The shape of cars to come

Carmakers are going back to their ABCs and creating mid-segment offerings, says Mohini Bhatnagar, in an industry-wide look at the new car launches scheduled for 2005.

The Indian car market, which grew at a frenetic 20 per cent last year, is likely to see even more excitement this year, judging by the new launches announced by nearly all automobile companies. Toyota Kirloskar, Honda, Maruti and Skoda are all set to launch production models, while French car maker Renault is making an unobtrusive entry.

The major difference about vehicles introduced into the Indian market in 2004 against previous years was that carmakers ventured into a new segment with the launch of Ford Fusion and Hyundai Getz, both innovative products positioned between the compact 'B' and mid-range 'C' segments. Before this, new car launches usually tended to stay within the safe confines of 'B' segment compact cars, 'C 'segment three-box passenger sedans or MUVs. All SUVs were brought in through the easy CBU import route.

2005 launches Maruti Udyog
The biggest launch this year is likely to be Maruti Udyog's premium hatchback, Suzuki Swift, strategically positioned between the 'B' and 'C' segments. Designed by a 'European design house and ordinary motoring enthusiasts', the Swift according to Autocar magazine, is the biggest launch from the Maruti stable in the last 20 years (effectively, after the Maruti 800). The car promises to create a separate segment altogether in the Indian auto industry in terms of space and comfort. First showcased at the Paris Auto Show and based on the Concept 'S' car, the Swift is likely to be priced at Rs5.5 lakh with a 1.3-litre petrol engine. A direct-injection diesel version will be introduced in 2006, after Maruti's new diesel engine manufacturing facility goes on stream.

Skoda Skoda Fabia
Hatchback Skoda Fabia and Sedan Octavia II are expected to hit the Indian roads in the second half of 2005. Currently Skoda's largest selling model in the world, Fabia is available in four variants: the Fabia Combi — a four-metre long and very spacious hatchback meant for big families, with a large luggage compartment (426 litres, expandable to 1,225 litres with the back seats folded down); the Fabia Sedan, a three-box sedan and the Fabia RS, a sporty car fitted with a turbo-charged 1.9 TDI PD/96 kW diesel engine.

Octavia II The Fabia comes equipped with an inline four 1.9 SDI unit, a 1,896 cc direct injection diesel, offering 64 bhp at 4,000 rpm and a torque of 12.8kgm. But, with a price tag of a steep Rs8.5 lakh, that too for a hatchback, Fabia's pricing may set it back against comparable models like the Honda City.