Indian car industry segments and comparison vis-a-vis Europe: Analysis

How often have you heard someone ask if the next car you’re buying is an SUV or better still an Alto? Chances are that if you are in Europe, the answer will be neither. In India though, we know our cars by their body shape or perhaps by the make and model. So, it is not uncommon here to hear things like, “I am buying a Tucson.” or “I am looking in the Creta segment.”. The word segment is very important here. Because while both the aforementioned Hyundais are SUVs, they aren’t from the same segment. The Creta is smaller while the Tucson sits a notch above.

Confused? Let’s clear that up for you. The Indian automotive industry is governed by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers or simply known as SIAM. The list of SIAM members include bigwigs like Tata, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz and more. It is a mix of both 2- as well as 4-wheeler makers. SIAM has stipulated few rules and regulations and maintains a record too. According to SIAM, the classification of cars is done on the basis of their length. The A1 segment is made up of the entry-level cars like the Maruti Alto 800 and Tata Nano. These cars measure up to 3,400mm and are hatchbacks with respect to the body style. This means they are two-box vehicles with a separate body for passengers as well as their luggage and a engine bay section.

Next-up will be the A2 segment. Vehicles which fall in this category measure up to 4,000mm. These cars are the biggest number grossers in our industry and hence are widely regarded as the bread and butter models of many a company. These cars could be hatchbacks like the Hyundai Santro, Grand i10, SUVs like the Mahindra KUV100 or Tata Nexon and sedans like the Honda Amaze and Tata Tigor. In fact, in 2008, the government started giving out tax waivers to vehicles which are made in India, measure less than four metre in length and have petrol engines of up to 1.2-litre and diesel engines of up to 1.5-litre cubic capacity. This ensured that there were a throng of manufacturers rushing to meet this new guideline and make a profit at the same time. The logic behind the government’s decision was simple. Parking space was at a premium and these sub-4m vehicles occupy less real estate compared to a full-blown sedan like the Ciaz or Yaris.

Beyond this, you get the A3 or C-segment wherein cars like the Honda City and Hyundai Verna fall. Above 4,501mm, you’ve the A4 segment that is also referred to as the D-segment that is populated by the Toyota Corolla Altis and the Honda Civic. The A5 has the likes of Superb as well as C-Class. A6 segment contains stalwarts like the Audi A6 as well as the Volvo S90. Your vans and MPVs like the Eeco and Omni fall in the B1 class while the bigger ones like the Marazzo and Ertiga fall in the B2 class.

Compare this to the one in the European market. They clearly classify cars as mini (uP!), small (i20), medium (Fiesta), large (Mondeo), executive (Impala), luxury (S-Class) and SUVs (Cherokee). There is also the sportscars (F-type) as well as multipurpose vehicles (V-Class). While the sub-4m concept doesn’t apply there, you can call your Vitara Brezza as a proper SUV there while in India, the purists will laugh at you.

However, the difference between the European classification as well as the Indian one is not purely on the basis of the mindset. It also envelops platform sharing. Platform is the basis of several modules as well as components that are shared between vehicles. Did you know that the Innova, Prius and Fortuner are related not just with the ‘T’ badge but also because of their underpinnings? All of them use the TNGA format. The funny part is that all of them are at quite some distance away from each other in terms of the pricing.

In India, engineers build platforms that encompass many segments yet stay close in terms of pricing. For example, the Ford Freestyle, Aspire and Figo are based on the same platform and all of them fall under the Rs 10 lakh mark. If one of these models is a success, it is a sure shot formula that the rest too will be.

People associate the success of a model with its reliability as well as availability of spare parts. There is no reason for a Figo customer to be turned away from the service centre for want of a particular nut in the engine whereas another Aspire customer is already getting the same replaced. At the same time, you also see products like the Polo, Ameo and Vento. The first two are sub-4m while the Vento is a C-segment player. You also have cross badged products here too. Renault-Nissan as well as Volkswagen-Skoda use each other’s products and make a few changes here and there and sell the cars. Mahindra-Ford as well as Maruti-Toyota too will join the fray soon.

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