Maruti Brezza and Nexa range could get CNG option soon
Maruti Suzuki looks to cash in on growing demand for CNG cars as price- and environment-conscious car buyers make the shift to the cheaper fuel.
Maruti Suzuki India is putting its pedal to the floor of the CNG car market. Recognising the huge potential of the fast-growing CNG market in India, the passenger vehicle market leader is firming up plans to expand its CNG portfolio.
One of the earliest carmakers to introduce CNG-powered cars in India, Maruti Suzuki clocked its highest-ever CNG car sales – 157,954 units – in FY2021 and contributed 12.20% to its total passenger vehicle sales of 12,93,840 units last fiscal. Importantly, this move which has paid off in spades is helping buffer the loss of sales following company exiting the diesel market since April 2020.
Autocar Professional’s data analysis reveals that Maruti Suzuki’s cumulative CNG car sales would have crossed the 600,000 units milestone last month. Having crossed the half-million mark in April 2021, the next 100,000 units have taken barely seven month (see data table below).
Factory-fitted CNG models turn popular
After introducing its first factory-fitted CNG-equipped model in 2010 – the Wagon R – the company has proven the merit of its advanced S-CNG technology in the Indian market. Aspects such as fundamental changes done to the engine’s valve seats, car’s shock absorbers, placement of a CNG filling valve next to the petrol filler, a modified instrument cluster with integrated CNG fuel level display, and lastly, a frontal and side-impact crash test performed on the CNG-equipped variant as well, have helped India’s largest carmaker establish a trust equation with its CNG customers.
These factors and the positive feedback about reliability from thousands of owners of these factory-fitted CNG cars have also created an air of superiority in favour of a factory-fitted CNG kit over an aftermarket one, in the minds of the general buyer.
“People are no longer worried about loss of power, engine misfiring or the car not being able to climb an incline on CNG,” said Shashank Srivastava, executive director, Sales and Marketing, MSIL.
“Customers have given us the feedback to get CNG in the Vitara Brezza. Our market research also shows that customers are looking for CNG even in the Swift,” he added.
Not just the Brezza compact SUV or the Swift hatchback, public interest is also high in the company’s premium Nexa range of cars. “There is a huge demand and a lot of customers are asking for CNG in the Baleno and Ciaz. We are examining it, and will then decide which all models to offer with CNG,” added Srivastava.
While its best-selling CNG car continues to be the Wagon R, MSIL also offers its S-CNG technology on the Alto, S-Presso, Eeco, Ertiga, Tour S (taxi), Tour M (taxi) and Super Carry (commercial pickup).
The company is bullish about this growing need for “affordable mobility” in an era of skyrocketing prices of petrol and diesel, which “might continue to see the upward trend”.
“Therefore, we would add another 3-4 models in our portfolio equipped with CNG,” Srivastava said while speaking with Autocar Professional on the side lines of the newly-launched Celerio’s media drive event in Udaipur.
“While I can’t specify the upcoming models, there is some development time and schedules, and we would definitely be coming with more CNG models,” he said.
With a constantly improving CNG network, that has already expanded to about 3,500 filling stations in 293 cities at present from 1,300 stations in 143 cities in 2019, the infrastructure is poised to further strengthen to 6,000 stations by 2025, and reach 10,000 stations by 2030, to serve a cumulative 20 million CNG vehicles on India’s roads, as per a report by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM).
“So, the government is also aggressively pushing for the use of CNG for transportation instead of petrol and diesel, as CNG is also much cheaper to import and helps offset the high crude import cost of the country,” Srivastava said.
CNG sales volumes for Maruti Suzuki have grown from 75,000 units in FY2017 when only three states – Delhi, Maharashtra and Gujarat – were strong on the CNG network, to 162,000 units in FY2021, and are slated to touch the 300,000 unit mark by end-FY2022.
While the highest retail price for CNG is in Hyderabad at upwards of Rs 75 per kilogram, it hovers in the Rs 45-60 per kilogram range for other cities in the country, and is still significantly cheaper compared to petrol and diesel averaging Rs 90 a litre in most places in the country.
“Generally, the odds seem to be stacked against diesel, especially considering the RDE norms, which will set a diesel engine even more expensive than a BS VI compliant one.As the CNG infrastructure grows, it will fuel the demand for CNG cars,” Srivastava mentioned.
High-on-localisation CNG kit
Even though the carmaker is grappling to meet the surge in demand for its CNG cars, which currently have a waiting period of anywhere between 3-4 months in most cities due to the semiconductor shortage, it is still hedged from global supply chain risks, as it has heavily localised its CNG kit.
“We are only importing the CNG cylinder raw material from Italy or Japan, which forms the major chunk of the import content on the kit. Otherwise, the kit is majorly localised, including local manufacturing of the cylinders. Only some child parts for outsourced components are being brought in as imports by our suppliers,” said CV Raman, chief technology officer, Maruti Suzuki India.
CV Raman: "The new Celerio CNG will be introduced in the next few weeks."
The carmaker has clearly set its immediate focus on CNG. But, with low running costs coming with a big compromise of the car’s boot space, are there any innovations in the pipeline?
“While there is a composite technology available for the lightweighting of the CNG cylinder, it's very expensive. Any development takes time and therefore, we are not looking at such an innovation immediately,” added Raman.
CNG in MSIL’s product portfolio is so far available with three engine options – the 800cc, F8D in the Alto, 1.0-litre, K10B in the S-Presso, 1.5-litre, K15B in the Ertiga, Tour M, and 1.2-litre, K12M in the Tour S. Now, it is all set to roll out CNG in the newly-introduced 1.0-litre, K10C, DualJet engine in the second-generation Celerio hatchback.
“There are no challenges as such to integrate CNG in the new engine with two injectors per cylinder. It will be seamlessly integrated and the new Celerio CNG will be introduced in the next few weeks,” said Raman.
When launched, the second-generation Celerio CNG will have the bragging rights of being the most fuel-efficient CNG car in the country as well, with the petrol-manual trims already claiming 25.2kpl, and CNG generally giving 15-20 percent better fuel economy.
“With the current dynamics, CNG offers the lowest cost proposition in terms of total cost of ownership.Therefore, we will have a CNG variant for every model going forward.”
“If customers also demand CNG in Nexa cars,we will consider that as well. We will be open to open offering CNG across our range,” reiterated Raman.
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