Mumbai: Women drivers prefer it to the conventional gearshift, and so do people who drive in the unending traffic snarls of Mumbai and New Delhi. Novice motorists say the gear is the biggest stumbling block in learning how to drive and those who can master the joystick often go on to become excellent drivers.
Every year, driving schools make minor fortunes teaching people elementary things like coordination between the left leg on the clutch and the right one on the accelerator, and, of course, the left hand on the blasted gear stick. For all these and more, the gearless automatic car meant mobility personified and a godsend.
Hyundai Motor India, which has launched the first automatic version of the Santro, says the launch decision was the result of a survey in New Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai, which revealed that there was a nascent need among consumers for the AT version of the Santro.
Thus Hyundai, which is witnessing a bump in sales of the Santro, defends it as a "convenient and affordable option" to customers "who will make a difference" and sees a market out there for the AT version. And this is in spite of Maruti Udyog's bad experience with them (it sells less than 50 units per month of the Zen, Esteem, Alto and WagonR AT versions put together).
Hyundai Motor India president B V R Subbu says women drivers and the younger crowd are more keen in driving and, therefore, the company is targeting urban commuters who have to navigate stop-and-go traffic, which requires constant use of clutch and gear, resulting in driving stress and fatigue.
Automatic transmission cars have been around for quite come time. Maruti Udyog, India's biggest carmaker, launched the Zen automatic about four years ago. Auto industry experts say the main reason AT cars never really took off was because of the huge difference in price (about Rs 1 lakh) between manual and automatic transmission cars. Secondly, automatic cars are not marketed well and have no proper positioning. Thirdly, automatic cars turn out to be not as fuel-efficient as manual ones.
Hyundai Motor has addressed all these issues. The Santro AT version comes around Rs 35,000 more on the top-end variant of the Santro at Rs 4.4 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi). As against this, the Zen automatic costs Rs 4.88 lakh, the WagonR Rs 4.82 lakh and the Alto Rs 4.71 lakh.
On the fuel efficiency front, Subbu says the Santro 1.1-litre Zip Plus is available in an AT version, so fuel efficiency should not be a problem. As far as positioning is concerned lets see what Hyundai does about its Santro AT.
Automatic cars are hugely preferred in most developed countries and around 80 per cent cars across all segments in the US and Japan, 70 per cent in Korea, and 20 per cent in Europe are AT versions.