The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Maruti-Fiat race on slippery MPV road

New Delhi, Oct. 7: When Maruti’s Versa hit the skids after a high-octane launch last year, the dirge had been sounded for the MPV. That’s the multi-purpose vehicle (MPV), a cross between a car and a van with which Renault sparked a revolution in Europe in the mid-eighties.

Customers were wary about the hybrid vehicle, unable to come to terms with its looks and features. Early this year, Maruti slashed the price of the Versa by almost 20 per cent to ignite sales.

Does Versa’s experience spell the doom for the MPV' Apparently not. Fiat India is already test driving the Doblo and gearing up for launch in 2003. Hyundai has also been mulling the launch of the Caren—an MPV.

“The success of Doblo in the European market made us think that it will be a perfect fit for the Indian market also. The compact size of the MPV and the capacity that can be used in many ways should have an appeal to Indian customers,” said Fiat India sources.

Last week, when Fiat India announced that it was launching the Doblo most newspapers had called it an MUV—a multi-utility vehicle (a people mover that carries about 8-10 people).

But such fine-edged distinctions don’t cut much ice with Indian customers who still lay great store by looks and riding comfort and are bemused by the alphabet soup-style argot of the motoring aficionado.

The Versa is a seven-seater, but the advertisement featuring Amitabh Bachchan and Abhisekh showed it as a luxury family vehicle with the seats folded to make space for a larger boot. The Doblo, however, is a normal 5-seater vehicle with a huge boot space.

But Fiat seems to have myriad options to utilise the space. “We are waiting for the results of the road tests. The vehicle is versatile enough to be fitted with a third row of seats if that is what the Indian customers want. We may even make it optional,” he added.

Maruti’s offer of a Rs 90,000 cost cut on the price of Rs 5.9 lakh has, however, increased the sales of the car from a mere 100-150 per month to around 200-250.

Maruti officials said, “Creating a new category is always a slow process and grows with the user experience. In a developing market like India, on-road visibility is considered to be the most important parameter for a vehicle’s success. The sales promotion drive was launched with the objective of increasing the on-road visibility of Versa which has been successfully achieved.”

However, Maruti is pretty confident of fighting off the challenge from the Doblo. “Versa is a compact, highly manoeuvreable city MPV which has its own strengths and is the forerunner of the MPV category. Competition will bring more focus to the category and will further expand the category as happened in the case of the compact segment. With Versa’s strengths, we are sure that we will continue to be the leaders in the category,” officials said.

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