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The Big Small Wonder

Finally, India’s biggest small carmaker seems to have a serious competitor. Can the latter really build on its initial success? 

Photographs by Ra chandroo, Vishal koul; digital imaging: sachin gawde

In August last year, some 300 unsuspecting car buyers from across India trooped into a hotel in Noida. Each one had a personal favourite, but was indecisive on which model to drive home. What they were not aware of was that their collective preference would govern a global carmaker’s road map in India. It was fairly straightforward and standard market research fare. The individual would enter a room where three cars were parked. All the models would be covered and potential customers would stand four metres from each car. As the research staff questioned their expectations from a car, the identity of the three brands would gradually be revealed – Maruti Alto 800, Hyundai Eon and Datsun redi-GO. 

Guillaume Sicard, president, Nissan India, which manufactures the redi-GO, finds it hard to conceal his incredulity as he recalls the event, “They loved the redi-Go for its chrome grill, tall-boy looks and its spacious interior. But eventually switched loyalties to the Alto even after calling it old-fashioned,” he adds, perplexed. What swung the deal in favour of the Alto was the easy availability of spare parts or the recommendation of a friend, who vouched for the Alto or just any car by Maruti. “What I found fascinating was how although people preferred one car, they decided in favour of another,” reveals Sicard. Like many, an experience during his two-year stint in India, this was another instance of the unexpected taking place.

redi-GO, the entry-level hatchback, launched this summer, has sold 7,500 units so far. That is a far more impressive record than that of the earlier products rolled out by Datsun in India. This, coupled with the success of the Renault Kwid – both manufactured from a sprawling 480,000 capacity factory in Oragadam, some 45 km from Chennai – has put the spotlight back on Renault-Nissan Automotive India. As part of a global alliance, the two carmakers have a common research and development pool, in addition to shared production processes. However, once their models are rolled out of the factory, they compete ruthlessly.

For both Renault and Nissan, there has been a visible shift from manufacturing large cars to focusing on the entry-level segment, which accounts for a handy 25% of the total volume in India. In fact, as much as 70% of cars

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