Long Live the SUV: Why the Indian Obsession With Sport-Utility Vehicles is Here to Stay


Long Live the SUV: Why the Indian Obsession With Sport-Utility Vehicles is Here to Stay

Back in 2006, D-segment sedans were all the rage in India. With their low-slung design, and great handling in city conditions, sedans represented the peak of India’s deep-rooted fascination with long cars that had been prevalent since the ’80s.

Eight years later, however, the SUV has replaced the sedan as the choice of car for the Indian buyer. It could be that most sedans are available at rates that seem exorbitant, especially in a price-sensitive market like India. Or it could be that we now aspire to what a SUV represents.

The sedan is dead; long live the SUV. Gone are the days when long, low-slung sedans dominated premium car sales. The D-segment is all but dead, while C-segment sedans and sub-4 metre sedans, too, face tough competition from SUV or SUV-like competitors eating into their market share. The Indian obsession with SUVs has reached a point where you could sell Sharma Ji a hatchback on heels without him asking you “kitna deti hai?” How did we get here?

The reason: The butch, burly road presence and superior ride comfort of the compact SUV.

Growing up in the noughties, I was raised an all-out sedan boy. My dad’s car, a coupe-like sedan, was definitely a looker. I distinctly recall noticing heads turning as we inched past pedestrians on crowded sidewalks around Bandra’s Hill Road. Then, all SUVs were meant for, was off-roading.

I’d be proven wrong soon enough, when in 2012, I started noticing these handsome beasts on the road. In the city. That’s when everyone latched onto the compact SUV hysteria.

Why would any urban Indian want to own a sedan given the condition of most Indian roads?

From a pure numbers perspective, compact SUVs’ sales in the Indian market have grown by 18% in the past year alone. Safe to assume that this new lot of Indian car buyers has woken up to the limitless possibilities that come with owning an SUV. From pre-liberalisation manufacturers to newer players in the Indian market, almost every automobile brand worth their wheels has developed a compact SUV in their fleet in an attempt to get a piece of this still-growing pie. In fact, for some manufacturers, compact SUVs have risen to become flagship products due to the inevitably high sales volume that the segment sees.

Around the world, SUVs have long been established as symbols of adventure and affluence. And with the rise of affordable SUVs, a crop of newly-earning millennial Indians are the first generation that can realistically attain said affluence and adventure.

It’s a lifestyle where you can drive down to that winding dirt track in Matheran without worrying about your mountain bikes fitting in the boot of your sedan, because you know that your roof rails will hold multiple bikes firmly in place. The kind of lifestyle where you don’t have to run around from travel agent to travel agent to plan that river-rafting trip to Rishikesh. Just fold down those back seats, load in your gear, and you’re good to go. Not to mention, why would any urban Indian want to own a sedan given the condition of most Indian roads?

But perhaps the most important takeaway from India’s obsession with SUVs is the amount of global interest it has garnered from iconic international car manufacturers like MG India. The British automaker is rightfully eyeing the Indian market for its massive sales potential. And they seem to have already struck a sweet spot by signing on India’s favourite Englishman as their brand ambassador: Benedict Cumberbatch. Blimey! More so, MG India’s Hector, which is set to launch sometime in the second quarter of 2019, might very well be the mouth-watering prospect every Indian SUV enthusiast has been waiting for.

It’s only fair that the Indian SUV segment finally gets its fair share of premium British luxury. After all, much like fridges with ice-dispensers and smart-phones with DSLR-quality cameras, the Indian car buyer’s exposure to the SUV was long overdue. And the fact that we’ve embraced this body-type with open arms is testament that future generations of desi auto enthusiasts will likely never know the woes of bad ground clearance. Sure, they might not like answering “kitna deti hai?” But when you’re floating over potholes, feeling the wind in your hair and watching that open road in front of you from that high seating position, do you really give a damn?