Maruti Omni sales ride a wave

In calendar year 2014, India’s van sector recorded a steep decline of close to 19 percent, according to data released by apex industry body SIAM.

By Brian de Souza calendar 17 Feb 2015 Views icon19204 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
With 74,408 units sold last year, the Maruti Omni accounts for 40 percent of India’s total van sales.

With 74,408 units sold last year, the Maruti Omni accounts for 40 percent of India’s total van sales.

In calendar year 2014, India’s van sector recorded a steep decline of close to 19 percent, according to data released by apex industry body SIAM. In terms of numbers, the segment saw sales of 172,103 units as against 210,978 units in 2013. That works out to a monthly average of 14,000-odd units.

This segment comprises soft- and hard-tops. While the former are generally used as maxi cabs, the latter are typically used for personal transport. In the latter category, there are four products that include the Mahindra Maxximo Minivan VX, the Tata Venture and the Maruti Suzuki duo of the Omni and the Eeco.

Available in diesel, petrol and CNG, the sector offers diesel-powered vehicles typically because operating costs are lower with the fuel still priced lower than petrol at the retail end, and because the typical customer would use the vehicle for extensive daily travelling.

In this sector, only two offerings, the Maruti Omni and Eeco are available in petrol. First launched in 1985, the Omni is one of the few formidable and time-tested products from the Indian auto segment, akin to the Bolero in the UV space, the Mahindra workhorse that is over 10 years old and still going strong.

In calendar year 2014, the Omni sold 74,408 units, up by a huge 20 percent over 2013 sales of 61,070 units. With an average monthly tally of 6,000-odd units, it qualifies as one of India’s enduring automotive products. With 74,408 units sold last year, it accounts for a stupendous 40 percent of India’s total van sales.

Over the past 18 months, its sales performance has been nothing short of stupendous. On at least six occasions in the year, the Omni figures in the Top 10 pecking order. So what accounts for its success?

According to a Maruti spokesperson, “The Omni seems to be the most-sought-after vehicle due to the immense value that it brings to the customer. Its versatile profile includes transporting people as well as carrying a wide range of goods. A Mumbai-based dealer says the USPs of the vehicle are its cost and space.   

While Maruti has successfully been able to leverage the Tier 2,3 and rural markets  for its cars, this has also had its impact on the Omni but the significant feature is that the vehicle has been well received both in urban and semi-urban areas, company sources said.

Among its clientele, the vehicle is a favourite with people who run small businesses. Moreover, the fact that it has five- and eight-seater options has made it quite popular as an ambulance, taxi, transport van and even a mini school bus.

Over the years, Maruti has endeavoured to keep the brand attractive thanks to a variety of small and carefully thought refreshed features. These include changes to the exteriors and the suspension (which is important given the state of most Indian roads and the need to ferry heavy luggage) as well as LPG and CNG fuel variants. In addition, the vehicle has a ‘Blind Cabin’ variant where in place of the glass at the rear, there is a metal sheet that prevents people from looking inside the vehicle!

According to Chennai-based dealer, “The Omni is the only van which starts less than Rs 400,000 with capacity to carry 7+1 people.  This makes it more attractive for those living in joint families.”

According to him, the one drawback of the Omni is the lack of an air-conditioner as there is no provision for retro-fitment of an AC. These days AC is a standard fitment and customers look for the air-conditioner option in cars, he adds.

Clearly, the Omni has held its own despite the de-regulation of petrol which has meant that the prices are now linked to international crude prices. However, the non-conventional options do not appear to have got that much momentum given that SIAM does not mention how many units were sold. It’s not difficult to see why given that a retro-fitted CNG tank would only cut into space that buyers are now happily using for squeeze in more luggage. As far as LNG goes, the fuel has limited availability and, therefore, it's reasonable to assume that many have not really opted  for it.

At 3360mm, the size of the Omni means that it can be easily parked in India’s congested and insufficient parking areas. That the vehicle is hardy, there's no doubt but it says something about the target audience that they seem to be okay with the fact that the car does not really have the safety credentials in terms of airbags. The fact is that Maruti has been able to tap a loyal fan following.

Later this year, Maruti will roll out its first light commercial vehicle, the Y9T. This will no doubt be a more modern offering built on a new platform. While this will not be in direct competition with the Omni (as the latter’s postioning is that of a car), how Maruti prices its LCV offering can help people upgrade to a better, more contemporary vehicle. It is more than likely that it will have customised offerings that can appeal to a wealthier clientele in the Omni segment.

There is no direct competition for Omni in the market, says the Chennai-based dealer as there is no other brand in the sub-Rs 4 lakh category. The nearest competitor is the Tata Magic but this vehicle is more into the commercial vehicle segment and is used as a mini-bus.

“Despite the Omni being around for so many years, it’s a reliable car just like the old Maruti 800 and people prefer this van for select purposes,” says the dealer.

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