Indian roads are revving up to the sound of new launches. And the best yardstick to measure this is the MUV/SUV sector. These rugged vehicles have also morphed as family vehicles, used as much as ferrying BPO executives as well as taking family and friends for a picnic. And what's more this sector is getting a touch of the femme. The list of celebrities rooting for a 4x4 include Priyanka Gandhi, Kajol, Priya Paul, Renuka Chowdhury, Rajshree Pathy and Deepti Naval.
Over the last few years we have seen Sumo, Qualis, Tavera, Scorpio and Innova among others vying for the top slot. Among these Qualis has been the most successful in staying at the top for the longest period. Even now it seems popular though the company (Toyota) has not released any new models.
Sumo came at a time when the demand was robust for a powerful and economical utility vehicle. It was a runaway hit when launched in 1994 and was considered as the best MUV around the time. The big car had become synonymic with the call centres in the early days of the sector. In its heydays the car was used both as a fleet vehicle as well as a family one.
However, Sumo was soon sidelined in the personal car segment with the advent of Qualis and Tavera. Tata tried to recapture the market with its Sumo Victa version, which was presented as a true lifestyle vehicle. However, consumers could not differentiate between the new model and the old.
There were common factors that worked both in favour of and against the Sumo. The car was loved for being a simple and rugged workhorse in the fleet vehicle market segment. However, the very commercial-vehicle feel that it presented worked against it when it came to family cars. Tata tried to reinvent the interiors in its Sumo Victa model with a non-commercial look and a luxury car-like feel. But, the repackaging was rather late and was pale in comparison to the new entrants on the block.
Times were changing fast and so were the tastes and requirements of the car users. Toyota read the opportunities right and came up with its ideal offering of quality and service, Qualis. Toyota presented Qualis as a multi-purpose vehicle (MPV), rather than calling it an MUV or SUV.
The Qualis soon became the emblem of the BPO sector. The car provided both comfort and power required in this segment. It was a natural hit as a fleet vehicle. However, when it came to the family car segment, the bouquets were not many, especially in the metro centres. In small centres however, the car somehow managed to hold its own.
The quest for better comfort levels has been one of the biggest drivers in the evolution of the car market. While launching Tavera, General Motors focused on reliability, fuel economy and value-for-money as key drivers for the fast-growing MUV segment in India. When it came to a stylish look, the car left Qualis miles behind. GM made Tavera longer than Qualis and other utility vehicles on the block. The concept hit the right chord with Indians, who have traditionally been fascinated with the length of a car ever since the British era.
Kewal Krishna Pahwa, who owns a chain of cyber cafes in Delhi, says, “I bought a Tavera late last year. The car is much better both in looks and handling than the Qualis.” Pahwa adds that his Tavera offers excellent fuel efficiency with a mileage of around 13-14 kmpl.
The Tavera, along with its eight, nine and ten-seater models has also worked well with fleet operators. However, the car somehow failed to generate much interest at lower end of the market segment due to its high-end pricing and maintenance costs.
Mann Singh of Delhi-based Kuldeep Tours and Travels, who operates vehicle fleets for a number of MNCs and BPO firms, says, “Tavera became an excellent proposition for our bigger clients who were willing to spend some extra money for better comforts.” Singh adds that some of their BPO clients projected their Tavera fleet as a differentiating metric in providing better comforts to their employees.
Toyota took serious note of the growing popularity of Tavera and bounced back with its newest offering, Innova.
The verdict is still divided when it comes to Innova or Tavera. To add to the competition, there are others like Scorpio too vying for a piece of the cake. However, ask an Innova owner and he would swear that the car is miles ahead when compared to Qualis or Tavera.
Both Qualis and Innova came from Toyota's global IMV (Innovative Multi-Purpose Vehicle) project. While Qualis was third-generation IMV from the Toyota stable, Innova was projected as a fifth-generation IMV.
Samir Padukone, a technical-support associate with a leading BPO firm and a self-acclaimed car lover, says, “Just a plain look and Innova is ages ahead of Qualis.” Padukone says that Qualis was an ugly duckling that knew its work well. “But Innova and Tavera both score much better than Qualis both in work and looks,” he adds.
The huge success of Qualis can be mainly attributed to its fleet vehicle avatar, while Innova is more of a lifestyle vehicle. Not surprisingly, one of the most-loved features of Innova is its better air-conditioning when compared to Qualis. Toyota has tried its best to make Innova much more stylish that Qualis and Tavera.
The car has been so far quite successful in attracting eyeballs in both the family and fleet segments. The one thing that is not working in favour of Innova is its higher price tag when compared to Tavera and Scorpio. However, Toyota is trying its best to retain the glory of Qualis in the fleet segment, while attracting new markets from the lifestyle segment. The company has even roped in Aamir Khan as a brand ambassador for its new Innova.
Scorpio has been there since long and that also quite successfully. It is the only SUV that realty looks like a sports vehicle, whereas the Qualis is more of a fleet vehicle and Innova and Tavera are predominantly lifestyle vehicles.
Navin Aggrawal, a Delhi-based advocate and a holiday-freak who has owned a Scorpio since 2001, says, “I quite often go on weekend holidays to nearby places and Scorpio has been my companion ever since I bought it.” Aggrawal says that Scorpio is the only true SUV available in its price-range and its market segment.
“The difference between a Scorpio and other utility vehicles is the fact that in one you are in driving seat and in others you are on driver's seat,” says Ankur Mohanti, a senior executive with a BPO firm who is planning to buy a Scorpio. Besides looks and performance, Scorpio beats Qualis and other rivals by a wide margin also on the pricing front, Mohanti adds.
Fleet vehicle operators have been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the BPO boom in the country. However, families stayed away from Qualis and Sumo, notwithstanding repeated attempts by Toyota and Tata to attract the attention of families with new and better models. The fact that both Sumo and Qualis provided good resale values also helped the families to switch over to other models like Tavera. The used cars, especially Qualis, were lapped up by smaller fleet operators.
Gulshan Rai Makkar, a retired police officer and owner of a travel agency, says, “We started the agency with a fleet of used vehicles. Qualis and Sumo are the best options.” Makkar adds, besides the cost factor, Tavera and other newer models are not always preferred by the fleet operators, due to extra maintenance efforts required for these vehicles.