It’s quite remarkable how quickly the Indian automobile market has adopted automatics. And, yes, while the advent of the AMT (Automated Manual Transmission) may have accelerated that, it’s also true that a lot of it has to do with frustration over the growing chaos and gridlock on our streets.
I say remarkable because many of us have been preaching the virtues of an automatic to a previously very small choir! But now there’s greater acceptance that a) automatics are now better and so don’t necessarily mean a loss of mileage, b) aren’t as expensive as they used to be, and c), what’s always been the case, aren’t ‘difficult’ to drive! That many carmakers now offer an automatic in their midgrade models helps too, as earlier buying an automatic also meant spending on a sunroof and leather seats in the top spec.
But, just as this business stream takes off for our desi Motown, the industry also faces a dilemma – whether or not to invest in diesel automatics. You see, for the longest time, buying the auto variant also meant letting go of the diesel dream. Not so off late, if the success of cars like the Creta diesel auto is anything to go by. Yes, we find many shying away from the prospect – even behemoths like big daddy Maruti Suzuki, who do a diesel AMT but not a conventional auto box. Why is that? Well, the answer is quite simple – cost.
Renault recently took the wraps off the ‘Indian Captur,’ based on the Duster’s M0 platform. And it’s launching with no automatic variant – in the compact SUV space that could mean forgoing as much as 30% of the market. Even the Honda City and Maruti Suzuki Ciaz don’t have a diesel auto. The much celebrated, and very popular, Jeep Compass has a petrol automatic but only a manual in diesel. Sources in these companies candidly admit that they’d loathe to invest in a diesel auto drivetrain almost exclusively for India – since either other markets won’t get the India-made/spec car (as in the case of the Captur), or don’t have a demand for one (like the RHD markets that Jeep is exporting the Indian manufactured Compass to).
So why won’t they invest in one for India? After all, this is a promising market with long-term growth prospects. Well, simply because we’re talking of investing in diesel – a fuel type that’s been under sharp attack in India, and elsewhere. And with the lack of policy clarity off late, no one wants to really take the risk of investing the money needed to develop a diesel auto if it would only have short-term use. Ergo, the diesel Duster AMT – which was developed at a fraction of the cost that a more sophisticated system would have entailed. So, don’t be too shocked if we eventually have a Captur with one too.
But, for all those asking for a Compass diesel automatic – don’t hold your breath, unless, of course, there’s a dramatic shift back to diesel worldwide. In the meantime, the likes of Hyundai who does have relatively affordable diesel autos – Verna, Creta and Tucson – will presumably be laughing all the way to the bank. And others, like the beleaguered Skoda Rapid and Volkswagen Vento, may also see a slight bump in sales since they have a diesel auto too.