The Maruti Alto has become the first Indian car to cross the 3 million sales mark. Vinay Pant, GM (Marketing), Maruti Suzuki India, speaks to Nikhil Bhatia on what kept the sales ticker moving.
The Maruti Alto, launched in September 2000, has become the first Indian car to cross the 3 million sales mark. Vinay Pant, GM (Marketing), Maruti Suzuki India, speaks to Nikhil Bhatia on what kept the popular hatchback's sales ticker moving.
Congratulations! What is it that keeps the Alto going?
I think it’s really understanding the first-time buyer and regularly reinventing the product that has helped us achieve this feat. When we started, the Alto was seen as a peppy car. After some time, we realised fuel efficiency was a big thing and we focused on that. Today, the Alto services two types of buyers. For those who want affordability and fuel economy, we have the Alto 800. And for those who want performance in an entry-level car, we have the Alto K10.
Many people see the Alto as the spiritual successor to the 800. Did the Alto’s success lead to the 800 going out of favour?
That wouldn’t be right. The 800 created the segment but as the brand got older, it became popular in the hinterlands. And that’s where the Alto came in. The Alto saw demand in the metros and the mini metros while the 800 sold more in the smaller towns. The brands performed in their own space.
Towards the end of the 800’s lifecycle, it had very few pockets of strength and the Alto was a national phenomenon. So it was not that the Alto was eating into the 800, which was priced much lower than the Alto.
The Alto is a very straightforward hatchback and styling is conservative. Is that one of its core strengths?
The typical first-time buyer is primarily looking for reliability because for him/her, putting that Rs 250,000 to Rs 300,000 is a big amount of money and that’s where the trust and reliability becomes more important. The Alto is in a shape he/she has grown up seeing. So buyers are very confident when buying that kind of car. The form factor certainly works in this case. However, there is a shift in some customers – you find some people keen on a more futuristic and slightly different-looking car and that’s where the K10 comes in. The K10 is more dynamic looking as compared to the Alto 800 and that is why we are growing on both of these.
The Alto has seen regular updates be it the variants, CNG option, new engine or AMT transmission. Is that among the reasons for the continued success of the car?
I think that is critical for any vehicle segment or category. In our cars, it is even more critical because there are new players entering every year and therefore you have to keep listening to the customer what he/she is looking for and keep on incorporating that in the car. That is the primary reason for the Alto’s success. We’ve given the Alto safety updates where you get a driver’s side airbag as an option or even the option of a more powerful 1000cc engine.
What is the consumer response to an optional airbag in an entry level car?
Since we have just started with this programme, I think it wouldn’t be right to comment on the response right now. However, as a market leader, giving options helps and there is a rising awareness of safety among consumers. It is like helmets in case of two-wheelers where gradually people understand that it’s not just about traffic rule violation but for their own safety.
As safety and emission norms get more stringent, will maintaining the Alto’s low price-tag turn more difficult?
When we launched the Alto back in 2000, the LX cost Rs 2.99 lakh (ex-showroom). Today, the comparable model costs Rs 2.94 lakh. We are aware that pricing is critical. Safety is also critical and that’s why we have taken the lead in offering safety options as well. I’m sure moving forward, we’ll meet customer requirements in terms of price.
Moving forward, would a next-generation Alto stick to the same formula or can we expect a different approach?
I think you’ll have to wait and watch on that aspect. Having said that, if you have seen the last couple of launches, be the Baleno, the S-Cross or the recently revealed Vitara Brezza, the design language is changing. At the same time, there is a segment which looks for a slightly conservative kind of design; so keeping both these factors in mind, we will be working on something.
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