Auto Expo 2016 – Lacking the Spark

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We have just finished walking the Auto Expo. Our smartphone app tells us that we walked a total of 21 kms, not much considering we made about 100 trips to the tea joint. Over two days, we checked all the models – the ones with wheels and the ones with legs – and this is our report on the wheeled variety.

Overall

It was a yawn inducing Expo, period. Maybe our expectations were high; maybe we spoke to the wrong (pessimistic types) executives; maybe the good stuff was launched two days before the expo; maybe some of the exciting brands decided to cock-a-snook at the Expo altogether; maybe we use too many maybes to sound interesting…

The overall impression from the Expo was that most brands behaved like Shahrukh Khan in a romantic role. They dialled it in. Their heart and soul simply wasn’t there and the presence was underwhelming.

Most displayed an incoherent understanding of what they wanted to achieve from the Expo or even if they understood what their brand stands for. Some forgot to bring relevant models for the Indian market to display at the Expo, models that are expected to be launched within a year’s time anyways. Some others decided to take the limelight away from their market relevant models by making them stand next to an iconic American muscle car. And some more decided to cram their budget cars together with their luxury car division – no prizes for guessing where the crowd decided to look.

More than anything, the Expo lacked showstoppers. From the handful of models that were unveiled at the Expo, we cannot pick up the Top 1–2–3 in terms of exciting us. The Vitara Brezza is competent, yet unexciting, and was overshadowed by the Ignis; the Hyundai HND–14 Carlino was cardboard painted in bright orange; the XUV Aero was exciting but is too early stage (suicide doors!) to be even tried on the existing XUV platform; the Honda fancy three-wheeled hybrid superbike Neowing is never gonna make it to India and everything else had already been seen and was expected.

Okay, we should stop here and give consolation prizes – for trying – to the Honda Navi, Suzuki Ignis and TVS Akula 310.

 

Event Organisation

“Wow, automotive bloggers are now starting really young,” was our first reaction when we saw an eight year old right after entering the show. Then we saw another ten year old and some more kids definitely bunking school. Some things never change and Media / Corporate passes had again been handed out as favors to family & friends. This is an unprofessional practice and the industry should be frowning at it.

The organisers fail to estimate the traffic correctly and allocate resources accordingly. So we could, even on the media days, see that the food plaza was of inadequate capacity. And today, the 9th of Feb, the official site for the Expo is down to overuse of resources (too much traffic).

With the cribs out of the way, we now present a brand-by-brand report of the Expo.

 

Abstaining from the show

A number of big brands, especially in the two-wheeler space, stayed away from the Auto Expo. In the car space, Ferrari & Maserati stayed away, even though both have hit the Indian market recently. Also absent was Skoda, wisely so.

On the two-wheeler front, iconic brands Harley-Davidson and Royal Enfield stayed away. Royal Enfield had grabbed maximum media eyeballs just before the Expo with the unveiling of the Himalayan. Harley had also launched the 1200 Custom days before the Expo and decided to stay away from the Expo.

Also staying away were Ducati and MV Agusta, the Expo certainly going beyond their annual advertising budget. Also absent was Bajaj Auto, the brand having launched the V range a couple of days before the Expo.

With so many brands abstaining from the show, most citing the cost factor, the organisers have to look within themselves need not care a damn considering the space was all sold out.

 

Maruti-Suzuki

The numero uno by half-a-mile had the Vitara Brezza, the Ignis concept, the Baleno RS, and the rest of the range on display. The Vitara Brezza (YBA) is developed in India, looks very competent, will sell very well, and is yet unexciting. While it ticked most of the boxes, it’s not a design as pathbreaking as the original Swift or the old Zen.

But that won’t matter. Maruti-Suzuki is increasingly becoming the guy with the big dick in a porn movie. He doesn’t have to try too hard – just show up and the job is done. The Vitara Brezza is very competent, perhaps the second best product in its segment, and so would easily shuffle 6000+ units every month, maybe more depending on the extent of cannibalisation of the Swift & Baleno.

The Ignis is a concept and points to a product in the development stage. It’s an interesting preposition for a tall, compact size hatchback and will find many takers depending on the pricing. In our books, it is the ideal successor to the Ritz but won’t come with the Ritz name.

The Baleno RS uses the K10 Boosterjet 1.0-litre engine. This is Suzuki’s version of a turbocharged, direct injection gasoline engine, rivalling Ford’s Ecoboost. While this is the future of gasoline engines, it may be a year before we see the engine being introduced in India. However, exports to Europe may soon start.

We couldn’t fathom why they also displayed the sorry two-wheeler range within the pavilion considering Suzuki two-wheelers had a separate presence as well.

 

Hyundai

Hyundai had the concept HND–14 Carlino on display. This is a very early stage concept and may evolve into a sub-four-metre crossover in about three years. This would put it below the Creta and in direct competition to the EcoSport.

Hyundai also unveiled the Tucson at the Expo. Slotted just below the Santa Fe, the Tucson, when launched later this year, would compete with the Honda CR-V. We expect Hyundai to use the CBU route unless the demand crosses 200 units per month.

Hyundai also displayed its flagship sedan Genesis. While there are no chances of it coming to India, it’s a good move to tell prospective customers that Hyundai has the capability to hit much higher.

Apart from that there was the usual Hyundai India range of cars, some racing car that we didn’t click pictures with and some simulators we didn’t try.

 

Ford

Ford did the bright thing and launched the Mustang a few days before the Expo. This ensured the muscle car received the maximum media attention. For Ford, the Mustang is the caviar on the breakfast table. Keep it and it adds very little nutrition; take it away and the whole table appears poorer. The job is to draw attention to the rest of the showroom and that’s where the story ends.

 

Tata Motors (including JLR)

What is with both Tata Motors and Chevrolet? Both pavilions had a heady dose of football sprinkled in them. We get it that cab fleet operators, primary customers of both brands, probably love football. However, considering the next Fifa world cup is in 2018 and Indians go all Football crazy only about 15 days before the cup, this is not the best time to have an expensive footballer (Lionel Messi) as your brand ambassador.

And then dedicate half your pavillion to him!

Tata also had football inspired merchandise on sale. That’s balls of steel right there considering the Tata brand competes with Chevrolet at the bottom of the desirability charts in personal transportation. Dreaming of selling merchandise with the brand is walking the thin line between ambition & hallucination.

Tata Nexon

Tata Nexon

Tata’s merchandise efforts are also turning the concept of brand on its head considering here the brand is borrowing the ambassador’s attributes to sell merchandise.

Tata had the Nexon’s advanced concept on display. While two years back they had displayed a very early stage concept, this one looks more realistic and the final product may be very similar. We find the styling attractive though not distinct. With Maruti’s Vitara Brezza already out and products from Renault, Nissan, Ford and Hyundai in the market, the Nexon has a tough task ahead.

Tata also unveiled the Hexa crossover, essentially a restyled Aria. The Aria crossover has not done well and Tata hopes that the Hexa would at least take some numbers from the fast fading Safari Storme. While we liked the way the Hexa has come out, Tata just does not evoke any confidence in the customer, especially when the price tag is in seven figures.

Then there was the Zica and the Zica sedan (Sway?). The Zica looks smart, is overweight and probably sluggish. The Zica sedan looks tiny and takes the concept of compact sedan to a new small. The Zica hatchback (Tata is looking to rebrand it in light of the Zika virus – wise move) should be launched in a couple of months (once the new name is finalised, badges are remade and the brochures reprinted) while the sedan will follow later in the year.

What that does to the poorly selling Bolt & Zest is anyone’s guess.

Tata also had a special edition of the Nano. We didn’t waste time on that and can’t recall the name. Surprisingly, the company kept its bread-and-butter products hidden – the Gen–1 Indica and Indigo eCS were not there (at least we could not locate them) and that is an indication that the company wants to make a concerted effort at breaking into the individual buyer market.

But then, even today, the Indica / Indigo eCS account for half of Tata’s compact segment sales. So we may be far from the ambition curve.

We also had the best ROFL moment of the Expo when someone mentioned the words Tata-Design-DNA, all without a pause!

Tata also had the Safari Storme Tuff at the show. Essentially a fully customized variant of the Safari Storme with a rugged appearance. We have stopped taking seriously these made-for-the-Expo variants from Tata Motors as none of them has any future (remember the Ladakh at the last Expo? Or was it Leh? Don’t remember, don’t care…), or make it to the market, or have a positive rub off on the brand.

So moving on…

It’s a bad strategic move when you relegate your crown jewels – Jaguar & Land Rover to small sections of the pavilion. Considering Jaguar had two very important new products to show (XE & XF), and now competes with the German manufacturers directly, the space allocated to it was a pity. Ditto for Land Rover. In a way, the statement from Tata Motors was more like, “Yeah, we have these brands as well.”

The XE looks competent and is attractively priced. We think the German luxury brigade has able competition and XE sales should be healthy.

The F-Pace is not new as it was at the last Expo as well. Hell yeah, it is a stunner and we eagerly await its launch.

 

General Motors

There is the rest of the world, and then there is General Motors. Somehow they find new ways of screwing up things even if it is as simple a thing as the Expo display. They unveiled the Spin MPV, a product they would commercially launch in the coming months, and then promptly parked it next to the Corvette. Poor thing (Spin) died of neglect by the time the Expo ended.

BTW, that poor thing looks outdated even before the launch. In a market where even the Mobilio is struggling, the Spin has dim chances.

CHEVROLET Spin

Chevrolet Spin

GM had a huge pavilion, perhaps twice as big than what they required. But hey, it’s their money so we should refrain from commenting.

The important stuff at the GM stand was the Beat Essentia concept, an indication of the compact sedan being developed on the next-gen Beat platform. It looked good. Also on display was the Beat Activ, a pointer to the next-gen Beat’s styling. We liked that too.

The facelifted Cruze sedan was also on display. Considering the next generation has already been unveiled internationally, omitting it for the Auto Expo is a rather strange strategy.

And then GM had the Corvette, Camaro and Colorado on display, all indications of the Chevrolet brand’s proud heritage. That’s too many Cs to see and we wrote that because it sounded good.

None of the imports brings any confidence to the customer and we are sure there is no correlation between the number of customers drooling at the Auto Expo and the number then walking into your showrooms.

Like Tata Motors, Chevrolet also had football stuff in a corner and some virtual reality shit as well. Umm, and there was merchandise as well. Read our note on fleet buyer’s love for football in the Tata section above.

 

Mahindra

Mahindra Aero

Mahindra XUV Aero

Mahindra had a decent concept in the XUV Aero, essentially a coupe treatment of the XUV, a la BMW X6. However, this is an early stage concept and came with suicide doors(!). We expect reactions to be positive and Mahindra may be tempted to experiment with it.

Aso unveiled was the Ssangyong Tivoli, a compact sized crossover. This is likely to be Mahindra’s next Ssangyong offering in India once they can figure out the pricing and the relative positioning vis-a-vis the XUV.

In the group’s two-wheelers section, Mahindra had the Peugeot scooters range and also multiple interpretations on the Mojo platform. Some Peugeot scooters are expected to be launched by next year.

 

Volkswagen

The German manufacturer needs to move fast. If Ameo is the result of three years of development on an already existing platform then really, the Indian case needs more development people working on it. The Ameo is a slow development and is underwhelming to look at. At best, it would bolster sales of the Polo / Vento and that is probably what VW aims to do.

Also on display was the new Passat which would hit the market soon. It looks very nice but with VW’s penchant for overpricing, we do not hope much.

Also on the floor was the Polo GTI, an impressive 192PS beast using the group’s 1.8-litre TSI engine. At an asking price of about 20-lakh, they should get about 20 buyers.

Volkswagen also unveiled the Tiguan SUV which would be launched in 2016. We expect local kit assembly for the same.

 

Jeep

When, and if, Jeep enters the Indian market, they will launch the Grand Cherokee, Wrangler, SRT and a made-for-India small Jeep. The small Jeep is likely to be the Renegade. However, Jeep didn’t deem it fit to display even a concept at the Expo.

Duh!

Nevertheless, the Jeep display would be one of the most popular ones at the Expo. It would really help if Fiat asks potential customers the price they expect to pay for the Wrangler / Grand Cherokee as price is going to be the biggest stumbling block for the brand.

 

Fiat

Fiat unveiled the Urban Cross, an updated sibling of the Avventura. Considering the brand badly needs some excitement in the showroom, anything new is good.

Fiat’s display also ranked high on sensibility. Considering the brand is not doing well in India, they chose to occupy a relatively small space and shared the same with Jeep.

New Accord

Honda Accord

Honda

Honda unveiled the BR-V, a compact SUV on the Brio platform. This is eagerly awaited and should compensate for the poor sales of the Mobilio.

Also on display was the new Accord which would be introduced as a CBU later this year.

BR-V

Honda BR-V

Honda also had the Asimo, the very recognisable humanoid robot. Frankly, the novelty value of a walking-talking robot playing a pre-recorded conversation has worn off and maybe Honda can update the interface with Apple Siri to get whackier answers?

Also on display was a Goldwing and we have no idea why, considering Honda Motorcycles & Scooters India had a separate, pretty large, pavilion.

 

 

Toyota

Toyota unveiled the Innova Crysta, essentially the next generation Innova. Considering that the Crysta is expected to be much more expensive than the current Innova and the fact that Toyota has gone for an extension brand name, we believe that the current Innova is not going away in a hurry.

The Innova Crysta looks nice and has a more rounded MPV stance. It has the potential to create the very top-end of the MPV market.

Also on display were the Fortuner, Prado and Land Cruiser and we have no idea why Toyota did not display the new Fortuner that has already been unveiled internationally.

 

Nissan / Datsun

A classic Datsun to remind showgoers how cool and sporty the Datsun brand once was, occupied centerstage at Nissan / Datsun stand. Datsun also displayed the Go-cross, essentially a crossover concept using the Go+ base. While the Go+ is struggling in the market, Nissan is clear that Datsun would be its mass market brand in India. It would be interesting to see how the brand reviatlises itself to improve sales.

Nissan wants to move upmarket so the focus was on the new X-Trail and the GT-R at the expo. Both would be launched at the Expo and would be niche products for a brand that is already quite niche. Go figure.

 

Renault

KWID Racer

Renault Kwid Racer

Renault is good with concepts and at the Auto Expo too the brand unveiled a concept car Eolab, which was an act of complete randomness, considering the concept doesn’t have any links to what will happen in the future with Renault India.

However, the brand made up for the randomness with new iterations of the Kwid. The small car has become a runaway success (100k bookings is big shit) for the brand and the company used the Expo to unveil two concept cars – Kwid Racer and Kwid Climber. Both looked cool and may act as some sort of mid-life freshening up iterations for the Kwi in about two years.

KWID Climber

Renault KWID Climber

The more important thing was the 1.0-litre variant of the Kwid which should be headed for exports. There was also a Kwid variant with AMT transmission.

However, the Duster facelift looked disappointng. In light of the Creta onslaught and with the Vitara Brezza knocking on the doors, the Duster needs a much more substantial facelift. This one came with only changes to the lamps and grille. An AMT box is likely to be offered on the Duster and that is good news.

 

Honda Motorcycles & Scooters India

Honda NAvi

Honda Navi

The big news from HMSI and perhaps the biggest unveil at the Expo was the Honda Navi, a fun two-wheeler. This is a motorcycle shod with maxi-scooter tyres. With an underbone frame, we don’t expect any great shakes performance. The design and specs are all pretty basic with a 110 cc engine doing duty. It’s a very trendy commuter bike that has been correctly priced (INR 39,000) and will appeal a lot to the first time motorcycle buyer. More than the Navi, it is also the various interpretations of the design that appealed to us.

Also at the Expo, Honda confirmed that the CB Unicorn 150 is coming back in its original guise. This is a wise move by HMSI considering the Uncorn 150 was accounting for nearly 8k units when it went out and the CBR 150, HMSI’s other offering in the 150cc segment, sells zilch.

HMSI also confirmed that the Africa Twin would be assembled in India. Again, this is a good move by HMSI at a smaller scale considering Triumph Tiger sales have been pretty impressive.

 

TVS

TVS had one of the most interesting displays for a two-wheeler manufacturer. Apart from the entire range, including the very recently launched Apache RTR 200 4V, TVS also displayed a few concepts, some of which point towards good things to come in the future.

The Akula 310 is a fully faired version of the 310 range that TVS has jointly developed with BMW. While BMW is starting off with a naked bike (G310), it looks like that TVS will go in with a full-faired one.

On the concepty-concept side, TVS had the X21 concept racer, a semi-faired concept powered by a 212.4cc version of the Apache RTR engine.

TVS also had the ENTORQ210, a large size performance scooter concept powered by the same 212.4cc version of the Apache RTR engine.

 

Piaggio Group

When nothing sells much, it is a prudent strategy to go all guns blazing. So at the Auto Expo, the Piaggio Group had Piaggio, Moto Guzzi, Aprilia and Vespa under a single display. Most models from the entire range were on display.

The interesting bit was that Aprilia also had their scooter range on display. Now Aprilia hardly sells a few of their bikes in India so unveiling Aprilia’s sporty scooter range is quite ambitious. Even with local manufacturing, the Aprilia scooters will only target the premium end of the market. On paper, it looks like a good idea with Vespa targeting the classic end of the premium market and Aprilia targeting the sporty end of the premium market. However, look deeper – Vespa struggles to sell 2500 scooters a month, has very little merchandising revenues, and doesn’t know what to do with the huge plant in Baramati – so launching another premium scooter brand is perhaps nothing more than dealer placation.

 

Triumph

Harley-Davidson was absent from the Expo and Triumph made the most of it. The brand launched the new Bonneville range at the Expo. New models include the Bonneville Street-Twin, which would now be the starting point of the Triumph range.

Also unveiled was the Bonneville T120, a 1200cc version of the old T100 Bonneville, and the Thruxton R cafe racer, also powered by a 1200cc engine.

 

DSK Benelli

DSK Benelli participated in the motorshow and DSK Hyosung did not. That is not good news for the Hyosung brand in the country and we have downrated our forecast for the brand (subscribe to EMMAAA’s 2W forecast) substantially. Al may not be well in the relationship.

Benelli is an Italian-Chinese hybrid brand and to their credit, their models (two-legged variety) too appeared like Italian-Chinese hybrids. They displayed their entire range and unveiled four new models that would be added to the India lineup.

Now we have never taken Benelli too seriously in the Indian market but their sales guy informed us that the initial brand adrenaline rush has resulted in sales of nearly 1500 units in the first eight months. Not bad…actually pretty good. It would be interesting to see what is the Phase 2 in the DSK Benelli plans.

 

Hero MotoCorp

Hero had its entire range on display and some surprises too. The first one was the Splendor iSmart 110 which is using Hero’s self-developed 110cc engine. This is an important engine for Hero as eventually about half-a-million units would be riding on this. What is utmost important for Hero is that the engine matches up to the Honda 100cc benchmark of fuel effiiency, solid build and durability.

Also unveiled by Hero was a 200cc variant of the Xtreme. The brand really needs new products in the sports segment and the Xtreme 200 looks like a reasonable bet.

The HX 250R would be Hero’s flagship in the near future. The brand displayed the concept at the Expo in a more production ready guise.

 

Yamaha

Yamaha launched the MT–09 at the show and the bike occupied centrestage. The rest of the range was there and there were updated versions of eerything.

The real important stuff was Yamaha’s new scooter Cygnus Ray-ZR, essentially a new scooter from the brand. It has been launched in the market.

On the concept side, Yamaha had the N-Max touring scooter with a 155cc engine. It is a concept for now but with both Yamaha and TVS teasing touring scooters, we may see the dawn of the segment in the Indian market.

Apart from these, Yamaha had the rest of its range present as well.

 

Indian

The iconic American cruiser brand had its entire lineup at display. Nuff said.

 

UM Global

UM Global is a new entrant to the Indian premium motorcycles market. The company has launched two models – Renegade Sport & Renegade Commando – in the Indian market. A third (Renegade Classic) would be introduced later this year. All three were displayed at the show. Frankly, till a few months back we were not very concerned about UM Global and their Indian plans but surprisingly the company is pretty serious. they have a plant going on in Kashipur, Uttarakhand and have launched two motorcycles at decently competitive prices.

 

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