2014 Top Selling Cars - China

The emergence of China as the largest and, arguably, the most important automotive market is well acknowledged in the industry circles. But doing business in the Chinese market isn't a cakewalk as the land of dragon poses some unique challenges that are often tough to crack. While some are still figuring out the ways and means of operating successfully in the world's most populous country, there are some brands that have hit the jackpot.

For the year 2014, it was Volkswagen that went all guns blazing and emerged as the best-selling automotive brand in China. That isn't surprising, as Volkswagen has been dominating the world's largest car market for what seems an eternity now. Helped by two successful joint ventures and playing the ‘early mover’ strategy to perfection, Volkswagen sold 2.7 million units last year. That's almost twice as much as what Wuling, a domestic automaker and a partner of General Motors, managed with 1.4 million units. Taking the last spot on the podium is Hyundai, the South Korean manufacturer ending the year with sales of 1.1 million units.

General Motors and Volkswagen rule the roost in China, a fact that was reinforced yet again when we compiled the list of top ten best-selling cars of 2014. Seven models out of the top ten best-sellers were from either of these giants and neither are showing signs of slowing down.

With cumulative sales of 750,019 units, Wuling Hongguang is, by far, the best-selling automobile in China. A product of the SAIC-GM-Wuling joint venture, we all know the Hongguang as the Chevrolet Enjoy in India. That the Hongguang is the only Multi-Purpose Vehicle (MPV) selling in such high numbers in a market known more for its love towards sedans and new-found love for Sports Utility Vehicles (SUV) makes it all the more impressive. With the Buick Excelle and Chevrolet Cruze finding 560,000-odd customers between them, GM is in an enviable situation in our neighboring country. It’s a pity that GM’s Indian operations are struggling with severely under-performing models.

At 371,962 units, sales of Volkswagen Lavida might be just half of Hongguang's but that was enough for the midsize sedan from Shanghai-Volkswagen to become China's second-largest selling car. Santana, another China-specific model from the same joint venture, ended 2014 as the country’s eighth best-selling vehicle. Adding to Volkswagen’s tally in the list are a couple of interesting but related cars. Sagitar, which is actually the new Jetta worldwide, is at number four with sales a little over 300,000 units. Just don’t confuse that with the other Jetta that you see at number six. It is a legacy model that is several generations old but is still managing impressive numbers with just a few facelifts.

Just like India, Sports Utility Vehicles are getting increasingly popular in China too and Haval, the SUV sub-brand of China’s Great Wall Motors, is very popular in its homeland. The brand’s H6 was the most-popular SUV in 2014 and the third best-selling vehicle in China with cumulative sales of 315,881 units. Nissan’s Sylphy had a good outing at number five with sales hovering a few tens above 300,000 units. Hyundai’s Elantra Langdong, which is the same as the Elantra sold in India and elsewhere, rounded off the top ten with 252,338 units sold.

2014 Top Selling Cars in China:

1. Wuling Hongguang (SAIC-GM-Wuling) - 750,019
2. Volkswagen Lavida (Shanghai VW) - 371,962
3. Great Wall Haval H6 - 315,881
4. Volkswagen Sagitar (FAW VW) - 300,082
5. Nissan Sylphy - 300,058
6. Volkswagen Jetta (FAW VW) - 296,961
7. Buick Excelle (Shanghai GM) - 293,098
8. Volkswagen Santana (Shanghai VW) - 285,301
9. Chevrolet Cruze (Shanghai GM) - 267,985
10. Hyundai Elantra Langdong - 252,338

Source for sales figures: China Passenger Car Association (CPCA)

Outside the top ten, Ford Focus put up an extremely impressive show with its hatchback and sedan body-styles hitting 207,349 and 184,432 units respectively. Put together, Focus would be the second best-selling nameplate in China, next only to the mighty Wuling Hongguang.

At the luxury end of the spectrum, Audi is the clear winner beating BMW and Mercedes-Benz by a country mile. With 513,000 units sold in 2014, China is Audi’s largest and most important market. BMW managed a respectable 278,195 units, a number that might appear less when compared to Audi but still a pretty impressive figure nonetheless. Mercedes-Benz came in a distant third, with sales of 139,508 units.


Mercedes-Benz launches the stunning CLA-Class in India

Mercedes-Benz India went on a new model offensive last year and was rewarded with a significant increase in sales. Not to lose the momentum that's favouring it right now, Mercedes-Benz has kicked off 2015 with the launch of CLA-Class sedan today. The CLA is the smallest and most affordable sedan wearing the three pointed star in India right now and is a product of the same Modular Front Architecture (MFA) platform that underpinned the A-Class and B-Class hatchbacks and the GLA-Class crossover before it.

The CLA 200 Sport, the sole petrol variant on offer, is priced at INR 35.00 Lakhs. The diesel-engine CLA 200 CDI is available in two trim levels - Style and Sport, that retail for INR 31.50 Lakhs and INR 35.90 Lakhs respectively. All prices are ex-showroom Delhi. While these prices might not compare favorably with the Audi A3 that starts at almost 8 Lakh Rupees less, its important to note that the initial lot of CLAs are imported as Completely Built Units (CBU) with production in India slated to begin later this year.

Inspired by the sexy CLS four-door coupe, the CLA is a visual stunner. The long hood, the striking grille with the large three pointed star, the arching roof line, the frameless doors, the boomerang character lines, the terrific detailing in those uniquely-shaped taillights and the dual exhaust pipes mounted beneath a diffuser-like plastic insert in the rear bumper combine together to create a dramatic-looking sedan that's sure to leave onlookers impressed. If you wanna turn heads, you gotta go in the CLA. Period.

Sharing most of the parts with its MFA stablemates, the CLA's cabin would look familiar for those who have seen and experienced the A, B and GLA. The three spoke steering wheel, the turbine-shaped air-conditioner vents and the brushed silver finish in the dashboard look superb while a notable improvement over its hatchback siblings come in the form of a bigger, higher-resolution, tablet-like infotainment system that pops out of the dashboard.

Feature list is extensive with the CLA boasting a 12-speaker Harman Kardon Logic 7-surround system with Bluetooth, CD and USB connectivity, leather upholstery, climate control and a panoramic sliding roof that automatically closes when it senses rain. As with most luxury cars, the safety aspect is covered with the CLA coming equipped with six airbags, Antilock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and a host of driver assist functions like Brake Assist, Pre-SAFE, Attention Assist, Hill Hold function and Acceleration Skid Control (ASC).

Both the engines offered in the CLA are doing duty in the GLA crossover already. While the turbocharged 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder petrol engine generates 181 bhp at 5500 rpm and 300 Nm of torque between 1200 to 1400 rpm, the 2.2-liter diesel engine belts out a modest 134 bhp between 3600 to 4400 rpm and 300 Nm of torque between 1600 to 3000 rpm. Mated to a 7-speed Dual Clutch automatic transmission, both these engines offer three driving modes to choose from - E (Economy), S (Sport) and M (Manual).

With the high-performance CLA45 AMG already making waves in the country, the regular CLA-Class would play a crucial role in Mercedes' attempt to topple Audi as the best-selling luxury car manufacturer in India. So, what's your next move Audi?

Tata Motors launches Bolt, prices start from INR 4.45 Lakhs

After an extended period of lull, Tata Motors came back with a bang with the launch of the Zest compact sedan, its first all-new model in years launched under the 'HorizonNext' strategy. With the Zest proving to be a big success, Tata Motors launched the much-awaited Bolt hatchback today in what would be the Pune-based manufacturer's yet another crack at the hot premium small car segment. 

As always, Tata Motors has nailed it when it comes to pricing. Retailing between INR 4.45 Lakhs and 6.06 Lakhs for the petrol variants and INR 5.50 Lakhs and 7.00 Lakhs for the diesel variants ex-showroom Delhi, the Bolt is a superb value-for-money offering that has the potential to snatch sales from established competitors like the Maruti-Suzuki Swift, Hyundai i20 and Volkswagen Polo. Four trim levels are on offer - XE, XM, XMS and XT. 

The Bolt is essentially a Zest minus the boot. Despite obvious similarities with the outgoing Vista, the car looks young and stylish which is commendable. The signature Tata grille, together with the smoked headlamps with inbuilt projectors and the power bulge in the hood, gives the Bolt an aggressive front end. The silhouette could well be mistaken for that of the Vista's, save for the blackened C-pillar that creates a 'floating roof' effect. At the rear, the 'christmas tree' taillights are now gone, replaced by sleek flame-shaped lenses that gives the Bolt a strong character. Adding a sporty touch is the rear spoiler and the black plastic insert in the rear bumper.

Like the Zest, Bolt's interiors are a big step-up vis-a-vis the Vista. The design, layout, fit and finish of Bolt's cabin would be amongst the best in segment, a fact we can definitely lay claim to having experienced the Zest. If the Vista's interiors were a compromise compared to competing models from Volkswagen and Hyundai, the Bolt's no longer is. As always, expect the interiors of the Bolt to be extremely spacious with generous leg room and width in both rows that can easily accommodate five full-sized adults. Unlike the Zest that featured dual-tone interiors, the Bolt gets the more sporty 'java black' theme inside.

All variants of the Bolt feature air-conditioning, an electric power steering with active return function, remote fuel lid and tailgate opener, a tachometer and a Driver Information System with gear shift indicator and fuel-efficiency readouts. While that might not seem generous, the top-end Bolt XT's kit definitely will. Amongst others, it has central locking, power windows, electrically-adjustable rear view mirrors, automatic climate control, rear seats with split function, driver's seat height adjustment, Antilock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Corner Stability Control (CSC), speed-sensing door locks, smart rear wiper and airbags for the driver and front passenger. 

A highlight of the Bolt's cabin is the first-in-segment 'ConnectNext' infotainment system developed by Harmon. It has four speakers, four tweeters, multiple playback options including AM/FM, USB, Aux-In and iPod, steering-mounted audio and phone controls, speed dependent volume control, full Bluetooth connectivity with phone-book access, call logs, call reject with SMS function, conference call and incoming SMS readout, smartphone-enabled navigation system and touchscreen-aided climate control system. That's not all. It also lets you play videos and view images through USB and SD card when the car is stationary and features voice command recognition too. Now, that's entertainment!

The 1.2-liter turbocharged 'Revotron' petrol engine that made its debut in the Zest powers the Bolt too, with a maximum power output of 89 bhp at 5000 rpm and a peak torque of 140 Nm between 1500 and 4000 rpm. As in the Zest, the engine features three drive modes - City, Eco and Sport, in what is a first-in-segment feature. The diesel variants have the familiar 1.3-liter Quadrajet mill that produces 74 bhp at 4000 rpm and a peak torque of 190 Nm between 1750 to 3000 rpm. Both engines are mated to a 5-speed manual transmission. The popular Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) could make an appearance in the Bolt diesel a few months down the line.

Those with sharp memories would still remember the buzz generated by the Zest and Bolt at the 2014 Auto Expo in New Delhi. Though it has taken a year for the Bolt to go on sale, it still has a lot going for it. The biggest challenge for Tata though would be to make potential customers look past the Tata badge and the Indica baggage. Are they ready to get, set, Bolt? We wish they are.


2015 Detroit - Honda NSX vows in production form, finally

After building tons of expectation amongst ardent show-goers and fans worldwide since 2012 when the NSX Concept was first presented, Honda finally unleashed its all-new supercar in its production form. And it's not a Honda. Now, don't get confused. Since the debut location was the 'Motor City' Detroit in the United States of America where Honda's premium brand Acura has built a good reputation, the NSX would be badged and sold with an 'A' on its hood and boot rather than the 'H' we know here in India. Along with the Ford GT, the Acura NSX swept the critics and the public off their collective feet in Detroit.

Twenty five years! That's how long it has been since the original NSX went on sale. And Honda has never been the same again. That the NSX took Honda to an entirely different level would be a gross understatement of the car's virtues that even had Ayrton Senna, arguably the world's best racer and a Formula 1 legend, pitching in during the car's development. With the second-generation NSX, Honda has faithfully stuck to the original's formula of shifting the brand's own paradigms. So, what does the new NSX have in its arsenal that makes the fanboys go weak on their knees?

The first thing that comes to our mind about this mid-engined Japanese supercar is its hybrid powertrain. A twin turbocharged V6 engine mated to a 9-speed Dual Clutch Transmission is complemented by three electric motors - one each powering the two front wheels and a direct drive unit at the rear. Though Honda is still mum on the NSX's power and torque figures, the horsepower generated are transferred to all four wheels through a Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system. Among its other hardware, the Integrated Dynamic System that adjusts engine, transmission and chassis response by letting the driver chosse between Quiet, Sport, Sport+ and Track modes and the "launch" function that aids in that ultimate 'zero delay' launch performance would keep the enthusiasts happy.

Despite the fact that we are familiar with the car through its various concepts forms in the last three years, the new NSX still looks hot and stylish. It sits low and wide wearing sharp, clean lines throughout. The aggressive front end is dominated by slim headlights with multiple LED elements and gaping air intakes. In profile, the signature side air intake and the functional floating C-pillar ups the style quotient by a few notches. The racecar-inspired diffuser and the quad exhausts in the middle look incredibly sporty. If the original NSX was the world's first all-aluminium monocoque supercar, the successor features an innovative multi-material body that utilizes an aluminium space frame, ultra high-strength steel, carbon fiber and other advanced materials.

The interiors are impressive too by supercar standards, interestingly christened "Human Support Cockpit" by Honda. Swathed in bright red leather, the driver and passenger seats are said to appear top-class grip levels and comfort. A sporty, flat-bottomed steering wheel, a dynamic TFT instrument cluster and the minimalist center console dominated by a rather large 'power' button stand out inside. The center console also extends into a midframe, a functional chassis structural member that reflects the aesthetic appeal of a naked sports bike. Don't look for anything exotic in the cabin as you normally would in a supercar. The NSX would suffice all other requirements though.

Slated to get into production at a brand-new facility in Ohio, United States later this year, the new NSX would mark the beginning of an all-new era for the Japanese marque. And yeah, there's a RHD version too, but the chance that we Indians might be treated to this supercar are supremely remote.


Datsun launches Go+ in India at an incredible INR 3.80 Lakhs

When Nissan announced the relaunch of Datsun brand to cater to the needs of the emerging markets, it did generate a lot of buzz. But, Datsun's stint in India has not quite gone to plan with the Go struggling to make an impact in a segment dominated by Maruti-Suzuki and Hyundai. Not the one to be bogged down by the Go's failure, Datsun is back with its second launch, the Go+.

As its name suggests, the Go+ is essentially the Go hatchback extended to accommodate a third row of seats. With a claimed seating space for seven occupants, would you be surprised if we disclose that the overall length of the Go+ is less than 4 meters? Yes, the Datsun Go+ is a compact Multi Purpose Vehicle and is a direct competitor to Maruti-Suzuki's Eeco and Omni vans.

Launched at a killer price tag of INR 3.80 Lakhs for the base D variant, the Go+ is superb value for money especially considering that it can seat seven when needed. The other variants - D1, A and T, are priced INR 3.82, 4.15 and 4.61 Lakhs respectively. All prices are ex-showroom Delhi. At this price, the Go+ would end up rubbing shoulders with cars from several other segments.

The Datsun Go+ shares its design and styling with the Go hatchback. The front end is purposeful with the sweptback headlamps, hexagonal grille and ridged hood adding a lot of character. Up until the C-pillar, the Go+ cannot even be differentiated from its smaller sibling, after which the MPV bodystyle makes its presence felt. The additional length has been smartly integrated, with the Go+ even using the same taillights as the Go hatchback. A few places, like the gaping wheel wells, the bulbous rear fenders and the slab-sided profile, does make the Go+ look a bit ungainly.

The interiors of the Go+ are straight off the Go hatchback too. Though a practical place to be in, the cabin, finished in grey and beige, is strictly bare-bones with visible signs of cost cutting glaringly obvious. The three-spoke steering wheel, circular air-con vents and the door pads are some of the better-finished items inside. The dashboard-mounted gear lever and the unique seat extension from the Go find their place in the Go+ too. Based on our experience with the Go, space at the first two rows should be adequate. The third row appears to be a squeeze though and might just be for those rare occasions when practicality takes precedence over comfort.

The spartan equipment list includes only the basics with the top-end variant getting air-conditioning, power steering, front power windows, a mobile docking station, follow-me-home headlamps and central locking. There is nothing else, not even a music system offered as standard. A driver airbag is optional on the top-end variant though. Powering the Go+ is the same 1.2-liter, 3-cylinder petrol engine that does duty in the Go hatchback. With 68 horsepower and 104 Nm of torque, the specifications seem more suited to an entry level hatchback than a people-lugging MPV.

But the value-conscious Indian customer could overlook all these looking at the price tag. Will the Go+ change Datsun's fortunes in India or will it be another dud in Nissan India's lineup? We think it would be the latter, but we could be wrong.


2015 Detroit - Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe has the BMW X6 firmly in sight

The problem with the German luxury trio is that they’re too predictable. When Audi debuted its A3 hatchback in 1996, neither BMW nor Mercedes-Benz had a competing model in their portfolios. Today, the A3, 1-Series and A-Class are locking horns across various geographies. The story of the four door coupe isn't much different with Mercedes-Benz pioneering the segment with the sexy CLS before Audi and BMW played catch-up.

The new year’s first auto show that opened in Detroit earlier this week had more of the same. BMW’s X6 has been enjoying a monopoly of the hybrid ‘SUV-Coupe’ segment that it created, leaving its rivals in the lurch. Though it has taken longer than usual, Mercedes-Benz has finally come up with its challenger, the all-new GLE Coupe. Just like it’s Munich-based rival, the GLE Coupe is sure to split opinions big-time. You will either love it or hate it. Period.

Based on the current ML’s platform, the GLE Coupe’s role in Mercedes’ portfolio is clear. While the upcoming GLE would replace the ML and rival BMW’s X5, the GLE Coupe would end up locking horns with the controversial yet popular X6. Audi isn't in this fight yet, but judging by history, they should soon have one to challenge these sloped-roof Sports Utility Vehicles.

The new design language of Mercedes-Benz has earned the brand thousands of fans worldwide and the GLE Coupe doesn't try to deviate from that. It picks up elements from a lot of other models in the portfolio before merging them all in the polarizing SUV-Coupe shell. The upright front end looks familiar, thanks to the trapezoidal grille split by a strip of chrome and the kinked headlights that we have seen in cars like the CLA and A-Class. The profile looks a bit weird with those large wheels and the sloping roof-line, we think. But then, if the customers love it and are ready to part with their hard-earned money, who are we to complain? The rear is characterized by the slim horizontal taillights that bear a strong resemblance to the S-Class Coupe and AMG GT.

Looking at the pictures released by Mercedes-Benz, the interiors look first rate. Dominated by a chunky flat-bottomed steering wheel, the large tablet-like display that appears to pop out of the center console and lots of carbon-fiber bits, the GLE Coupe’s cabin looks comfy and sporty at the same time. Powering this brute coupe is a bi-turbo V6 engine that produces 362 horsepower and 520 Nm of torque. It comes mated to a 9G-TRONIC nine-speed automatic transmission and 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive system. Like all other Mercedes’ models, a generous list of safety and comfort equipment would come standard in the GLE Coupe including the DYNAMIC SELECT feature that lets the driver control the vehicle’s handling.

And yes, there’s an AMG variant too that’s quicker, more agile and looks sharper than the regular model.

With the introduction of GLE Coupe, Mercedes’ successful SUV range is all set for a full nomenclature change. The core models – A, B, C, E and S will continue to be the mainstay while the SUVs will all get suffixes that indicates their relationship with the relevant core models. While the GLA is already in line with this new system, the next-generation GLK would be christened GLC while the M-Class will see its name changed to GLE. The range-topping GL will get an ‘S’ suffix and become GLS while the legendary ‘G’ would continue unchanged.


2015 Detroit - All-new Ford GT breaks cover

The history of Ford GT40 is a stuff of automotive legend. Born as a result of Ford's failed attempt to acquire Ferrari in the sixties, the GT40 was conceived with the sole intention of beating Ferrari at its own game - winning the Le Mans endurance races. And beat Ferrari it did so convincingly that the GT40 is now widely regarded as the best racing car of it's time and one of the best ever in the history of motorsport.

The legend is now back! Ford stole the limelight in Detroit when it took the wraps off the latest iteration of its halo, mid-engined, rear wheel drive supercar, the GT, amidst the glitz and grandeur of the 2015 North American International Auto Show.

Slated to get into production sometime in 2016, the GT marks the return of Ford to the unforgiving yet lucrative supercar segment. 2016 also marks the 50th anniversary of the height of GT40's dominance when the iconic car bearing the blue oval logo finished a crushing 1-2-3 in the 1966 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Unlike the previous model that retained the GT40's retro shape and lines, the new GT is less of an ode to the original and more chic and contemporary. Aerodynamics has played a significant role in the way in which each panel, curve, vent and slope have been designed in the GT but the car still has a lot of cues influenced by the gorgeous GT40. The shape of the headlights, for instance, are straight off the original but the terrific detailing in them look stunning. That's not all. The nostrils in the hood, the circular hollowed-out taillights and the dual exhausts are from the past too, each modernized to varying levels. That apart, the wraparound windshield, the aircraft-inspired fuselage, the pair of flying buttresses that connect to the fuselage and tons of carbon fiber all around ensures that the GT would still stand out in the company of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches.

Entry to the two-seat cockpit is through a pair of upward-swinging doors that aids ingress and egress apart from being visual stunners. A F1-inspired steering wheel integrated with all necessary controls results in a stalk-free steering column. The rest of the cabin follows a similar minimalist approach, shaving off precious kilograms. But, what really stands out inside is the fully digital and customizable instrument cluster that not just looks great but also helps the driver with tons of information.

Powering the new GT is not a V8 as you might expect. Instead, the most powerful 'EcoBoost' engine ever produced by Ford - a 3.5-liter, twin turbocharged, V6 unit producing more than 600 horsepower and mated to a 7-speed, dual clutch transmission sits between the front and the rear wheels of the GT. The car also boasts advanced active aerodynamics like an adjustable ride height and a fully-deployable rear spoiler, racing-inspired pushrod suspension and a host of innovations in the materials used for its construction.

When the all-new Ford GT goes on sale, it is expected to be limited to just a few thousand units, making it a more exclusive showpiece of the brand's engineering prowess. Now Ford, tell us how do we get to drive one?

2015 Detroit - Hyundai debuts HCD-15 Santa Cruz Concept

When Hyundai mulls entry into a segment in which it isn't competing currently, it does so in such a way that the competition sits and takes notice. The ongoing North American International Auto Show in Detroit had one such moment when the South Korean manufacturer unveiled the HCD-15 Santa Cruz Concept. Penned at Hyundai’s California Design Studio, this Sport Truck concept hints at a compact pickup truck that could roll down the brand’s assembly lines a few years from now. Given America’s love towards pickups and the absence of competition in the compact truck segment, Hyundai might actually be staring at a sure-shot success if it decides to add this model to its portfolio.

Like most concepts, the HCD-15 Santa Cruz is bold, flashy and, in some places, in-your-face. The large hexagonal grille with cascading hexagonal slots, for instance, is one of those cues that also adds to its brute appeal. The upright front end is characterized by neat honey-combed projector headlamps and vertical LED fog lamps. A sleek greenhouse, smart rear-hinged doors that merge seamlessly with the front doors, a raked C-pillar and over-sized wheels define the profile. The rear is less alluring, undone by the bland tailgate that looks to have been chopped off a crossover. The wraparound horizontal taillights look great though.

Upping the ‘rugged bling’ quotient are the skid plates front and rear, plastic cladding all around, the slingshot-shaped design flourish in the front doors and the bright yellow accents splashed on the ‘Brembo’ discs, tow hooks, rear-view mirrors and the dual trapezoidal exhausts. The Santa Cruz Concept may be a compact pickup but comes with the useful functionality of an expandable loading bed and a tailgate extension that, Hyundai claims, increases the length of the loading bay comparable to a midsize pickup.

Hyundai hasn't divulged any details yet on the mechanicals except that a 2.0-liter turbo diesel power-train with 190 horsepower and 407 Nm of torque would be powering all four wheels of the truck through Hyundai’s ‘HTRAC’ All-wheel drive system.

With a compact footprint, seating for five, an innovative and practical open bed that expands only when needed and the overall size of a small crossover, Hyundai’s Santa Cruz is a brilliant concept that only needs proper execution to make it big. When the ‘Concept Genesis’ was unveiled in 2007, not many took it seriously only to be overwhelmed later when the production model took them by surprise. So, dear competitors, ignore the Santa Cruz at your own risk!


2015 North American Car & Truck/Utility of the Year awards announced

As the curtains went up for the 2015 edition of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit a few hours back, the winners of one of the most anticipated awards in the automotive industry were announced. Now in their twenty second year, the North American Car and Truck/Utility of the Year awards are considered significant as they represent the collective opinion of 57 jurors from all forms of automotive media - magazines, newspapers, television, websites and radio.

To be eligible for this award, a car or truck/utility should be either all-new or substantially changed from the previous model year, priced less than $100,000 and must have an annual foreseeable North American sales of 5000 units for cars and 2000 units for trucks. From the initial list of vehicles that were eligible for the award, the jurors picked up three finalists for each category last month. In cars, Ford Mustang, Hyundai Genesis and Volkswagen Golf/GTI made the cut while Chevrolet Colorado, Ford F150 and Lincoln MKC were the trucks/utilities chosen for the final showdown.

When the final votes were tallied and announced live in front of gathered audience on the inaugural day of the North American International Auto Show today, it was Volkswagen and Ford that registered their names in the honour roll. Yes, the Golf/GTI is the 2015 North American Car of the Year while the F-150 took the 2015 North American Truck/Utility of the Year title.

The Golf has been a recipient of many an award before, including the highly coveted 2013 World Car of the Year title. Praised worldover for its pleasing yet evolutionary design, spacious interiors, fun-to-drive nature, an array of technologies under the hood and safety equipment, the Golf romped home with a fair margin over its competitors. In fact, the Ford Mustang seems to have given the Golf a hard time while Hyundai's highly impressive Genesis was a distant third in the final tally.


1. Volkswagen Golf/GTI - 256
2. Ford Mustang - 204
3. Hyundai Genesis - 110


* 2014 - Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
* 2013 - Cadillac ATS
* 2012 - Hyundai Elantra
* 2011 - Chevrolet Volt
* 2010 - Ford Fusion Hybrid

Moving over to America's favourite bodystyle, the country's favourite truck walked away with the award this time around. Taking the title from its cut-throat competitor from General Motors, Ford's revolutionary aluminium-bodied F-150 with a host of advancements all over nailed it, distancing itself quite comfortably from the competing Silverado. But the Chevy can take solace from the fact that it crushed the other finalist, the Lincoln MKC, by scoring thrice as many points.


1. Ford F-150 - 261
2. Chevrolet Silverado - 142
3. Lincoln MKC - 87


* 2014 - Chevrolet Silverado
* 2013 - Ram 1500
* 2012 - Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
* 2011 - Ford Explorer
* 2010 - Ford Transit Connect

For those who do not remember, Chevrolet swept the 2014 North American Car and Truck/Utility of the Year awards, with it's Corvette Stingray and Silverado emerging victorious last year.


2014 Top Selling Cars - USA

China might have stolen the limelight from the United States of America as the world’s largest automobile market, but the significance of American consumers and their buying preferences are extremely important to the well-being of the industry. No, we aren't going overboard. If not for the fantastic recovery of the American market that contributed significantly to their profits, it wouldn't have been possible for many global automakers to mitigate the difficult business conditions in Europe, Russia and some markets in the Asia Pacific region.

It’s business as usual for Ford Motor Company with the ‘Blue Oval’ emerging as the most popular automobile brand in America, selling 2.37 million units. Just behind Ford, Toyota and Chevrolet slugged it out, with the Japanese manufacturer managing to pip the bow-tie brand by just 30,000 units with a sales tally of 2.06 million units. Honda and Nissan finished a distant fourth and fifth, posting 1.37 and 1.26 million units respectively.

Moving on, let’s take a look at the cars and trucks that the Americans embraced in 2014. Just like the Indian market, the top ten best-selling automobiles in America are pretty much a carbon copy of 2013 with a lone exception and some models interchanging positions.

Enough has been said about the dominance of Ford’s F-Series trucks in the American market last year and the year before and in 2011 and so on. Nothing changed in 2014. F-Series topped the sales charts for a 33rd year running with more than 750,000 customers putting their money on the truck. 2013’s runner-up Chevrolet Silverado finished second last year as well, but posted a big jump in sales at 529,755 units. With cumulative sales of 439,789 units, Ram’s light duty pickup trucks posted an ever bigger jump of almost 25% and closed the gap to leaders handsomely. In all this, the 2014 podium became an all-truck affair, proving a well-known point to the analysts again.

If 2014 was a good year for trucks in the American market, the reducing gas prices and positive buyer sentiments could make 2015 an even better one for these so-called gas guzzlers. But for now, cars outnumber trucks and utilities in the top ten list. Swarmed by sedans all around, Honda’s CR-V is the only other truck/utility apart from the top three, finishing the year in eighth position with 335,000 odd units.

Despite a healthy improvement over 2013, Toyota’s Camry has been pushed off the podium, but just. With 428,606 Americans reposing their faith in the midsize sedan and a further 339,498 customers signing up for the Corolla, Toyota is as strong as ever in the US of A. Sandwiching the two Toyotas at number five is their arch-rival from Japan, the Honda Accord. This, along with the Civic that’s the ninth largest-selling car with 325,981 units sold, makes Honda the brand with the most number of entries in the top ten list. Posting a sales figure of 335,644 units, Nissan Altima adds to the Japan tally. Rounding off the list is Ford’s Fusion that replaces its stablemate Escape in the list.

2014 Top Selling Cars in America:

1. Ford F-Series - 753,851
2. Chevrolet Silverado - 529,755
3. Ram 1500-3500 - 439,789
4. Toyota Camry - 428,606
5. Honda Accord - 388,374
6. Toyota Corolla - 339,498
7. Nissan Altima - 335,644
8. Honda CR-V - 335,019
9. Honda Civic - 325,981
10. Ford Fusion - 306,860

Source for sales figures: www.forbes.com

| Stars of 2014 - The Big Three Pickup Trucks |
| Promise of 2015 - Ford F150 |

Amidst hues and cries to shift to smaller, more efficient and less polluting cars, Americans reaffirmed their affinity towards trucks and Ford, Chevrolet and Ram were there to capitalize with either generation changes or mid-cycle refreshes. That makes the big three trucks the stars of 2014. Having gone on sale recently, the groundbreaking all-aluminium F150 is not just gambling on the lightweight metal, but is hoping to be a trendsetter of sorts in the truck segment. That’s where we place our bets for 2015. Will the F-Series increase the gap at the top further? Let’s wait and watch.

Considering the sheer size of the market and the number of models on sale, restricting the top selling cars to just ten isn't fair. But then, most of the next ten best-selling cars are all again from Ford, Toyota and Chevrolet. Hyundai and GMC are the only new brands out there, with the Elantra, Sonata and Sierra slotting in commendable positions.

In the battle of supremacy in the luxury segment, Mercedes-Benz has posted highest sales of 356,136 units. The caveat here is that number includes commercial vehicles too. That could make BMW, with a sales tally of 339,738 cars, the most popular luxury brand in America. Lexus comes a close third while Audi is a distant fourth followed by Acura and Infiniti.


2014 Top Selling Cars - India

Having stepped into the new year, it’s time for us to look at what clicked and what didn't in the Indian market last year. For those who have been regularly following our automotive industry, 2014 would be hardly surprising. Maruti-Suzuki continues to be the undisputed leader but, that apart, the year belonged to Hyundai, Mahindra and Honda with all three brands enjoying successful new launches on top of the established best-sellers that they roll out.

Suzuki might have packed their bags from the United States of America, they might be fighting hard to keep their market share from falling in Europe and Australia, they might lag far behind Toyota, Honda and Nissan in their home country Japan, but their vice-like grip over the Indian market seem to be only getting stronger and stronger with each passing year. 2014 was another fantastic year for Maruti-Suzuki, with the company scaling new heights in an increasingly competitive market flooded with brands from across the globe. And that, dear folks, include the behemoths Toyota, Volkswagen and General Motors. With the exception of Hyundai and, of late, Honda, every other global car-manufacturer seem to be struggling to gauge the pulse of discerning Indian consumers the way Suzuki did.

When the cumulative sales figures of 2014 were put together, the list of top-selling cars was surprisingly similar to the year before.

Like 2013, Maruti-Suzuki dominates the list with five out of the top ten best-sellers wearing the ‘S’ badge. The country’s long-time best-seller Alto continues its reign at the top with cumulative sales of 264,544 units. With the Alto K10 equipped with a more powerful engine and an Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) joining the line up recently, we wouldn't be surprised to see Alto’s numbers going up further in 2015. Flanking the Alto in the podium are the Swift siblings, with both models selling more than 200,000 units each. Here’s the surprise - the compact sedan Dzire outsold the hatchback and is the second largest selling car in India.

Wagon-R comes next, clocking close to 160,000 units. More than the figure, what’s impressive is the amazing consistency with which this Japanese tallboy successfully fends off competition from newer models in the market. At number nine, the other Maruti-Suzuki in the list is the one we wish doesn't sell as much as it does, the venerable Omni. Launched almost three decades back with bare-bones interiors and questionable safety, the ability to carry upto eight passengers at the cheapest cost is what makes this minivan appealing to cost-conscious semi-urban and rural Indians.

As we predicted last year, Hyundai’s Grand i10 lived up to its promise and was the best-selling non-Suzuki car in India at number five. Finding 103,749 customers last year, the Grand i10, along with the Eon and i20 that also make it to the top ten with around 150,000 units between them, puts Hyundai in a very good position in the Indian market. To be honest though, we expected the Grand i10 to post much higher numbers and challenge the Wagon-R, which hasn’t happened. Nevertheless, the new Elite i20 is setting the sales charts on fire and is already the best-selling Hyundai model for two months running. Watch out for it, and the upcoming ix25, in 2015!

We aren't sure if Mahindra has decoded what clicks for the Bolero in India yet, but the rugged utility vehicle posts yet another stellar year with sales a notch over 100,000 units. At number six, the Bolero is India’s most popular UV by a country mile. With the development of its successor already underway, the Bolero's graph could climb further north. Honda replaces Toyota in the top ten list with the City finishing 2014 as the eighth best-selling car. It not only outsold the competition by a big margin, but also is the most expensive car in the list.

2014 Top Selling Cars in India:

1. Maruti-Suzuki Alto - 264,544
2. Maruti-Suzuki Swift Dzire - 210,882
3. Maruti-Suzuki Swift - 202,831
4. Maruti-Suzuki Wagon-R - 159,260
5. Hyundai Grand i10 - 103,749
6. Mahindra Bolero - 102,045
7. Hyundai Eon - 80,346
8. Honda City - 77,320
9. Maruti-Suzuki Omni - 74,498
10. Hyundai i20 - 69,116

Source for sales figures: www.team-bhp.com (Monthly Sales Charts)

| Star of 2014 - Honda City |
| Promise of 2015 - Hyundai i20 |

A perennial best-seller since its launch in 1998, the City, then in its third generation, was finding the going tough due to the absence of an oil-burner under the hood. Just when the competition got a bit complacent, Honda launched the all-new City, this time with a diesel engine too. That was it. The City decimated its opponents including the top-selling Verna, at times selling more than all its competitors combined, making it our star of 2014. Similarly, Hyundai’s second-generation i20 is rewriting the rules of premium hatchback segment with never-seen-before sales. With Hyundai’s production capacity cited as its only constraint and the discontinuation of Santro freeing up space, the Elite i20 holds a lot of promise for 2015.

Outside the top ten, Maruti-Suzuki’s Celerio and Ertiga had a good outing last year, as did Honda Amaze, Toyota Innova, Hyundai Xcent and Ford Ecosport, each of them selling more than 50,000 units. Toyota proved its mettle with it's Innova, Corolla and Fortuner topping their respective segments convincingly.

In the higher echelons, Audi continues its stint at the top as the best-selling luxury automotive brand in India. Having crossed the 10,000 units milestone in November, Audi has distanced itself well from its challengers. But, it was the three-pointed star that shone bright in 2014, with sales of 10,201 units, an all-time record. True to its name, it really was an 'Year of Excellence' for Mercedes-Benz that is quickly closing in on Audi. Both these brands are quick to launch their new models in India, relegating the relatively sluggish BMW, the top-selling luxury brand not so long ago, to the third spot. Jaguar and Volvo continue to remain fringe players, unable to crack the strong brand image enjoyed by the three Germans.