When it went on air in 2010, Maruti Suzuki's 'Kitna Deti Hai' brand campaign captured the imagination of the consumer. It highlighted a national obsession with fuel economy, and back then, Maruti was the last word in making cars with low running costs.
So, losing the lead in fuel efficiency over the years to a clutch of rivals such as Tata Motors, Chevrolet, Hyundai and most recently Honda, could not have been good for Maruti's brand image. Five years after the campaign, Maruti has embarked on a drive to make sure it never again falls behind in fuel efficiency.
The first leg of this strategy was the launch of the Ciaz sedan in October last year, which beat the Honda City by a small margin to emerge as India's most fuel-efficient car at 26.2 kmpl (diesel variant). The next leg of the strategy will take the mileage ceiling up by a wide margin.
The Celerio diesel, slated for launch around April this year, will come with a new 800cc Suzuki engine, the smallest diesel engine in the market, that is expected to return 30-35 km on every litre. The closest to this is a 1 litre diesel engine used on the Chevrolet Beat diesel, which delivers 25.44 kmpl.
Following soon after will be the introduction of the start/stop engine technology, first on a sports variant of the Ciaz and then the Ertiga. The feature, used by premium car makers like BMW and even Mahindra, shuts off the engine when a car is idling at traffic lights. The engine comes back to life as soon as the clutch is pressed.
Asked for details over an emailed questionnaire, a Maruti spokesperson said, "While we will not comment on future models, using technology to bring better fuel efficiency and value to the customer is an ongoing and continuous process at Maruti Suzuki."
The third leg is turbo-charged downsized petrol engines. In use will be a version (K10C) of the 1 litre K-series engine that does duty on models like the Celerio, Alto K10 and WagonR. A turbocharger will be added to increase power and maintain fuel efficiency. This engine will first be used in export versions of a new premium hatchback positioned above the Swift (codenamed YRA), and later rolled out at home as well.
Suraj Ghosh, senior analyst (south Asia powertrain forecasts) at IHS Automotive, said Maruti, the mileage king, would definitely bounce back. "Maruti Suzuki has built its brand on two pillars: affordability and fuel efficiency. And it has more or less remained unchallenged on these for many years. But recently, Honda has threatened Maruti's fuel efficient image, and Maruti isn't taking it lying down," he said.
"Maruti is also likely to place a model or two in the hybrid car segment in the mid to long term," he said.
The last leg of this strategy is the development of low-cost hybrid technology, that according to industry sources, is being done with a 2017 launch timeframe, likely of the new Swift.
Though research is largely happening at parent Suzuki's base in Japan, India will be a key market and production base for hybrid powertrain exports.
Hybrid, which means two powertrains in one vehicle where a small petrol engine charges the main electric motor, has largely been held back because of the high cost of batteries.
But Maruti is betting on economies of scale, government subsidies and the fact that pure electric cars have a very low chance of success because of limited range and the lack of charging infrastructure.
|HOW EFFICIENCY FUELS THE MARKET|
How Maruti lost the lead in fuel efficiency
What Maruti is really doing for claiming the top slot