As this is the first edition of autoX in 2012, we decided to land some nasty punches! There’s no better way to do this than by bringing into focus, through juicy spyshots, cars that are yet to be launched. The recent spotting of these cars confirms one thing – the industry is gearing up for a wide selection of launches this year. The slowdown witnessed in the second part of 2011 due to rising fuel prices and higher interest rates on car loans, has apparently not dampened launch plans of any of the major players and launch programs are expected to continue at their current pace.
2012 Toyota Camry
It is fair to claim that Toyota has not taken the Camry project seriously in India. Unless they manufacture it locally, a competitive price point cannot be reached – a factor that is of paramount importance. The primary reason can be blamed on the absence of a diesel engine. Segment leader Skoda Superb and its cousin sister VW Passat, make their living out of the two-liter diesel engine.
The fully imported Camry at best clocks between 30-40 units a month. Toyota has been selling two generations of the Camry in India. It once said that almost 70% of Indian owners have used it in another country. Feeling the heat of new launches such as Hyundai’s Sonata, the company revealed the next generation Camry a few months back in the US and subsequently kicked off production of the global version in Russia. The latter reaches India in June-July 2012 and started its testing program near Bidadi, Karnataka, a few weeks ago.
The global Camry differs significantly from the American Camry. For starters the front-end is conservative; the design nuggets have been inspired by some of the Lexus cars. The wide, chrome-tipped front grille and chunky headlamps are reminiscent of the Lexus LS600. Interiors use dark colors and have faux wood inserts. Rear leg room has been optimized as the Camry is a chauffeur-driven vehicle in markets outside USA.
This brings us back to the most important point – the diesel engine. The Camry does not have a diesel engine in overseas markets. Toyota has recently signed an agreement with BMW to use is sub-two litre diesel engines in Europe. This fits the bill for cars of the size of Camry. However, the agreement does not extend to the Indian market. For this reason, Toyota may not assemble the Camry unless a diesel engine is available and cater to the small demand by continuing to import the car from Japan.
Hyundai i20 facelift
The B+ segment has witnessed the most number of launches in the last 18-24 months. The Nissan Micra, Volkswagen Polo, Honda Brio and Toyota Etios Liva launched during this period are clocking strong numbers. Segment king Maruti Swift, despite a troubled start, has waiting periods running into months. The buzz is about to get louder in the couple of years as new players in the market such as Renault and Peugeot-Citroen are drawing up plans to cash in on this lucrative space.
The boffins at Hyundai, having taken stock of the situation, are readying a stimulated i20. The ‘Fluidic i20’ has been caught testing on the outskirts of Chennai and we can expect the launch to take place next year. Design cues for the 2012 model could come from the new Verna - changed wheel caps, hexagonal front grille, narrow and sharp headlights, chrome garnish, reflectors on the rear bumper and flatter tail lights are on the cards. Interiors could receive a new dash of colour and feature add-ons across the range will be appreciated by customers. There are no mechanical changes we know of as yet, but, at most, variable valve timing on the 1.2 Kappa engine which was launched in the new i10, can be introduced along with the same 1.4-liter petrol and diesel motors.
Though this is the first instance of this car on test, Hyundai began working on the new i20 in Europe in mid-2011 and the horsepower-paparazzi caught a mule, camouflaged similarly and sporting the same hub caps in back in August. Recently the company introduced a LPG kit for the i10 and two editions ago, we caught the Eon LPG on test as well. Could Hyundai add the facelifted i20 to the LPG range? We’ll soon find out!
New Hyundai Elantra
The new Hyundai Elantra is on a roll in the American market with Hyundai stating that demand is unprecedented. Customers love the new Fluidic Sculpture design language, futuristic interior and excellent fuel economy. Moreover the poor reception to the new Civic, the first choice for a mid-size sedan to the average American, has played to the advantage of the Elantra. These are the exact three points Hyundai India is banking on to send the Elantra into orbit this year. The current market leader for its segment is the Toyota Corolla with the Skoda Laura and Honda Civic trailing by some margin.
A diesel engine is a mandatory feature if Hyundai hopes to catch up with Toyota. They could run with the refined and performance-packed 1.6-liter diesel engine from the Verna by tuning it to produce a higher output. Since the Verna has almost every imaginable feature for mid-size sedan, we are scratching our heads to understand what could set the Elantra apart from the Verna. Besides the lengthened wheelbase and a more upmarket interior, there’s not much Hyundai can offer that the Verna lacks. At this point it looks like the Elantra will be a marketing or price game than anything else since the highly acclaimed 1.6-liter Gamma petrol engine in overseas markets is not going to be the volumes driver in India.
Chevrolet Tavera facelift
Chevrolet’s new Tavera has been snapped without camouflaged for the first time. Though the Tavera, even in its fully-loaded trim, is no match to the Toyota Innova, it has served the taxi cab market loyally. GM refused to upgrade the Tavera’s 2.5-litre diesel engine to BS4 standards when the regulation came into effect in April 2010 and many saw that as a missed opportunity. Since then, the numbers, though encouraging, have been driven by customers in smaller towns and cities.
Come 2012, and that’s about to change! GM will introduce a new BS4-compliant engine sourced from ICML (the makers of Rhino MUV and Sonalika tractors). The 4-cylinder, 2.0-litre CRDI engine produces 100bhp. We infer from the spyshot that GM has incorporated cosmetic changes to the car. The boat-shape headlamps and reworked front grille are prominent differences. High-end variants receive light gray chequered body graphics, clear lens lamps and new alloy wheels. The interiors have not been revamped, but we hear the seats and dashboard sport a lighter shade.
Thanks to the CRDI technology, the new Tavera should be a smoother drive with better fuel efficiency. As GM will position this at a slight premium over the BS3 edition, we expect the car to have lower NVH values and better on-board equipment. The new Tavera is likely to be shown at the Auto Expo and launched immediately after.
Not many may have heard of the Kia Picanto. To keep it short, the Picanto is to i10 what Fabia is to the Polo. The cute cousin of the Hyundai i10 was spied testing in the Velachery area of Chennai recently. The LHD model spied sported an attractive lime green paint job, red temporary registration plates and badges covered in black duct tape. Kia has not expressed its interest in selling cars in India, but it could have changed its mind on seeing many alliance partners or group companies joining the party such as VW-Skoda-Audi, Renault-Nissan and the French combine Peugeot-Citroen that is investing a billion dollars on a manufacturing plant in Gujarat.
If Kia decided to take part in the Indian market, it could position its products at a slight premium over Hyundai’s. Spyshots of the Picanto posted on various internet forums and blogs attracted interest from young readers, who are drawn to it for its quirky design language.
One cannot leave out the possibility of the Picanto running on Indian roads as part of its global testing program. Previously we have seen the Renault Modus testing for the same purpose. The Picanto, called Morning in the Korean market, is powered by the same 1.2-liter Kappa engine that’s found in the i10 and is paired to manual and automatic transmissions. Kia offers a factory fitted LPG kit on the Picanto and sells it as the entry-level model in its portfolio.
Shrawan Raja is the Managing Editor of the daily updated https://indianautosblog.com/