Hyundai makes a grand move with the Grand i10
(The views expressed in this column are the authorâ€™s own and do not represent those of Reuters)
In 1947, when India won freedom from British rule, an enterprising young man in South Korea was realizing a dream that was to become a global phenomenon. Chung Ju-yung, founder of the Hyundai group, set up a construction company at 32 and two decades later, the Hyundai Motor Company was born.
Today, together with Kia, Hyundai Motor Group is the worldâ€™s fourth largest carmaker based on annual vehicle sales. While the world was reeling under recession, Hyundai made an impact in markets such as Europe and the United States by offering quality products at reasonable prices vis-Ã -vis more established automakers. This helped the South Korean giant become a household name.
In the early 1980s, when Maruti was setting up operations, the Indian buyer didnâ€™t have much to choose from. The automobile market comprised a handful of players like Hindustan Motors with cars such as the Ambassador and Contessa. There was also the odd Standard 2000, but that didnâ€™t quite stir up the motoring scene in India.
In 1983, Maruti Udyog Ltd rolled out the 800, popularly referred to as the â€˜Marutiâ€™. It wasnâ€™t perfect but it was efficient, reliable and an instant success. With Tata and Mahindra slugging it out in the utility and commercial vehicle market, Maruti did not face any serious threats and held a monopoly in the Indian car business.
In 1996, Hyundai Motor India was formed and its first car was launched two years later. The Santro wasnâ€™t a good-looking car and people didnâ€™t exactly drool over it. The Maruti Zen was still popular and the Matiz from Daewoo was known for its cute looks and affordability. Despite being the most peculiar of the lot, the Santro had quality and was a better package than the Zen. Sales gradually picked up pace and the rest is history.
The automobile market today is one of the toughest to crack. The car-buying customer is more aware than before. The car is a hit only if they see value in it. Hyundai realized this early on and with each product, it offered a bit more than the competition – even if it was just a superficial edge. And that mattered.
In just a few years after its launch in India, Hyundai became the second largest carmaker and largest automobile exporter. Of course, more players have joined the fray. These are tough times with great cars, ever-demanding consumers and not-too-good economic conditions.
Maruti has so many products in the hatchback segment that I can hardly keep count. Hyundai is playing it slightly better – thereâ€™s the Eon at the low-end and the i20 in the premium corner. Then thereâ€™s the i10 somewhere in between. But the gap between the i20 and rival products on price and equipment is too wide, and there was space for a small car to compete against the Maruti Suzuki Swift, Ford Figo, Nissan Micra and, to some extent, the Volkswagen Polo. Thatâ€™s where the Grand i10 fits in.
In India, the Grand will be positioned between the i10 and the i20. But internationally, the iA (as itâ€™s internally called) will replace the i10 and will debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. There are subtle design changes between the Grand i10 and the iA and the Euro-spec model will be 100mm shorter in overall length. As for its name, a departure from the i10 tag wouldâ€™ve been nice but Iâ€™m not the one who calls the shots at Hyundai.
The Grand i10 is an extremely spacious car for a hatchback. How it stacks up against the Figo will be determined after I drive it head-on against the Ford. But itâ€™s not just about space, the Grand has a long list of features. The highest trim levels will offer almost everything the i20 has — features such as rear air-conditioning vents, dual airbags, parking sensors, Bluetooth-enabled 2-DIN audio unit with 1GB internal memory, anti-lock braking system, smart key and a cool box.
I drove the 1.1-litre U2 common-rail diesel engine and though the specifications werenâ€™t shared at the time, it seemed sufficiently powerful for most applications. Thereâ€™s a bit of a lag at the absolute low-end of the rev range. The second gear is rather dull even when you press the throttle hard and takes time to gather speed, but otherwise the engine felt linear across the rev band in all gears.
Surprisingly, noise is well contained and this 1.1-litre unit should be among the most silent diesel engines in the country. I couldnâ€™t test its ride-and-handling combination, but the low-speed ride quality felt rather good. If youâ€™re used to the softly set suspension in other Hyundai cars, the Grandâ€™s suspension may feel a bit too firm but itâ€™s better at handling bumps. The steering felt quite good and offered modest feedback.
Styling and looks are subjective but the Grand will not displease anyone. The front end is sharp and looks like a grown-up Eon from some angles while the shapely rear is further accentuated by the wraparound tail lamps. The 1.2-litre petrol version will also be on offer.
The Grand i10 offers great equipment levels while space remains its USP. Itâ€™s a brilliantly packaged car and if priced well (something Hyundai usually does with most cars), I think the Grand i10 will be another success story. How much for the car? My guess is between 425,000 rupees to 675,000 rupees. At that price point, while I donâ€™t see i10 sales getting affected too much, the Grand could certainly cannibalize i20 sales.
(UPDATE: The Hyundai Grand i10 was launched on Sept. 3 at a starting price of 4.29 lakh rupees or about $6300)
(You can follow Ashish on Twitter @jha_ashish)