Curtains drop on Maruti 800, Omni; no encore promised

Thanks to stricter emission norms, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd has decided to phase out its iconic M800, the car that popularised  Suzuki vehicles in India, as well as its second-hottest seller, the Omni van. The sales of these models will stop next year itself in 11 cities where Bharat Stage IV norms are to be introduced.

The models will continue to be sold elsewhere in the country till 2015-16, when the new standards will become nationwide, Maruti chairman R C Bhargava said in New Delhi. The BSIV norms will replace the earlier BSIII from April 2010 in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kanpur, Ahmedabad, Surat and Agra. Other centres will follow by around 2015-16, which would spell the death of the two models.

Bhargava said Maruti had no plans to further invest in engine modernisation for the M800 or the Omni, the oldest models for the company. "We are not looking at this option. To continue the models in BSIV cities, we have to not only make changes to the engine but also take care of other issues. We do not want to do this. Anyway, they are old cars," he said.

The impact of the M800 in India was comparable to that of Henry Ford's Model T, which put middle-class America on the roads. Once the bread-and-butter model for the company, over 2.7 million units of the M800 have been sold since its launch in 1983. However, with a cut in prices of Maruti's Alto, the demand for the car has gone down, though it still averages 4000-5000 units monthly.

The Omni was launched in 1984, and also won a large following thanks to its combination of a large, capacious body with a small, economical engine.

Bhargava said the exit from the cities would not be a big dampener for the company. ''The demand for these models (in the major cities) is not that big anyway, as people are opting for superior models. Our main markets for the small car are the rural areas, where we will continue to sell. So the impact will only be marginal," he said.

"We regularly introduce new models in the market, but at present there is no plan to bring out substitutes for these two cars," he added.

Year-on-year sales of M800 in February fell by 29.07 per cent at 4,075 units, against 5,745 units last year.