as relatively premium cars. But there is room for other premium offerings from Maruti following the new compact SUV. For starters, we’re expecting the arrival of the five-door Jimny, which is a lifestyle offering and a relatively premium model for Maruti.
Additionally, we expect to see the return of a turbocharged petrol engine option to offer more performance than its naturally aspirated 1.2-litre and 1.5-litre engines. A turbo-petrol engine could allow for sportier RS variants of the Swift, Baleno, and even the Brezza. All such models would easily slot below the Grand Vitara and be priced below Rs 15 lakh.
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