Renault Kiger spotted testing days before unveiling

After tasting success with their 'made-for-India' models like the Kwid and Triber, the folks at Renault are at it again. This time, they have set their eyes on the booming compact crossover segment. After taking the wraps off the Kiger Concept virtually last November, Renault announced earlier this month that the production model would be unveiled on 28th January, 2021.

With just a couple of days to go for the official unveiling, the Kiger was caught testing on the busy Chennai-Bengaluru highway.

Despite it's evidently compact dimensions, the Kiger enjoys a good stance thanks to the wide shoulders and the wheels being pushed off to the corners. With Renault confirming that the production model would resemble the concept closely, expect Kwid-like split lighting clusters up front and C-shaped LED taillights at the back with a sharp cut in between. The latter, together with the sculpted tailgate seen in the concept, would give the Kiger a sharp-looking derriere. Those crazy wheels and bright green accents are not likely to make it to production.

Built on the CMF-A platform that already underpins Renault's own Kwid and Triber, Datsun's redi-Go and Nissan's latest hit Magnite, the Kiger is likely to carryover the 1.0-liter, 3-cylinder petrol engine that powers all of them. While it generates a modest 72 horsepower in naturally aspirated form, turbocharging bumps the power up to 100 horsepower. Transmission options would include a 5-speed manual and a CVT automatic.

If Magnite's pricing is any indication, expect the Renault Kiger to be priced aggressively, giving the established brands a lot to think about. Let's see how things pan out for the Kiger-Magnite duo!


Get excited, folks. The Tata Safari is coming back!

It wasn't India's first-ever SUV as many believe it to be but was definitely ahead of it's time when launched. It was never a big-seller bringing in the volumes but topped the charts when it came to desirability and appeal. It's reliability was always questionable but in terms of capability - both on and off the road - there was no question. The Safari is an enigma - a legend that thousands of fans swear by, a nameplate that many more aspire to be associated with and an icon the folks at Tata are proud of, quite rightly so!

That's why when Tata broke the news all of a sudden that the Safari is coming back, there was excitement in the air and the whole fraternity was thrilled. In just a matter of minutes, automotive websites, forums and social media handles were buzzing with activity. Almost none, by the looks of it, had forgotten the 'Safari' or the brilliant "Reclaim your life" ad campaign. How can we, really?

I would be lying if I tell I wasn't apprehensive about the prospects of the Gravitas (that's how the Safari was going to be called!). One of the few things Tata did not get right over the last few years was the launch of the Harrier. Though they ironed out the niggles and gave it a new lease of life coinciding with the changes done for BS6 emission norms, the Harrier isn't a runaway success like the Tiago, Nexon and Altroz are. The Gravitas was just going to be a bigger Harrier with similar looks, similar interiors, an additional row of seats and a few incremental features.

Will these small changes be enough to give the Gravitas an identity of its own and let Tata charge a premium? Will the upcoming new Mahindra XUV5OO steal the thunder from the Gravitas, given the latter has no brand recall to speak of? Will Tata's soon-to-be flagship live up to its title?

In one fell swoop, Tata answered all these questions. Whether this was the plan from the very beginning or some smart bloke within Tata had similar concerns and proposed a change of name, we might never know. What we know is Tata pulled off a masterstroke by deciding to launch this as the new Safari.

They made everyone talk. They made the legions of followers feel restless with excitement and anticipation. They made the new Safari get into a lot of people's consideration lists that the Gravitas could've only dreamt of. They've given the car a chance to fight existing and upcoming rivals hard.

While we have to wait to see the results, production of the new Safari has started at Tata's plant in Pune with the first car rolling out yesterday. From the images released, the Safari has clearly come of age in this bold, stylish and modern new avatar. The car is all set for launch on the Republic Day which is when the prices and specifications would be out. An AWD option, sadly, might not be on offer at launch!


India's "Top 20" Best-selling Cars in 2020

From my previous post, it was clear the CoVID-19 pandemic had a lasting impact on automobile sales for more than a quarter last year with the industry hitting the rock-bottom in April with zero units sold. With Maruti-Suzuki and Hyundai holding their positions, the rest of the car-makers fought hard for the one-third of the market that was left out.

Of course, India's best-selling car in 2020 was a Maruti-Suzuki. But which of the many cars wearing the 'S' badge finished on top? Where did the Hyundais end up in the pecking order? Did cars from any other brand apart from these two manage to break into the top ten? 

Here's the answer for all those questions:

  • The top six best-selling cars are from Maruti-Suzuki
  • Seven of the top ten and ten of the top twenty best-selling cars are from Maruti-Suzuki too
  • Two cars from Hyundai and a Kia are the only other brands to feature in the "Top 10"
  • Mahindra's Bolero, a trio of Tatas and Renault's Triber round out the "Top 20"
  • With the exception of new launches, none of the models reported growth over 2019; Creta, Wagon-R and Nexon did a brilliant job of minimizing the fall compared to the previous year

Swift was India's best-selling car in 2020

  • At India's largest car-maker, the fight for supremacy is not with cars from rival brands. Cars within the brand slug it out and trade positions. In 2020, the Swift came out on top trumping the smaller Alto and bigger Baleno by a few thousand units. 
  • As a first car for a young couple or the daily runabout for urban dwellers, the Swift is just perfect. That the car is capable of doing it keeping the person behind the wheel 'smiling' makes this little Suzuki a big winner.
  • While the Alto came runner-up in the race, Baleno and Wagon-R aren't far behind. Remarkably, the Wagon-R lost just 5% of its sales compared to 2019. 
  • Dzire bore the brunt of Maruti-Suzuki moving to a petrol-only line-up post BS6 implementation with a steep fall of 37%. Vitara Brezza suffered a similar fate for the same reason.

Hyundai and Kia SUVs take the market by storm

  • From being a fringe player in the segment in 2014 to India's leading seller of SUVs/Crossovers, Hyundai (and now Kia!) has come a long way.
  • Creta continues its dream run in its second generation, reporting just a 3% drop over 2019.
  • Sibling Kia Seltos finished close behind more than doubling its 2019 sales tally.
  • Add the numbers of Venue and Sonet (launched in the second half of 2020) and the two Korean brands have decimated competition in this 'hot and happening' segment.
  • All's not well with Hyundai though with the i20's 40% drop despite the launch of a new generation model sure to ruffle feathers internally.

Tata makes quite an impression

  • Despite it's age and boxy nature, Mahindra's Bolero continues its incredible run outselling all other newer models in the brand's line-up.
  • Tata Motors had a stellar year with the Tiago, Nexon and Altroz bringing in consistent numbers through the year. With eye-catching styling and an impeccable safety record across the line-up, Tata's success is very satisfying to watch.
  • Renault Triber sneaked in at number twenty, becoming yet another success story for the French brand in the country.

Just outside the "Top 20", Kia's Sonet is waiting to break into the list while the Kwid was a casualty of the success of Renault's own Triber.

Watch this space. 2021 is going to be very interesting!


India's "Top 10" Best-selling Car Brands in 2020

Any which way you look at it, the Indian automotive landscape is one of a kind. There's no other market in the world I'm aware of that sells more than a couple of million cars every year but still dominated by one brand.

Did the COViD-19 pandemic that gripped the country (and the whole world!) in 2020 change any of that? Apparently not, looking at the sales figures. One thing that did change though is the industry reported 'zero' sales in April 2020 when the whole country went into a lockdown in a bid to curb the spread of the virus. This had never happened before and hopefully, never happens again.

As we look forward for a better year, here's the list of "Top 10" best-selling car brands that survived 2020 in India:

There's no stopping the Maruti-Suzuki juggernaut

  • 2020 threw everything at India's largest car-maker. From shutting down their plants during the lockdown to bringing them back upto scale within a few weeks, from having to discontinue their strong-selling diesel line-up when BS6 emission norms were implemented to multiple attempts by rivals to snatch their lead in many lucrative segments, the Japanese brand prevailed and came out stronger.
  • As a result, Maruti-Suzuki still sells one in every two cars sold in India, the 18% drop from 2019's numbers notwithstanding.
  • Add the cars sold to Toyota to retail through their outlets and the number goes even higher!
  • If the 'S' badge can pull in so many customers with a petrol-only line-up, imagine what would happen if the 1.5-liter diesel engine makes a comeback as widely reported. Competitors should be a worried bunch.
  • Despite the love we Indians shower on them, Suzuki's desirable models like the Swift Sport and Jimmy aren't in India. Sad! They're also lagging behind in the EV race. Hyundai, Mahindra, Tata and even MG have electric cars on sale in India.

Tata storms to third behind Hyundai

  • Hyundai continues to be all alone in the race, having reported sales of 423,642 units. That's a 17% drop over 2019. While the Creta and Venue are big-sellers raking in the profits, hatchbacks like the Grand i10 and i20 continue their strong run.
  • Tata has been the shining star in the Indian market over the last 12 months, managing a growth of 11% in what was an extremely tough year. Their product-led transformation has been amazing to witness. From nailing the design to acing the safety tests, the Indian car-maker has focused on all the right aspects so far. Altroz has now joined the Nexon and Tiago in bringing in the volumes while the Harrier is playing the role of a flagship to perfection. Tata, on its part, isn't resting on the laurels and is having its kitty full. Next up is the Safari debuting later this month.

Kia and MG make inroads

  • Kia's entry - and subsequent rise - in India has been almost flawless. Seltos and Sonet have been smash hits and the Carnival is doing pretty well as an image-builder. I was right in predicting Kia's rise in our market after all! Is there no chink in the brand's armour then? Oh no, there's one and that's a big one. I'm referring to Seltos' modest showing in the Global NCAP tests. A 3-star rating is unacceptable for a model that retails for 20 million rupees in its top spec.
  • Mahindra had a tough year. It's domestic sales slid 38% pulling the brand down to fifth. With the XUV5OO's magic starting to fizzle out, Mahindra is now dependent on its old workhorses Bolero and Scorpio for volumes. The rest of the line-up, barring the XUV3OO, have fallen flat. After the stupendous success of the new Thar, Mahindra would be pinning its hopes on the all-new XUV5OO and Scorpio to turn the tide around. Elsewhere, Mahindra has other problems to contend with. SsangYong is a bit of a headache now and discussions with Ford on the proposed joint-venture has come to a screeching halt as well. 
  • Renault, in sixth position, did a good job of arresting the fall, helped by the launch of the Triber and the timely facelift of its bread-and-butter Kwid. The French car-maker learnt pretty early that it needed market-specific models to survive in India and the Kiger is the next in line.
  • Next up is Toyota, the world's largest car-maker. That they deemed it fit to tie up with Suzuki to bolster their 'affordable' model range in India shows how tough our market is for global brands to figure. Innova Crysta and upwards, Toyota is doing just fine.
  • Honda is on a free fall right now. With sales almost half of what it was in 2019, the Japanese brand has clearly seen better days. The City, with all it's might, is doing what it can but needs help from a high-riding sibling that's nowhere to be seen. Come on Honda, get your damn SUVs and crossovers here!
  • With the proposed joint-venture with Mahindra that was going to bring in new models not happening now, Ford has hit a roadblock. What the American car-maker has in store for India remains to be seen. Seven years after launch, EcoSport is still the model that keeps Ford going.
  • MG, the erstwhile British brand now owned by China's SAIC, makes an entry into the Top 10 pushing Volkswagen out. From bringing in three new models in just 18 months, equipping and positioning them well to putting in a lot of efforts towards brand building, MG has done a lot of things right.

Outside the top ten, Volkswagen, Skoda and Nissan are trying to get their respective houses in order. While the two European brands are lining up new launches in a renewed bid to make it big here, Nissan has just struck gold with its Magnite. Let's see if these brands manage to shake things up in the top ten list this year.

BMW pips Mercedes-Benz in the luxury race *

  • While Mercedes-Benz has not announced its 2020 sales figures yet, BMW was leading the luxury race by a healthy margin until the end of November.
  • Assuming December threw no major surprises, BMW should have easily finished ahead with a total of 6,092 units sold last year.
  • That's a massive drop from the 9,000 and 13,786 cars BMW and Mercedes-Benz managed to sell in 2019. Clearly, India's rich tightened their wallets to let the pandemic pass.
  • The rest of the luxury brigade are too far off to threaten this duo.
Source: Official manufacturer press releases and monthly sales charts published in Team-BHP & Auto Punditz

* Mercedes-Benz hasn't released its 2020 sales figures


America's "Top 20" Best-selling Cars in 2020

It was clear from the previous post that Ford was the most popular brand in the United States last year. Toyota and Chevrolet, placed next in the pecking order, were not far off though. Is the same trend observed in sales of individual models too? Let's find out.

Before we get into the details, here's the list of America's 'Top 20' best-selling cars in 2020:

F-Series tops the charts

Alright, this has become an annual affair, pandemic or not. 

  • Ford's F-Series ended 2020 as the most popular vehicle in the United States of America. 
  • This marks an incredible 39th year at the top of the sales chart for this behemoth.
  • This is also the 44th year in a row the F-Series has finished as America's favourite pick-up truck.
  • Remarkably, the F-Series managed this feat despite being in the last year of its life cycle and the disruptions caused by the pandemic.

With the next-generation F-Series - including the electrified 'PowerBoost' variants - already in the dealerships, the stars are aligned for Ford to mark four decades of leadership with this truck by the end of 2021. Watch this space.

Chevrolet and Ram trade places

  • Finishing runner-up to the F-Series was its arch-rival from Chevrolet, the Silverado.
  • After losing out to Ram's stylish new Pick-Up in 2019, the Silverado was back on top in its own little duel.
  • That the Silverado managed to improve its numbers by 3% over 2019 despite the pandemic goes to show how good an outing the Chevy had in 2020.
  • Ram was relegated to its usual third spot in the list and would be itching to get back ahead.   

SUVs, Crossovers and Trucks gain at the expense of sedans

  • With over 430,000 units sold, Toyota's RAV4 was America's best-selling vehicle that wasn't a pick-up truck. Honda's CR-V came in next but the gap between the two is too big to make Toyota worry. In fact, with three models in the Top 10 and five in the Top 15, Toyota is sitting pretty. It's the competition that has to worry. 
  • Toyota Camry - America's erstwhile favourite - is holding its own so far, managing to keep the Chevrolet Equinox and the other fast-rising SUVs and trucks behind. It's buddies from Japan - the Civic, Corolla and Accord - have all lost positions with each reporting declines of over 20%.
  • GMC Sierra and Ford Explorer had an amazing run, growing their sales by 9% and an astonishing 21% respectively last year. Add the Sierra's numbers to the Silverado's and GM wins the great American pick-up war. Explorer's lead in the mid-size SUV segment gave Ford reasons to cheer though.
  • Anything that wasn't a SUV, crossover or truck lost positions and reported a bigger drop in sales compared to those high-riding body-styles. Notable exceptions were Nissan's Rogue and Ford's Escape which should be a great cause of concern for the two brands.
  • Two models each from Jeep and Subaru complete the Top 20 line-up with the latter's Forester ousting the former's Cherokee off the list.

While the trends are clearly visible, we shouldn't be reading much into 2020's sales figures as stated in the previous post. After all, it was an abnormal year. Let's wait and watch how the American market unfolds this year!


America's "Top 10" Best-selling Car Brands in 2020

None of us have to be reminded of the absolute havoc caused by the COViD-19 pandemic in 2020, taking millions of lives away and collapsing hordes of businesses. Now that the automotive industry has survived the trough and the car-makers are looking forward with cautious optimism, it's time to reconcile the numbers and see who shed the least blood in the year gone by.

As always, it’s the United States of America we’re going to start our analysis with. After a phenomenal run of five consecutive years when the number of new cars and trucks sold topped 17 million units, 2020 was quite a blow. Cumulative sales of 14.5 million units represented a drop of close to 15% compared to 2019. Given the circumstances though, there's not much to read into it. 2020, by all means, was an abnormal year and it would be prudent to wait and watch how the industry fares this year.

Based on the numbers reported, here's America's ‘Top 10’ best-selling brands:

Ford remains America’s favourite brand

  • For a 11th consecutive year, Ford was America’s most popular brand. 
  • With total sales of 1.94 million units, Ford was helped massively by the continuing popularity of the F-Series that’s now been America’s best-selling pick-up for 44 straight years. 
  • Also boosting its numbers were the Explorer and Escape with the former ending 2020 as America’s best-selling midsize SUV. That should be a massive relief for the folks at the helm, given the much-publicized launch troubles the model went through in 2019. 
  • With the Bronco Sport starting off well, the Mustang Mach-E garnering praise from everyone and the Bronco sitting on a pile of orders, 2021 should be a good year for the ‘Blue Oval’. It better be as Toyota and Chevrolet aren't very far away! 
  • Spare a thought for the Fusion and Fiesta that are fading into the sunset as part of the brand’s strategy to exit cars and focus on SUVs and crossovers. The former, especially, will be missed in the United States.

Toyota and Chevrolet close in

  • With 1.84 million cars and trucks sold in 2020, Toyota came in second with just 100,000 units separating it from the top spot. That’s a number that can easily be overhauled with just one very successful new model. With the RAV-4 going all guns blazing, the Camry holding fort amidst an onslaught of crossovers, SUVs and trucks and the Tacoma, Corolla and Highlander pitching in with significant sales of their own, Toyota is sitting pretty. That they are the runaway leaders when it comes to 'hybrids' also helps. 
  • Going into 2021, the folks at Chevrolet would be a happy bunch. Though the 1.74 million units sold in 2020 and the 11% drop over 2019 might indicate otherwise, the new-generation Silverado family - in their first full year in the market - had a successful run and was one of the few nameplates that grew vis-à-vis 2019. Yes, the Silverado (and it’s sibling, the GMC Sierra) posted growth over 2019! Equinox and Traverse did well too with the former leapfrogging popular Japanese sedans like the Civic, Corolla and Accord. 

Nissan falters, Kia put up a strong fight

  • Honda, in fourth is all alone, with Chevrolet far ahead and Nissan dropping off quite significantly behind. CR-V is the brand’s best-seller but unable to mount a challenge to the ever-popular RAV-4. Civic and Accord are the other big-sellers with both experiencing sharp drops as SUVs and crossovers continue to run rings around sedans. 
  • Clinging onto fifth position behind Honda is Nissan. The Japanese brand has been grappling with a myriad of issues and this 33% drop in one of its biggest markets would’ve already set the alarm bells ringing in Japan. Something has to be done, soon. The recent redesign of the Rogue, Nissan’s best-seller, is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately for them, their once-strong sedans are in freefall mode right now! 
  • Not far behind is Jeep, FCA’s crown jewel. After a few years of unprecedented growth when the brand could do no wrong, Jeep saw its sales drop 14% to under 800,000 units. With the exception of Gladiator, the drop was seen across the line-up with everything from the Renegade all the way up to the Grand Cherokee ending up in red. 
  • Ram came in seventh with almost the entire sales coming from the brilliant new Pick-up. While the flagship 1500 TRX has mesmerized truck-lovers with its insane power and torque in a bid to woo the Raptor-loving crowd, the fact that the Ram Pick-up fell behind its arch-rival Chevrolet Silverado within a year of getting ahead would be of great concern to the brand.
  • Hyundai had a better year compared to the other brands in this list, with sales dropping just a shade under 10% compared to the prior year. The Korean brand’s efforts on getting one crossover after another to the market seems to be paying off with the Tucson, Santa Fe, Palisade, Kona and Venue more than making up for the fall in sales of the Elantra, Sonata and Accent sedans. 
  • Subaru’s dream run came to a screeching halt in 2020 with the Japanese brand reporting a 13% decline in sales compared to their all-time high figures achieved in 2019. As always, the Forester and Outback led the charge for Subaru in what has now become the Japanese car-maker’s most important and possibly most profitable market. 
  • Rounding off the Top 10 is Kia, capping a remarkable year in which it saw its sales slip in just lower single digits. Of course, it’s still worse than brands that grew in 2020 – like Mazda, for instance – but those brands don’t sell as much as Kia. Shining bright in Kia’s line-up was the Telluride. The last I heard, the Korean car-maker wasn’t able to produce as many as they could sell. Also helping matters are their stylish new launches like the Sorento and K5.

Mercedes-Benz pips BMW in the luxury race

  • From the very beginning of 2020, Mercedes-Benz has been leading the luxury race from BMW. While the former is yet to report its full year sales, only a very poor showing in the fourth quarter would be able to dislodge Mercedes-Benz from the top. The GLC, GLA and GLE raked in good numbers apparently while the E-Class continue to be a popular choice amongst sedans. 
  • With sales of 278,732 units in 2020, BMW reported a 18% decline compared to the previous year. That resulted in the brand losing its lead from 2019. Within the lineup, the X series of SUVs have been very popular and fast displacing sedans as the mainstay of the brand. 
  • Lexus proved its resilience and reported 275,041 units sold last year, placing it just a few thousand units behind BMW. The RX was the undisputed best-seller for the Japanese brand with the NX and ES sedan also adding considerable numbers.

Now that we've seen the Top 10 best-selling brands in the United States, the list of Top 20 best-selling cars would follow in the next post. 


All-new Mahindra XUV5OO spotted testing

The joint-venture with Ford might not be happening any more but the folks at Mahindra are going to have a busy year.

With the new Thar firing on all cylinders forcing the car-maker to ramp up capacity, two of their best-selling models are also getting ready for launch later this year. One of them, the all new XUV5OO, was caught testing on the outskirts of Chennai, not far off Mahindra's R&D Center.

Despite the heavy camouflage, it is clear Mahindra is looking to tone down the design and styling of the second-generation XUV5OO. The elimination of paw-shaped door handles and the reduced heft on the rear fenders are proof of that. Still, there are enough cues to not mistake it for anything but an XUV like the tipped-forward stance and the kinked-up window line. This restrained aggression bodes well for the new XUV5OO as it's likely to lock horns directly with the upcoming Tata Gravitas that wears sleek and contemporary clothes.

The interiors are likely to be significantly better than the current model with a plethora of features and improved build quality, fit and finish. Earlier test mules were seen with loads of kit including a flat-bottomed steering wheel and a two-tone dashboard with a long, continuous screen incorporating the instruments and infotainment.

Powertrain options are likely to be carried over from the Thar. The 2.0-liter 'mStallion' petrol and the 2.2-liter 'mHawk' diesel would be on duty, albeit in higher states of tunes. Both would have a choice of 6-speed manual and automatic transmissions with All Wheel Drive likely to be on offer in select trim levels as well.

Mahindra, together with Tata, have been flag-bearers of safer cars in the Indian market with the XUV3OO currently holding the distinction of the safest mass market car on sale. Expect that to continue with the XUV5OO.

So, if you're in the market for a three-row SUV, please wait. All pointers indicate the all-new XUV5OO should be worth it!

Picture Credits: Karthik Chandrasekar