Here are cars that opened up new possibilities for the Indian market, a dynamic place where the fruit of success is hard to come by, even for the world’s leading manufacturers. Whether or not these models became successful, they have the distinction of being the pioneers, having paved the way for others to watch, learn and create products that created history on the sales parameter.
Tall Boy – Hyundai Santro
Tall boy designs are quite popular in Japan, but the Hyundai Santro singlehandedly brewed the trend in India, just so that that your sexagenarian mother could slide in the back seat without grumbling. What’s more, it drove rather well, and was an extremely friendly car, if you excused the mirrors which were shaped like a baby elephant’s ears.
It ran on to become a mega success, and was followed by the Wagon R and the horrible Zen Estilo from Maruti…even the Nano to a certain extent.
Compact SUV – Premier Rio
The Rio, named after Brazil’s popular party strip, was nowhere as happening as the name suggests. It was a very narrow vehicle, and the interiors were full of awkward hand-touchy-feely moments, unless your co-passenger was Cindy Crawford. Besides, it was Chinese. Some even say it was Japanese before. It also had a French heart, and employed Peugeot’s archaic TUD5 diesel engine which probably sits in an old, stone walled museum somewhere in the south of France now. In short, it was rubbish.
What it did was open the floodgates to the compact SUV land, a segment that keeps growing by leaps and bounds, with the Ford Ecosport exploiting it to the fullest. The Rio failed despicably, most of which can be attributed to the brand – Premier; the last time I saw that badge was behind my dad’s car, about 98 years ago.
Crossover – Chevrolet Forester
The Forester is a Subaru, NOT a Chevy. It was sold in India with a Chevrolet bowtie upfront. Maybe because nobody knew, and still doesn’t know what the pedigree of a Subaru is, here. Anyway, the Forester was a proper Subaru, built on the rally-bred Impreza, replete with a boxer engine, AWD and trick suspension that knew so much more about dynamics than your CR-V.
The Forester was a well-rounded package, but as a SUV, lacked the butch appeal that Indians look for in a high-riding car; which pretty much led to its demise. Let down by its dull appearance and streaks of unreliability, the Forester, in hindsight, became India’s first crossover – a name that every Indian manufacturer loves to use now and then to define their glorified estates and hatchbacks.
Convertible – San Storm
When introduced in 1998, it was India’s cheapest convertible. And if it were still around, it would have comfortably retained that title. We’re glad it isn’t though, because it wasn’t really much of a car if you excused its convertible rank. Apparently designed in France, but looking as French as a banana, the Storm came with a 1.15-litre Renault engine which was good for just 60 bhp. Slow winds caressed your hair and put you to sleep, as the Storm reached 100 kph in a lazy 13 seconds.
It also had a “double-skinned, fibreglass-reinforced tubular steel body”, which means that fender benders could be simply bent back to shape. The Storm was a cheap convertible that made the average Joe feel special, which explains all the after-market Ferrari stickers that every Storm bears. But at INR 5.67 lakh, it was the one and only car to give open top motoring at that price, and still holds that record.
Compact Sedan – Tata Indigo CS
When Tata showed everyone their hacked and patched Indigo, everyone had a good laugh. They said it was India’s first compact sedan, and we pondered if the people of this country ever needed one – seems like they did! Today, the compact sedan segment alone accounts for almost half the market share, and is growing at a pace which could probably shame the number of China’s mobile phone users in a couple of years.
It was a bit of an ugly duckling, but was the first three-box car to exploit the sub-4 meter rule. It was followed by the Maruti Dzire, which quickly made a name for itself, and as of today’s rankings, is India’s bestselling car across all segments.
So that was our list of the five segment starters in India. Think we missed a few? Name them here, and we’ll create a new list with due credits to you. Reach out to our comments section for your inputs or give us a shout out on one of the social channels.