Maruti Suzuki, a car brand that is known to many. You would hardly find someone not knowing about Maruti in India. Car-owner or not, it is a brand well-known to all. A brand as widespread as the black death in Europe during the 1300s. I get it, maybe it was not the best way to describe the popularity of the brand in India (let's not get bogged down by the fact, instead let's head straight into it).
Most of you guys must be car enthusiasts because you are here reading this right now and I am sure it interests you. As a car enthusiast myself I do know what's going through your mind at the moment – "Uh, it's a Maruti! Synonymous with terms like – Tin Can, Self-Destruct car, Unsafe Vehicle, etc." I do feel you all and I know you all are well aware of these terms. Why am I here you ask? I am here to show you the other side of the story, as the cliché line prevails, 'Every coin has two sides.'
I had written a short rant on Maruti's fake marketing tactics to sell cars in the name of performance. You can check it out by clicking here.
We must know about the past before making any comments on the present.
Maruti Udyog Limited was founded by the Government of India in 1981. It merged with Suzuki, a Japanese automobile company in October 1982. This merger lead to the formation of the Maruti Suzuki brand we now know today.
(I would not bore you with any more history about the affiliation. If it really interests you, then you can read more about it on Google later on)
Creating a market
If you are someone from the 80s and 90s, you would remember owning a Maruti car in which you and your family would go out on jolly drives. If you didn't own one at the time, you surely did dream to have one. Many old Maruti car models made it to the 2000s receiving updates from time to time; some even got close to the 2020s mark!
Many of the cars sold by Maruti during the period were a hit; these cars have now come to be known as 'Blasts from the past'. The Maruti 800 was a success; it was the first love for many growing up in those times. Maruti soon brought new models for the growing market, the Maruti 1000 was introduced in 1989 and was India's first contemporary sedan! In 1993, the Zen was introduced, and in 1994 the 1.3L Esteem was showcased. Maruti produced its one-millionth vehicle in 1994, almost ten years since they started their venture in India. Things were looking good for Maruti Suzuki as if they were destined to succeed.
In 1998, the Maruti 800 received its first change in design since its launch. Zen D, a 1527 cc diesel hatchback, and Maruti's first diesel vehicle, and a redesigned Omni were also introduced. In 1999, the 1.6 litre Maruti Baleno three-box saloon and Wagon R were added to the automakers' portfolio.
Many more cars like the legendary Gypsy, Grand Vitara were introduced in the Indian market in this period (1980s-2000s).
Marketing and Services
After setting a sure foot into the Indian market with new releases, Maruti set to doing what it does the best today. The company worked on its marketing and services. In 2000, Maruti became the first car company in India to launch a call centre for customer services. Then in 2001, Maruti True Value (selling and buying used cars) was launched. In 2002 Maruti Suzuki launched Maruti Insurance to provide vehicle insurance to its customers with the help of some insurance companies. To promote its bottom-line growth, Maruti Suzuki also launched Maruti Finance in January 2002. Maruti Accessories and Maruti Driving school too were set up in the years to come.
All this contributed to a market share of more than 45% (as per July 2014)! Maruti Suzuki had 3598 sales outlets and 3,792 service stations across 1,861 cities in India (Data before 2020).
Now, with the BS6 emission norms, Maruti has decided to phase out the production of its diesel cars which accounted for almost 23% of its sales. Chairman R.C. Bhargava stated, "We have taken this decision so that in 2022 we can meet the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency norms and a higher share of CNG vehicles will help us comply with the norms. I hope the union government's policies will help grow the market for CNG vehicles."
The Present and the Argument
That was the past when Maruti cars were highly appreciated; it is safe to say that our mentality towards the brand has changed over time. The Indian automotive industry is very dynamic and keeps on changing from time to time. Hindustan Motors, Chevrolet, Fiat, etc. failed to understand this market and faced consequences which we are quite aware of. The thing we must realize is that Maruti has survived all these years whilst staying on top of the hierarchy (in terms of sales). Maruti comprised 53% of the Indian passenger car market as of July 2018! Things seem to be getting competitive for brands like Hyundai, Toyota, etc. with the entry of new brands such as Kia, MG, Haval, etc. into the market while Maruti seems to sail smoothly through this.
Why is Maruti successful? (Target Market)
You may say Maruti is crap, makes bad quality cars, etc. That is true, but the statistics showcase a different scenario. Not everyone in India is a petrol head with an itchy right foot; not everyone has the money to afford the upkeep of cars from brands like Škoda and VW. Maruti hasn't ignored its premium consumer base and launched Nexa in 2015. With the Nexa brand, Maruti Suzuki sought out to address its premium consumer base, which resented buying Maruti cars earlier due to obvious showroom and car-related issues. Nexa was a success; Maruti was able to capture a new market.
The Baleno RS has been mocked upon by many, even by me as I wrote a rant on it earlier.
But the thing is Maruti tried to ignite a flare for all the car enthusiasts in the Indian market (those who wanted high resale and service). The Baleno RS wasn't a bad car; it tried its best to draw the attention of the general public towards hot-hatches in India. It was a disaster in its segment though and was mocked for being a Pseudo-hot hatch when compared to its competition like the Figo S, JTP, the German Polo GT, and the beasty 145hp Abarth.
The S-Presso or the A**-Presso as some of you like to call it, isn't a bad car at all. It is meant to target a market for those entry-level car buyers. It is for someone who wants to buy a cheap, easy to maintain 4-wheeler. The Kwid might look fancier in this segment, but the S-Presso is just more practical. Practicality, affordability, resale is something the people buying entry-level cars look out for, and the S-Presso manages to check all the boxes just right.
Being a car journalist, you cannot have a biased opinion for a particular car or a car brand. No car is bad; it is just targeting a market you are not interested in. In my opinion, Maruti does deserve its success. I can already see comments coming up cussing at me for saying something like this, but yes, it is true. As much you may hate Maruti, always remember that you might not even know what a luxurious car felt or looked like if Maruti had not started back in the 1980s. They basically changed the game by announcing policies and schemes which made other brands follow up. They propelled the Indian Automotive Industry forward! They made it happen!
You should consider yourself to be fortunate enough to joke on Maruti because if you think about the people who are earning just Rs.50,000 a month and wish to own a car, they have no other go-to brand but Maruti. Even statistics show that most of Maruti's consumer base comprises of first-time owners.
One cannot look at only one side of the story and completely ignore the other. Hence, I sat down to pen this article. Maruti might be known as "Maru-tin" right now, but times are changing, they are improving their quality standards. Maruti has embraced change as "Change is the only constant" and for this Maruti is an absolute prodigy in its game. The company has my hate as a car enthusiast and my RESPECT as a journalist and an Indian.
(Their flaws do lead to pretty great memes though, and you would be lying if you said that you didn't enjoy automotive memes on them).