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Toyota's Fortuner is not one to waver

The Japanese major has maintained the lead of its premium SUV despite competition, and has grown its share despite a slump in segment's demand

Swaraj Baggonkar  |  Mumbai 

Recent reports have revealed that Tata Motors' JLR is planning on developing a premium SUV to be built on the platform of Land Rover's current generation Freelander 2. It will be going up against the Toyota Fortuner, among others.

However, the Fortuner is one among a few. It is not often that car brands manage an uninterrupted lead despite fierce competition. The Maruti Suzuki Swift and Mahindra Bolero have been among the few, while cars like the Honda City have clawed their back way after upsets.

Fortuner, from Japanese major Toyota, a favourite of politicians, actors and businessmen, is one of the former few and has actually grown in adversity. Launched in 2009, the Fortuner, which draws its legacy from its big brother Land Cruiser, has not only outpaced is rivals but has captured a lion's share of the premium SUV space.

Priced in the range Rs 21.72-23.32 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai), the Fortuner is one of the more expensive in its segment that includes Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda CRV, Ford Endeavour, Chevrolet Captiva, Mahindra Ssangyong Rexton, Renault Koleos, Mitsubishi Pajero and Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara.

In the year ended March, 2014, the Fortuner commanded a market share of 72 per cent with annual sales of 16,551 units, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (Siam).

The slowdown has not been kind on the premium SUV segment that shrunk by 7 per cent to 23,031 units last year, as against 24,726 units sold in 2012-13. Except for the Toyota Fortuner, Mahindra Ssangyong Rexton and

Honda CRV, the rest posted a decline in sales last year. Fortuner's hold in this segment has only increased over the years (see table).

What clicked for Fortuner


The built-like-a-tank Land Cruiser at Rs 1-crore-plus helped build Toyota's image as a touch off-road SUV-maker. This was preceded by the success of the Qualis, a multi-seater people-mover. The Fortuner, which followed both and whose looks were inspired by the Land Cruiser, was made available at an affordable price and was reinforced by the strong brand recall of Toyota, making for an instant success.

Toyota was forced to close bookings of the Fortuner just months into the launch when the company realised that it might not be able to keep pace with the amount of bookings it was receiving. The Tata Nano and the Ford Ecosport are the other two cars that had compelled their makers to halt bookings due to overflowing demand.

"The Fortuner has an imposing stance, a capable diesel engine and a high-quality build. The Toyota brand has a strong pull and that plays a strong role too. However, in the long run, what has really helped is that Fortuner buyers have been extremely satisfied and there is a very strong positive word-of-mouth in the market", Deepesh Rathore, director, emerging markets automotive advisors at EMMAAA, an automotive research and advisory firm.

Lack of options within competition has helped Fortuner speed past rivals, say market watchers, even though its brand-pull scores are higher than vehicle performance and remain a defining aspect for purchase in this segment.

"The Ford Endeavour failed because it does not have the same stance or capability as the Fortuner. Also, it looks quite dated compared to the Fortuner. The (Mitsubishi) Pajero Sport is a good match for the Fortuner but Mitsubishi has a limited reach. The Honda CRV does not have a diesel engine, a big demand in this segment. The Hyundai Santa Fe is too expensive. The Mahindra Rexton doesn't have the same build-quality as the Toyota", says Rathore.

"The Fortuner customers are mainly men aged around 36 years and are self-employed, having previously owned vehicles which vary from Innova, Corolla and other competition vehicles in the segment", says N Raja, senior vice-president (sales and marketing), Toyota Kirloskar Motors.

Competition is taking note

The Korean brand Ssangyong, though minuscule compared to the Fortuner, is the second biggest player in this segment. The Mahindra-owned company posted a growth of 3 per cent last year with sales of 1,843 units of the Rexton, as compared to 1,783 units sold in 2012-13.

"Rexton is performing on expected lines. We expected its sales to be in the 250-per-month range and that's where it is", says, Pawan Goenka, executive director, Mahindra and Mahindra. The Rexton SUVs are sold through Mahindra dealerships, after assembling the kits imported from South Korea. A new version, named RX6, will be introduced shortly in India. Ford will be replacing the existing Endeavour with a new version globally, which will also be introduced in India, subsequently. Honda might plonk a diesel powertrain in the CRV, which recently underwent a face-lift. Nissan had showcased the latest version X-Trail at an auto show last year and could bring it to India later.

The biggest threat, though, will come from the luxury car makers. While JLR is working on the compact SUV, Mercedes-Benz has announced plans of launching the GLA-Class sub-Rs 30 lakh compact SUV, both for the same segment.

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First Published: Sun, April 20 2014. 21:25 IST
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