The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Slugfest stalks sporty sedans

New Delhi, Nov. 1: If you were uncharitable, you would probably call it the race of the road hogs. Auto-makers are ready to roll out a fleet of sports utility vehicles (SUVs) next year — the big, lifestyle statements that come with a price to match.

The SUV segment — defined until now by the Tata Safari and the recently-launched Mahindra Scorpio — will go into turbo-mode when Ford launches its Escape, General Motors unleashes its Panther, Honda rolls out the CR-V, Hyundai unwraps the Terracan, and Toyota powers in with the Prado.

Auto-makers have been struggling to find a proper pricing niche for their products which now range from around Rs 7-9 lakh for the Safari and Scorpio to the HM-built Pajero, which retails at Rs 19.7 lakh.

At the top-end, there is the Mercedes Benz M-class, which sports a price tag of Rs 52 lakh and will soon receive competition from the BMW X5 — both of which are CBU imports.

“Our study shows that the Escape will have potential sales of around 50-100 vehicles a month, if priced competitively for the Indian market,” says Vinay Piparsania, Ford India’s vice-president (external affairs).

The Ford Escape, powered by a 2 litre Zetec V6 engine, will be launched early next year and carry a price tag of Rs 9-10 lakh. Auto analysts say pricing of vehicles will be important as these SUVs are trendy, but not really fuel efficient.

“There is quite a good demand for sturdy four- wheel drives that can carry around eight people. But the SUV segment is not exactly value-for-money. Thus, the pricing will have to be very competitive even if one wants to sell only 50 vehicles a month,” say auto analysts.

General Motors has already geared up to launch the Isuzu Panther in India by the middle of next year. The company is planning to manufacture the vehicle in the country, for which HM will produce 2.5 litre diesel engines. The price is expected between Rs 15-17 lakh.

B. V. R. Subbu, president of Hyundai Motors, says: “The Terracan will be priced around Rs 18-22 lakh when it is launched as a completely built unit (CBU). We are not looking at a huge market for the vehicle here. A 100-plus market is good enough to start production.” Terracan will be launched in February.

Honda has yet to decide whether to bring in the CR-V as a CBU or make it here. The SUV will be powered by a 2.4 litre VTEC four-cylinder engine that will churn out 160 bhp. It will also have the space to pack in two full-size mountain bikes with the rear seats folded. This vehicle is supposed to be comparatively fuel efficient. The CR-V launch is slated for March-April and the price tag will be Rs 20 lakh only.

Toyota’s Prado will be launched as a CBU with a price tag of around Rs 15-18 lakh. It will be positioned as a mid-size SUV. “The market for this vehicle has yet to mature. It won’t be a great idea to start manufacturing the Prado in India until there is a shakeout in the market and competition settles down,” sources said.

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