|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
Upon arriving at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, there was an air of anticipation mixed with anxiety since we didn’t know what to expect at all. The airport, a product of the country’s intensive growth (India has the world’s third highest GDP), is expansive and world-class. The orderliness of the airport is soon replaced by the organized chaos of Indian highways—where everyone seems to carve their own path, blowing horns excessively, and cutting off motorists at every opportunity. It feels like an assault to the senses, even for those who’ve been long acclimatized to Manila’s traffic jams. It’s also not hard to miss that Indians love their small cars—these micro-sized wonders, measuring no more than four meters in length, are the king of Indian roads. They are literally everywhere—driven in every condition imaginable with all sorts of cargo imaginable.
Although the overall car penetration remains low (18 cars per 1,000 people), this still equates to annual sales of 2,500,000 units (or roughly 10 times the Philippine automotive market). India’s love for small cars started in 1982 when the Indian government sought to modernize the automotive industry and inked a joint-venture with Suzuki, a world leader in producing small, fuel-efficient, and environmentally-conscious cars. The government has since divested its take and 43.80 percent is now publicly traded while 56.20 percent remains under Suzuki Motor Corporation’s country. Today, Maruti Suzuki, as the joint-venture is formally known, is the largest producer of automobiles for Suzuki as a whole. It produces 40 percent of total vehicle, eclipsing even Japan at 35 percent. It’s also the leader in the Indian car industry with a 42.09 percent market share with Hyundai at second place at 15.19 percent while domestic makers, Mahindra holding 10.16 percent and Tata at 7.94 percent.
Suzuki reckons its success in India is brought about by its customer-centric focus. First, they have constantly introduced new models, eventually growing its line-up to 16 models with 150 variants. Second, they have professionalized their automotive dealership business by offering a consistent look and feel throughout their sales and service channels. A far cry from the backyard mechanics most Indians are used to, Suzuki has introduced factory trained and supported aftersales service shops with an extremely wide network covering the highest altitudes in Kaza (some 3,740 meters above sea level) and the farthest in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (some 1,000 kilometers away from India’s mainland). Because of these accomplishments, Suzuki Motor Corporation is very bullish in its Indian operations and has put up a state-of-the-art research and development facility and has named Maruti Suzuki has a key strategic export hub, producing cars for the entire world including the Philippines. Two such vehicles produced in India for the Philippine market are the Suzuki Swift 1.2 and Ertiga.
One of the most popular cars in India, the Swift is the recipient of India’s Car of the Year award in 2012. Loved by young professionals and first-time car buyers alike for its sporty style and spunky handling, Suzuki Philippines aims to increase its foothold in the subcompact genre with the launch of this new variant. Powered by a 1.2-liter 4-cylinder engine (K12M), the Swift 1.2 has a maximum output of 87 horsepower and 114 Nm of torque mated to either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic. The Swift may not possess the raw power, but thanks to its bantam 960-kilogram curb weight, it promises a zippy and spirited drive, especially in highly-congested situations such as Manila traffic. In addition, based on Indian government tests, the Swift 1.2 returns up to 18.6 km/L. Launched just yesterday, the Swift 1.2 is available in five shades: Blazing Red, Glistening Grey, Silky Silver, Pearl Artic White, and Midnight Black at P 608,000 for the manual and P 648,000 for the automatic. For those who prefer a bit more power, the Swift 1.4 remains available at P 749,000 for the manual and P 789,000 for the automatic.
With Indians having close-knit family ties (just like Filipinos), Suzuki has developed an all-new vehicle specifically to cater to this very need: the Ertiga. Built atop the Swift platform, the Ertiga is touted as a “Life Utility Vehicle” or LUV. The monocoque MPV combines the compactness and maneuverability of a hatchback, the comfort of a sedan, and the space and versatility of an MPV. The Ertiga measures in at just 4,265 mm in length, but with a wheelbase of 2,740 mm, it is just 10 mm shorter than its chief Indian market rival, the Toyota Innova. Because of this, it has become India’s best-selling MPV. For the Philippines, the Ertiga will be offered with a single engine: a 1.4-liter 4-cylinder (K14) with 95 horsepower and 130 Nm of torque. This will be available in both 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic configurations. Thanks to variable valve timing (VVT), the Ertiga also promises to deliver best-in-class fuel mileage. As tested by the Indian government, it returns up to 16.02 km/L. The Ertiga will be available in four different variants: GA M/T (P 619,000); GL M/T (P 712,000); GL A/T (P 752,000); and GLX A/T (P 812,000). The Ertiga will be available at all Suzuki dealerships in July in six colors: Serene Blue, Firebrick Red, Granite Grey, Dusky Brown, Superior White, and Silky Silver.
With Indian roads not for the faint-of-heart, no one was brave enough to drive either vehicle on public roads. Maruti Suzuki did the next best thing though and used two Ertigas and a Swift to shuttle everyone to one of the most recognizable sites in all of India, the Taj Mahal as well as the Maruti Suuki Manesar manufacturing plant where the Celerio, Swift, and Swift DZire are assembled.
Located some 209 kilometers from New Delhi, the Taj Mahal requires a drive of around two and a half hours in various road conditions. Both the Swift and the Ertiga performed extremely well. In city streets, they absorbed even the deepest potholes while keeping everyone comfortable with its powerful air conditioning (dual zone in the case of the Ertiga) despite the mercury reading 50-degrees Celsius. As the roads opened up, they proved to be very zippy, registering speeds in excess of 140 km/h with some room to spare. Meanwhile, the Manesar plant, located 50 kilometers south of Delhi, is one of two Suzuki manufacturing facilities in India. The plant itself is 1.2 million square meters sitting on total land area of 2.4 million square meters. It even boasts of its own 170 megawatt power plant. Most processes of the Manesar plant such as welding and painting are fully automated with the help of more than 150 robots, some of which are proprietary to Suzuki. In fact, Maruti Suzuki says that its manufacturing facilities are just as automated as those found in Japan.
This trip to Maruti Suzuki’s headquarters and manufacturing facilities provide just a glimpse of the vast scale of Suzuki Motor Corporation’s operations in the South Asian region. It serves as an important reminder about the misconception that a buyer would have about cars manufactured in India. The truth couldn’t be further. As a company with global standards, Suzuki produces cars of stellar engineering and top quality whether they’re manufactured in Japan, Indonesia, or India. Above all, it proves that small cars can do great things if only you give them a chance.