Ashish is enjoying being spoilt for choice by the automotive industry in the modern day, and he finds what’s inside is just as important as what’s on the outside
During the British Raj, the Maharajas, and other members of Indian royalty, had ersatz control over much of Indian soil. British power was clearly evident, however, and Kings readily submitted to foreign rule. As a result, money or riches were never a concern for them. So, our marionette rulers were found driving the best motoring examples from around the world – Rolls-Royce and Bentley were common sights. The obsession was to flaunt the most exclusive brands money could buy – not much thought was given to anything else. But, once the British were defeated and the constitutional structure was laid out, it marked the start of the industrial development of India. Till the late 1970s, though, the automotive industry consisted of only a handful of players, mostly American and British brands, and only the rich industrialists or those with great political influence had the capacity to own them. The automobile remained a distant dream to the average Indian.
It was only after the mid-1980’s that the auto revolution commenced in earnest. In 1981, when Maruti Udyog Limited (MUL) was founded, the erstwhile 800, which was a rebadged version of the SS30 / SS40 Suzuki Fronte, instantly became a sensation. The only serious automotive examples at the time were the Hindustan Ambassador, Contessa, and the Premier Padmini – while the 800 was at the complete opposite end of the spectrum in terms of product design and market placement. The lack of choice in the Indian automotive space forced people to choose from whatever was on offer – and that was invariably quite crude and unrefined.
But the scenario has changed totally, especially in the last 15 years. The economic liberalization in 1991 heralded reforms that made way for foreign investment, and set the ball rolling for global brands setting up shop in India. Now, the Indian automotive industry is so cutthroat that if a model is even slightly subpar, it’s forever lost in the pit of failure. Earlier, the Indian consumer didn’t have much choice, and had to buy what was available. Now, there are constant updates and facelifts to keep the ever-demanding buyer happy. Earlier, there was no concept of appreciating a vehicle’s interior because, let’s be honest, there was no interior style whatsoever in any of those cars. Today, we have studies by research agencies that say vehicle interiors are critical for overall satisfaction of its owners.
According to a JD Power research, ‘New-vehicle satisfaction is increasingly being driven by the vehicle interior.’ The Chevy Spark, Maruti’s Estilo and Swift Dzire, Nissan Sunny, Honda Jazz and Toyota Innova lead their respective segments. The Indian market is growing rapidly and consumers are becoming more aware and maturing by the hour. Though fuel efficiency is still quite an important parameter to consider during a purchase decision, no longer is it the single most important factor. New-age customers want more spice for every penny they spend. The automobiles of choice must score highly on almost all factors – be it design and looks, to interior layout and space, to engine performance and handling. So, the constant fight to improve what’s actually already quite good is a lovely thing for everyone. Engineers get to flaunt and implement their know-how, marketers get to talk up their products, and customers get to sample the very best. I genuinely love the simplicity of classic automobiles – I love the charm, but I can’t deny either that I’m loving this phase of competition even more. I’m loving being spoilt for choice!