Less than a year ago, Maruti Suzuki was struggling to cope with crises on multiple fronts. It was finding it hard to increase production at its plants in Haryana and Gujarat as availability of semiconductors due to supply chain mismatch fell short and its market share had dropped below half in the competitive passenger car segment, even as the trend seemed to be firmly in favour of SUVs, an area it was woefully short in.
Fast forward to today, and Maruti seems to have got its mojo back. In the process, the fine print also reveals the successful transformation of India’s biggest carmaker from being a small car champ into a force of its own in the utility vehicles segment, in tune with the times.
As the auto giant revealed its sales numbers for last month, it was clear it was its highest-ever monthly sales volume. Total sales in August 2023 included a total of 1.89 vehicles. In the corresponding month last year, the company had sold just 1.65 lakh units.
Worse, Maruti had to go in for shutdown of its manufacturing plants many times over the past three years — while first it was due to Covid lockdowns and diverting facilities for oxygen, soon it was the global supply chain mismatch that was to blame. Right up to the winter of 2022-’23, Maruti was plagued with a dire shortage of semiconductor chips, thanks primarily to lockdown-induced shutdowns in China.
During this period, the trends in the market itself seemed to undergo a sea change, as the hitherto small car penchant of the Indian car buyer switched firmly in favour of utility vehicles that popularly get marketed under the SUV jargon.
As sales of SUV models like Hyundai Creta and the many products brought out by Tata sky-rocketed, the market leader could only look on helplessly at the dwindling share of its once bread-and-butter models like Alto and WagonR.
The only utility vehicle Maruti could flaunt was Brezza, a model from mid-2010. “Our market assessment could have been better and probably we could have acted faster in this segment,” admitted Shashank Srivastava, presently senior executive officer of Maruti to this correspondent in an interview back in 2022.
However, to its credit, it acted fast. “Once we identify a segment as important and requires reinforcement, we have always been strong in producing new products,” added Srivastava in the same interview. “And we would also like to bring in new products as quickly as possible in this segment.”
That it did, bringing in a refurbished new look for Brezza as well as for Grand Vitara, besides two new much-awaited entrants — Fronx, a compact SUV model, as well as Jimny, an all-terrain utility vehicle to take on Mahindra’s popular off-roader model, Thar.
That finally seems to be throwing up handsome dividends. The utility vehicle category is one of Maruti’s biggest gainers in the latest sales table, more than doubling to nearly 59,000 units last month. While old horse Ertiga continues its run, the new entrants Brezza, Fronx as well as a late-summer new challenger to Toyota’s Innova, which Maruti calls ‘Invicto’, seem to have done some heavy lifting.
With the margins being higher for SUVs, Maruti Suzuki probably doesn’t mind the fact that its small car domination era is at an end, at least for now. This is most evident in the sales graph of Alto—once its workhorse, its sales plummeted from more than 22,000 cars in August of last year to just above 12,000 last month.