2017: The year in review

The year on wheels: 2017 in review

From new products to confusing policy, it’s certainly been an eventful year in the automotive world

It’s been a solid year since we all woke up one fine morning to find our wallets full of raddi. However, it appears to have been business as usual for the automotive industry, despite plenty of upheavals and surprises. Here’s a run-down of all the interesting events of the wheeled world in 2017.

The year of the SUV

The Indian market has a particular affinity for this class of vehicle, likely thanks to our poor urban roads and the comfort they afford. Mid-size sedans had to take a definite backseat to SUVs in 2017. With similar prices, one wonders whether it’s worthwhile buying a car when our on-road conditions may as well be off-road.

At the affordable end of the spectrum, the Tata Nexon was big news. A sub-4m SUV with small petrol and diesel engines meant the anticipated car launched at a hatchback-competitive price of under ₹6 lakh, while providing safety and a slew of features that would have only been in more expensive cars in years past. Ford followed up with their EcoSport, the SUV that started it all in the compact space. It’s updated with a new engine, gearbox and the best infotainment system you can find across cars.

Higher segments were not to be left behind. Renault launched the Captur, a premium alternative to their popular Duster, while Volkswagen unveiled the Tiguan. Corporate cousin Skoda also released the larger Kodiaq, but at ₹35 lakh ex-showroom, it outdid even its VW brother in price. No doubt, customers will question whether they should consider cheaper, bigger alternatives such as the Toyota Fortuner and the Ford Endeavour.

High tech, low price

Some years ago, a slew of crash tests showed us just how unsafe Indian cars can be. The truth behind these is long-winded and complicated, but the damage was done: consumers started demanding safety. Today, we have some modicum of safety standards, with most manufacturers voluntarily providing airbags even in their most basic models.

The threat of regulation and embarrassment, however, isn’t the only thing driving innovation in cars these days. Your phone is showing the way forward in how we interact with our appliances, tools and technology. While carmakers have been slow in this regard, they’re catching up.

You have affordable, people-friendly cars, such as the Maruti Dzire, building in features such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto — which allow you to connect your smartphones to the car infotainment system, for advanced features such as voice commands and navigation. Carmakers such as Nissan and Honda are building internet connectivity and GPS tracking into their cars, allowing customers to monitor their cars’ health and location via apps on their smartphones.

GST: Up-down, good-bad

A highly-anticipated policy — the Goods and Services Tax came with the theory and promise that doing business across states would become simpler, with a single tax to deal with. The reality hasn’t been as simple.

Nobody quite knew what to expect for car and bike prices after GST came into effect. There was speculation of price rises. What came about was about the same — prices either remained static or saw a small drop. Good news for everyone! Luxury carmakers, in particular, embraced the change and dropped prices as soon as they could, to take advantage of the new tax break.

However, that elation was short-lived, as reports circulated about an additional cess to be added to large cars and SUVs, effectively negating the post-GST benefits. Ultimately, a compromise was reached with some additional cess, but still less than pre-GST taxes. It (confusingly) boiled down to a minor price benefit after all was said and done.

Luxury buffet

Judging by the slew of launches in 2017, business is booming. For instance, Mumbai alone has 15 Mercedes-Benz facilities. The carmaker continues to expand its network across the country, with a focus on tier II and III cities, and launched no less than 12 products over 2017. In particular, their locally-produced E-Class made quite a splash, encouraging the company to build more models.

Local production of luxury cars has helped manufacturers, allowing more competitive prices. BMW launched their 5-Series sedans, produced in Chennai, while Indo-British Jaguar-Land Rover has begun making some products in India, such as the F-Pace SUV, priced at ₹60 lakh. It’s not just relatively attainable luxury that’s seen an uptick in 2017. Exotic carmakers announced products such as the Lamborghini Huracan RWD Spyder (₹3.45 crore), the Ferrari GTC4 Lusso (₹5.2 crore) and the Maserati Levante SUV (₹1.45 crore).

India rising

If you thought the Tata takeover of storied British carmakers Jaguar-Land Rover was an aberration, think again. Throughout 2017, we heard reports of Italian premium motorcycle maker Ducati being taken over by an Indian company. Rumours swirled about Hero MotoCorp, Royal Enfield and Bajaj Auto being in the running.

Ducati is at the top of its game, and the rumoured price of between $1.5bn and $2bn was no laughing matter, but Hero and Royal Enfield are the largest, and most profitable motorcycle manufacturers in the world, respectively.

This did not pan out, with the parent company VW taking Ducati off the market. Nevertheless, India is simultaneously maker and market for the future.

Already, companies like BMW and Triumph are working with local players TVS and Bajaj to develop and distribute new products for a global audience. India rising indeed!

Electric dreams

If the Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, is to be believed, we are on the verge of an electric automotive revolution. He has set ambitious targets for Indian manufacturers to go electric by 2030, but his initial swashbuckling statements have now been tempered to deal with reality.

Electric vehicles (EVs) need to be recharged, and have a sufficient range — problems of infrastructure and technology. Then, of course, EVs need to be affordable. The government is trying to lead by example: Tata and Mahindra have been given orders, and another 10,000 vehicles are to be procured.

We are most likely to see EVs in public transport, before they eventually trickle down to the common man, but the future is certainly looking electric.

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Printable version | Jul 7, 2020 11:04:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/motoring/the-year-on-wheels/article22280615.ece

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