End of era? SUVs dominate market as India moves away from compact cars

These larger vehicles are now overlapping with premium hatchbacks and sedans, drawing consumers seeking more spacious and versatile options.

Author
Satyam Singh
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India's fondness for compact cars, defined as those under 4 meters in length, is on the decline. Recent data reveals a drop in market share from 62% in 2021 to 50% in 2023. Furthermore, the number of models available in this segment has dwindled, reflecting shifting consumer tastes.

Rise of SUVs

The surge in popularity of entry-level SUVs is a key factor in this transition. These larger vehicles are now overlapping with premium hatchbacks and sedans, drawing consumers seeking more spacious and versatile options. Automakers are consequently reassessing their strategies to adapt to this trend.

Challenges for automakers

Ravi Bhatia, president of Jato Dynamics, highlights the challenge for automakers in securing a significant share in the shrinking compact car market. This trend may lead to a slowdown in the introduction of new models, reflecting the evolving landscape of consumer preferences.

Policy influence

India's policy implemented in 2006, offering tax benefits for cars under 4 meters with specific engine sizes, initially boosted the popularity of compact cars. However, changing consumer preferences are now reshaping the market dynamics, favoring larger vehicles like SUVs.

Manufacturer perspectives

Major players like Maruti Suzuki acknowledge the shift, attributing it to the affordability of entry-level SUVs. These vehicles now compete directly with premium hatchbacks and sedans, catering to diverse consumer demands for both space and style.

Industry challenges

The evolution of safety standards has added to the cost of manufacturing entry-level hatchbacks, impacting profitability. Designing small cars poses unique challenges, including meeting safety and fuel efficiency regulations while keeping prices competitive.

Urban dynamics and financing

Despite challenges, urban incomes in India remain robust, supporting the trend towards premiumization in car choices. Favorable financing options and controlled inflation contribute to the ease of upgrading to more upscale vehicle segments.

As SUVs continue to gain traction, India's automotive landscape undergoes a significant transformation. Automakers must navigate these changes, balancing consumer preferences with evolving regulatory requirements, to stay competitive in the dynamic market.

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