Passenger car leader Maruti Suzuki India has stopped manufacturing its most expensive car SX4, the mid-sized sedan, reinforcing the widely-held belief that the small car leader does not have the expertise to make and market big cars.
Maruti will relaunch SX4 within a fortnight with a new 1.6-litre engine which will have a much higher pick-up. It will be more expensive than the current top-end Zxi variant, which comes at Rs 7.5 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi). Maruti will also rope in Bollywood star John Abraham as the new brand ambassador for the sporty model to arrest falling sales.
SX4 was launched in May 2007 in three manual variants to counter Honda City but could not compete with Honda’s superior technology and brand image. SX4 steered ahead of the City and clocked top sales of over 3,000 cars per month in the first three months of its launch but soon lost speed when Honda launched the third-generation City in November 2008. SX4 sales are now confined to a few hundred units per month.
Honda has sold 37,600 of the new City till August 2009 since its launch (November 2008) while Maruti has sold only 9,763 SX4s in the same period. Despite being cheaper than the City by over a lakh, SX4 trailed by a huge margin last fiscal too, selling only 13,976 cars against City’s 38,200 cars. The new SX4 will have an additional automatic variant, another first for any sedan from Maruti. It will deliver 165-175 newton metres of power, much higher then the outgoing model and will meet the latest emission norms. When contacted the company spokesman refused to confirm the development. “We do not talk about future launches and product refreshments. However, any product refreshment is an integral part of our marketing strategy to maintain excitement and meet customer’s aspirations.”
Analyst tracking the sector said that by fully loading the new car, Maruti is making another attempt to prove that it can make all kinds of cars. “Maruti Suzuki is a good brand but its Japanese peers Honda and Toyota appeal more to customers when it comes to buying big cars. SX4 performed better than Maruti’s other big car Baleno and initially even overtook City in sales. However, it failed to maintain the momentum after Honda responded with a new and more powerful Honda City. Probably, Maruti is now looking for answers to challenge the mid-size car segment,” Kapil Arora, partner at Ernst & Young said.
Another top executive of the auto industry said just as Maruti has not been able to establish itself as a big car maker, similarly global car maker Honda has not being able to sell its small car Jazz, which sells less than 1,000 units per month compared with its closest competitor Maruti Swift that sells over 5,000 cars per month.