Maruti Udyog hopes to regain momentum with its most important launch in two decades with, what it considers, its Swift masterstroke. By Mohini Bhatnagar
Maruti Udyog's new mid-size offering, the Swift much to the delight of auto enthusiasts - buyers and experts, alike - is being launched in India. First showcased at the Paris Motor Show in September last year, the Suzuki Swift is currently manufactured only at the Magyar Suzuki plant in Hungary. India, China and Japan are the next designated manufacturing centres.
A radical departure from the old Suzuki Japanese design, the Swift is targeted at the European buyer. Suzuki says it has worked with an all-new dedicated team of designers and engineers, in collaboration with "European automotive professionals and ordinary motoring enthusiasts". It says, the Swift "gives an exciting glimpse of new ideas and design approaches that will shape Suzuki models in years to come".
Most of the developmental work was done at Suzuki's R&D centre at Hamamatsu. The Swift is presently available in two versions - a two-box five-door hatchback and a three-box four-door sedan. The French influence on the Swift is apparent in its rounded and fluid lines, honeycomb grille, narrow stacked headlamps and turn indicator units carrying the Suzuki chrome badge.
In a complete departure from the tall boy design seen in the Alto and WagonR, the designers have imparted a low-slung and curvaceous look to the Swift, along with greater width and length, making it an altogether more comfortable car to be in. Multi-adjustable front seats and steering column, plush interiors with sporty trim, an instrument panel influenced by Suzuki's powerful sports motorbikes, as well as a sophisticated dashboard, give its interiors a luxurious, well-appointed feel.
A global product, it has undergone extensive testing and evaluation in Europe. In India, Maruti is likely to offer the Swift with a 1.3-litre petrol engine with a choice of five-speed manual, automatic and four-speed automatic gearboxes. The 1,300cc-direct injection diesel engine has been co-developed with Fiat, and is expected to offer premium performance and enhanced fuel efficiency.
Suzuki says that its wide tyres, the overall width and long wheelbase of the Swift would enhance its stability. The front-end layout has low suspension arms, steering gearbox and rear engine mounting, all attached to the sub frame, for greater rigidity. The rear suspension is by torsion beams, a space-efficient set-up, which allows for a wide, flat boot floor.
The Swift is a little shorter at 3,695 mm than the Maruti Esteem's length of 4095mm but longer than the Alto and WagonR's Length of 3,495 mm. Its advantage lies in its width of 1,690 mm, against Esteem's width of 1,575 mm and the 1,495mm width of the WagonR and Alto. It is also quite a bit taller at 1,500 mm than Esteem's 1,395 mm and the Alto's 1,460, but shorter than WagonR's 1,660mm. Suzuki promises greater stability for Swift; its wheelbase at 2,390 mm is greater than Maruti Esteem's 2,365 mm and 2,360 of the Alto And WagonR.
Autocar magazine says that the Swift is the most important launch from the Maruti stable in the last 20 years; effectively after the 1984-launched C. In the past few years, apart from making visual enhancements to its existing model lineup, despite each upgrade being accompanied by high decible publicity, Maruti Udyog has not introduced any radically new model in India. Even though the new Zen and the new Esteem look different, they still can't be called new cars. Maruti's last new car in India was the CBU import of the Grand Vitara in 2003, brought into India after it had run out its course globally.
Maruti Udyog has a major presence in the compact car segment with the Wagon R, the Alto and the Zen. Even though small cars comprise 85 percent of the entire auto market in India, the mid-size segment is growing faster. Maruti Suzuki has a presence in this segment with the Esteem and the Baleno.
However, notwithstanding recent visual improvements in its rear and grill, the Esteem faces decreasing consumer interest. And though the Baleno's sales rose after the company slashed its prices last year following increased indigenisation, it is facing severe competition from the onslaught of new cars like the Tata Marina, the Fiat Petra, the Ford Fusion and the Hyundai Getz. MUL needs a totally new car in the C segment to whip up waning interest in the Maruti brand. Many analysts say the Swift makes a perfect fit.
The Swift is expected to be on the road in the first half of 2005, and will be positioned between the Esteem and the Baleno. Expected to be priced at around Rs5 lakh, the Swift will take on the Hyundai Getz, the Ford Fusion, the Fiat Petra and the Palio head on. Swift will be launched in India, China and Hungary simultaneously. Investments in new product development and R&D in the Swift will be part of the Rs6,000 crore that Japanese car maker Suzuki has committed to invest in the country in the next four to five years.
Maruti Udyog's managing director, Jagdish Khattar, said that after upgradation of the Esteem and increased indigenisation of the Baleno, the company's share in the mid-size segment has increased to 18 per cent in 2004, from 9 per cent the year before.
Tata Motors, Ford and Hyundai are the leaders in the mid-size segment with the Indigo, Accent and Ikon. Hyundai and Ford are expected to make a quantum leap in market share in this segment, with Fusion and Getz. Maruti will, no doubt, be Swift to catch up.