Top 10 Cars That Were Game Changers In India
India has overtaken Germany to become the fourth largest automotive market in the world. Progress takes shape every other second in the Indian automotive space with manufacturers competing for survival in what’s deemed as one of the most difficult markets to crack. The current scenario, as we know, is grim with almost all carmakers struggling with dwindling sales numbers. But, this is a cyclical process that has also happened in the past. We have seen a downturn, and apart from various macro aspects, what helped Indian carmakers bounce back into the setting are game changing products. Some manufacturers have played their cards right and made their mark, turning their fortunes in our country. So let's take a look at some of these game changers from the years gone by.
The Duster can be solely credited for putting Renault back on the map. Renault India started off with the Fluence and then the Koleos. Despite being solid offerings, the duo failed to establish the brand’s roots in our market. Not to mention the competition from the Volkswagen AG and a couple of pesky Japs. The Duster broke cover in 2012 and within a month of its debut, it started to make headlines. Indians welcomed the Duster with open hands, helping Renault come back from the abyss. The Duster was a tough product with solid underpinnings and what helped it click with the Indian consumers were the robust underpinnings and stellar ride and handling combination.The French carmaker then brought in various other cars, namely the Pulse, Scala, Kwid, Lodgy, and the Captur. But the Duster, continues to remain the strongest product in Renault’s lineup.
2. Mahindra Scorpio
Five years is what took Mahindra took to develop the Scorpio from scratch. The homegrown manufacturer was producing and assembling various other SUVs before, but it was the Scorpio which turned the tides for the brand. The butch design was the standout quality of the Scorpio and paired up with a potent set of powertrains, the SUV was undoubtedly the pick for most. The first Scorpio came out in 2002, with updates in ‘06,’14. What’s more, there’s an all-new one coming out soon too! Mahindra also briefly made a cool pick-up version of the same, dubbed the Scorpio Getaway. The Indian brand still has an impressive lineup of SUVs, but it is the Scorpio that will most likely be remembered over the years to come.
3. Tata Indica
Did you know that the Tata Indica was the first indigenously developed car in India? Yes, in 1993, Ratan Tata set off with the aim to produce a world-class product and in 1998, Tata Motors debuted the first Indica.The car was also imported to Europe and other African countries. The Indica was also subject to badge engineering; Rover introduced it in the UK as CityRover. That was some years later though (2003), and near to home, the cute little hatchback struck a fine balance between practicality and affordability, helping establish Tata itself as a mass market car manufacturer.
I know many of you guys were expecting to see the Josh Machine, Ikon, which quite honestly, was the car that put Ford back into business after its disappointing stint with the Escort. The EcoSport, back then, belonged to a niche category with no competition whatsoever. That was because Ford pioneered the subcompact SUV segment in India, which today is what every manufacturer is eyeing for. The EcoSport looked quirky when it came out in 2013, but was up there with respect to what it promised. The sub-4 metre SUV now has a wide range of competitors, but it still remains the benchmark for ride and handling as well as driving dynamics. Ford has updated the EcoSport lineup over the years, although it’s now starting to feel a wee bit long in the tooth. The future of the EcoSport is unsure, but I guess Ford has tasted quite a success with the compact SUV, that it is unlikely to let it go off the Indian market.
5. Maruti Suzuki Swift
The Swift was a breath of fresh air among the sea of ageing products from Maruti Suzuki’s stable. The hatchback rose to unbelievable fame in a short time thanks to its modern design with playful handling and sprightly powertrain options. The first generation Swift is still one of the best handling FWD cars in India and the Swift’s winning formula was balance. Enthusiasts loved the chassis and dynamics while it also appealed to the masses with its practicality and pricing. The Swift brought in novelty to the budget space which ignited the premium hatchback space we know today. The Swift is currently in its third generation. It even crossed the 20 lakh sales milestone last year.
6. Honda City
The year 1998 saw the Japanese brand’s grand debut in India with the third-generation City. It’s been more than 20 years since this iconic sedan first graced our roads and towards the end of the life cycle, in 2001, the cliched VTEC kicked in with the Type Z facelift. The sedan went through three substantial generation changes after it and is still one of the most sought after cars in India. Although the City was one of the more performance-oriented cars available initially, later generations gave up the fun factor and focussed on being a capable family sedan instead. What the City did was entrench the Honda brand in India and the main qualities it stood for, primarily bullet-proof reliability.
7. Hyundai Santro
Hyundai stepped into India with the original Santro in 1998 and has been churning out some competent and capable cars spanning various segments ever since. If it were not for Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai would have been the biggest car manufacturer in India, which speaks volumes of how far it has come over the last 20 years. Launched on 23 September 1998, the Santro was a runaway success thanks to its tall boy design, which is now mainstream. The Santro was peppy to drive and came packed with features, making it a hit among small families across India. The Santro went through two iterations and a plethora of changes in a span of 16 years. Last year, Hyundai revived the Santro moniker after an absence of three years, and it is currently one of the top 20 best-selling cars in India.
8. Volkswagen Polo
Volkswagen made its grand debut in India with the Passat followed by the Jetta in 2008. But, it was in 2009 with the Polo that the German giant really got into the heart of the matter. The Polo is 10 years old, and although the same product has been pushed too far, the Polo is the car which made Volkswagen popular in India. The hatchback also helped establish VW as a more affordable player helping it escape from its own shadow of an expensive brand. The Polo is still doing well in our market and there’s yet another facelift on its way. Volkswagen also spiced things up launching the GT TDI and GT TSI in India. But the highlight was the three-door GTI, which was launched in 2016.
9. Skoda Octavia
Skoda set foot in India with the Octavia back in 2002.Targeting the premium space in India, the Octavia combined good handling, frugal diesel engines, and aggressive pricing to make it an instant hit. The 1.9-litre Pump Duse diesel engine was the more popular variant although it also came with a gem of a 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine good for 150PS. The same engine was also offered with the Octavia VRS, which is still one of the most revered performance-oriented sedans in India. Not to forget the special Combi version and the ultra-rare Combi vRS. The Laura carried over the baton from the Octavia and today Skoda is a premium player in India with various models in its lineup.
10. Maruti Suzuki Gypsy
The Gypsy (take note, that’s how you name a car) came out in 1985 with a humble 1.0-litre petrol engine which was later replaced by the 1.3-litre G13B from the Esteem. Yes, the Gypsy came with utilitarian interiors and a back-breaking ride quality along with various other gripes. It was nothing short of mediocre on the road but was pretty much untouchable when it came to off-roading. The Gypsy, to this date, is a common sight at rally events across the country. It is our desi-version of the FJ Cruiser with the Indian Army using it as their primary mode of transportation. Sadly though, Maruti pulled the plug on the Gypsy, leaving us with a huge void, which, to be honest can only be filled by the new Jimny.
So these are the top 10 game changing cars that were launched in India. Do let us know what you think about our list. If you can think of more such game changers, mention them in the comments section below.