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Price versus Features – is anyone really serious in the automobile field?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

/ by Srikanth Eswaran

 

 

The years 2009 and 2010 have witnessed a rather unusual flurry of new car launches. While the automotive market is no doubt on fire with these launches the question remains whether any single manufacturer has actually thought about power and features rather than fuel economy and subsidies for cars sans many common features. The phase during the early 90’s was radically different with just one or two manufacturers and a fraction of reasonably famous and good enough cars ruled the roads. The phase from early 2000 upto 2006-7 timeframe was mostly governed by car launches that showed the me-too-me-too syndrome with every auto manufacturer positioning a new car just because his competitor did. Still the idea was about garnering market share more than anything else.

2009 and 2010 have seen some rather fundamental changes in the way auto manufacturers perceived the country in terms of consumption. People were slowly shifting from mundane cars to more stylish ones. People wanted colours, variants, at different price points. Some were more than willing to pay for power and comfort as well. Fuel economy was no more the only reason people wanted a car. The trend was about how a car could enhance your image. On the road, off the road, within friend’s circle, or even as a normal enthusiast interested in new cars.

While auto manufacturers did take note of these facts, the cars that had power, features, all came at a price – mostly in the C or D segments alone. The cost of making low end cars does not still permit companies to include proper feature sets at that price bracket to make it a compelling proposition. Many cars still prefer to say power windows are safety features and a hot and cold blower means luxury. Some audacious ones even term a 40-60 seat folding as a luxury feature or a convenience feature. Lets really define what becomes more important in a car that belongs to this age and then relook how many actually offer such a proposition in a segment more dearer to the general public.

  • ABS/EBD : This is real safety and its not limited to wet road conditions alone. Every city has unruly rains and one needn’t be on mountainous terrain to actually derive the benefits of ABS
  • Airbags : Whoever said only seat belts are a safety feature needs to understand that its a combination of that and airbags that offer ultimate safety. While most manufacturers now offer airbags atleast as an option, some offer only driver side airbag rather than two of them citing price as a reason. Whoever gave these people an idea that lower variants need not have airbags have done a bad job of making these guys understand what safety means.
  • Alloys and Tubeless tyres : Well the real point here is that these no more cost the earth thanks to technology upgrades. Many do give tubeless tyres as a default while alloys are still a bit unaffordable by all
  • Climate control : What was once the forte of foreign countries is no more something that needs no attention here in India. The country is getting hotter and we don’t need just AC. AC is about chilling the hell out of you and making you switch it off beyond a point. Once you put it off, the windows fog up and you put it on again much to your own displeasure. Enter climate control – arguably it takes a bit more of fuel but in the longer run puts you at ease with respect to the temperature in the cabin as well as keeps out fogginess.
  • Speakers and music system : These are by default given with every new car now. No real gripes here, but it also makes you lose the ability to customize the system beyond a point. Some cars still don’t offer speakers which is a shame
  • Audio controls on steering : This is no more a luxury feature. It takes a bit of extra electricals to get this up and running and I dont see why any company cant offer this on all their models.
  • Bluetooth : The most important need for a car driver to keep his concentration on the road yet get to talk and finish those calls. In the days where we don’t even get much time to brush our teeth, its a god send to have this features for executives who get most of their calls completed on their long really long listless commutes to the office – not because of distance, but because of time! Agreed this is a distraction as well, but I strongly feel people who know how to use it will anyways use it properly
  • MID  : the multi information display is almost there in every new car these days compared to the CLOCK-only days of cars. Its a welcome change no doubt and over the period of next few years, it will only get better in terms of what it shows to the driver.
  • Lumbar seat : Height adjusting seats and lumbar adjustments are no more a luxury. It takes a bit of powering up to achieve this and I feel this is a must to be provided by all car makers as default
  • Electric side mirrors : Is this a luxury anymore at all ? We are in 2010, not in 2000 which sounds like oh-yesteryears!

 

So where then are we with respect to these features ? There is only one known car maker that has all of what I told above. So that you don’t have to spend one extra rupee beyond the car cost. Expect of course for the most powerful engine category! Guess who? Yes – FIAT – punto and linea. Absolute bliss with respect to features, technology and commitment to indian customers ever since good old palio days. In my quest for buying the next car (sedan) I have not come across any other car manufacturer to have all the above features at an affordable price.

 

(courtesy wikimedia commons & babez.de)

 

Any other car with all the features mentioned is well beyond the 10 lakh mark. Its time auto makers understood its not about money for no features. And its about time we the people of the country understood that we need to look at cars more holistically as a peace of mind factor in all categories rather than just mileage and cost. Hopefully the Vento Sedan from Volkswagen Polo brand should be a refreshing change after all the fiesta’s, aveo’s, accent’s, and sx4’s of recent times. We either need something as sexy and functional like the FIAT or a more business minded appearance like the Vento with lesser features but better reliability. Only time will tell the true performers from the rest.

Honestly my search for a car with all the features above, and legendary reliability within a price bracket that I can afford or even stretch; is still open. And something that I can proudly own atleast for the next five to ten years. While Honda and Toyota match that requirement of ownership timeframe, the FIAT is hard to comment on until time reveals the facts. Its only upto the new entrants to make a buzz in this field. Until then its a anticipatory wait !

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