India Serves up Baby Suzukis, Ancient and Modern

By Andy Bannister

08.10.2008

Suzuki has unveiled its the latest version of its Indian-built Alto city car, which will make its public debut at this autumn Paris Motor Show.

The new car is a rather timid interpretation of the previously hyped A-Star concept, but should cement India’s role as a supplier of the Japanese firm’s smallest and cheapest models.

These are exported to Europe and many other world markets, but not North America.

Meanwhile, Suzuki’s Indian partner, Maruti, is still building a 1980s version of the Alto as its own low-priced people’s car. Recently improved, it is the company’s weapon to head-off the challenge posed by the long-awaited Tata Nano.

In Europe, the brand new Alto will compete against small city cars like Ford’s latest Ka, the Renault Twingo, and the Citroën C1/Toyota Aygo/Peugeot 107 triplets. With rising motorist costs, the budget end of the market is growing, and building cars in low-cost countries is one way for makers to compete and still make a profit.
Disappointingly, and despite promises to the contrary, the Alto looks to have inherited little of the road presence of the A-Star concept car, which looked far funkier than any production Suzuki.

In fact, the new Alto looks more like a copy of the smallest Citroën, even down to its pop-out windows in the rear doors.

Of course, it is common practice to unveil a stylish concept, make lots of promises about it going on sale in a year or so, and then trot out something far tamer as the finished showroom version.

Suzuki says that the new Alto is “a response to the needs of today’s motorists”, meaning it is lighter and more economical, but as roomy inside as the previous model.

Having once had the misfortune to drive one on a Mediterranean island holiday, I can report that the last Alto was a fairly miserable and characterless little device with little, if anything, to recommend it. The new version will need a generous helping of charisma to make inroads against some tough competition overseas, although its Indian success is certain.

Power is likely to be courtesy of a newly-developed 1.0-litre petrol unit, designed with an emphasis on achieving low C02 emissions. These increasingly have a crucial impact on the amount of tax a car buyer pays.

Millions of Altos in numerous generations have been made in Japan and India over the years, with one of the most successful early models remaining on sale today in India under the name Maruti 800.

A lightly-freshened version called the Uniq has been introduced this summer, with a few cosmetic upgrades and standard air-conditioning.

“The idea is to make it an automatic choice of people, who love ‘Uniq’ things in life,” the company rather cheesily wrote to its dealers to introduce the new version of its old workhorse.

The company also recently launched an LPG variant of Maruti 800, called the Duo. Despite its age – in excess of 25 years – the 800 shifts well over 5,000 units each month in India, although sales have fallen of late as consumers desert the model for more sophisticated alternatives.

Maruti-Suzuki is India’s leading car brand and offers a full range of other models to consumers in the country, including other small models such as the Zen Estilo and Wagon R.

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Author: Andy Bannister

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2 Comments

  1. They really watered the concept down, and more’s the pity because the car is awfully plain now. Not ugly. just plain.

  2. These Suzukis are everywhere in India, buzzing around like little hornets. Their drivers always seem to be a tremendous hurry as you frequently see them climb up on a sidewalk to get around traffic. Traffic in India is not for the timid.

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