The car war in the country is shifting focus from the low-priced small car segment to the mid-size segment. Close on the heels of Hyundai launching its Accent, and Ford announcing the launch of its Ikon in November 1999, the largest player in the Indian market, Maruti Udyog Ltd, has announced that it will launch Suzuki's Baleno in India by mid-November.
Maruti is a joint venture of Suzuki and the government of India. It is the company with the greatest to lose from the price wars. The Accent and Ikon are targeting Maruti's Esteem models, the lowest priced in the mid size luxury car segment. Its base version carries an ex-showroom price of Rs 4.69 in Delhi and Rs 5.26 in Mumbai. There are three variants. The Baleno will be the first vehicle Maruti will be introducing after the launch of its Zen.
Clearly, while Hyundai and Ford have enthused prospective car owners with their competitive price tags (Rs 4.99 lakh for the Ikon and Rs 5.35 lakh for the Accent) and additional features, Maruti is going upscale with its own price-warring. The market expects the Baleno to be priced in the range of Rs 7 lakh, which will pit it against Honda's City, Mitsubishi's Lancer, Ford's Escort, Daewoo's Nexia, Fiat's Siena, and Opel's Astra.
With Maruti, price is not a disadvantage. It has nearly the entire spectrum of cars, as managing director Jagdish Khattar likes to point out -- from the entry-level sub-compact Maruti 800 and the Omni van to the Zen range at the higher end of the small car segment. Its range of Esteem variants occupies a wide swathe of ground at the lower end of the mid-size car segment. Now the Baleno will challenge the players at the upper end of the mid-size segment, where Maruti did not have a presence so far.
The Baleno has a 1,600cc, 16-valve, aluminium petrol engine with the latest multi-point fuel injection system that conforms with pollution control norms. The engine output will be 98 bhp.
Maruti is importing semi-knocked down kits from Suzuki and assembling them at its new, third plant at Gurgaon near Delhi. The plant has been adapted to produce the Baleno along with the Zen, Esteem and Maruti 800. However, the Baleno will have a different welding shop to handle its larger size.