There are the cars that not only surprised everyone with their success but also ended up creating a niche for themselves, we call them the game changer cars
India is easily among the most complex markets for any car manufacturer to crack. Indian car buyers don’t like to break from the convention and mostly love models that are fuel efficient, easy to maintain, and have a low price. However, every once in a while, there comes a car that changes the entire dynamics of the market.
Of course, such a car carries all the aforementioned qualities but it’s just that these cars are a lot different from the regular hot-sellers, which often lead to the increase in a popularity of a new segment altogether. Let’s have a look at 10 Game Changer Cars launched in India in modern times.
The Maruti Swift has seen three generations so far and all three of them have been best-sellers. The first generation Swift for India came at a time when 5-odd lakh rupees could buy you an entry-level sedan. Many were rather shocked to see Maruti Suzuki launching a hatchback at the price of a sedan.
However, the Swift was soon to become a huge success. Today, the third generation of the Maruti Swift sells more than 20,000 units every month. It is the undisputed leader of the B1-segment hatchback. While it didn’t create the B1 segment, it did end up being far more successful than models like the Hyundai Getz.
The Maruti Swift has always impressed us with its funky looks, fuel efficient petrol engine, and easy maintenance. While the second generation did become a bit dull to drive, the latest generation is quite fun to drive, just like the original model. We feel that the Swift has been one of the biggest game changers of all times.
Another game changer in our books is the Ford EcoSport. Launched in 2013, the Ford EcoSport was responsible for making sub-4-metre compact SUVs popular, which is a segment that was started by the little-known Premier Rio.
The Ford EcoSport, in spite of its small footprint, looked quite handsome and offered never-heard-of features in its price segment, like the excellent SYNC infotainment system. It also marked the debut of the powerful 1.0-litre turbo-petrol EcoBoost engine. That said, it’s the diesel engine variant that went on to become very popular.
Last year, the Ford EcoSport was given a comprehensive facelift on the lines of the international model. While the introduction of the update couldn’t help the compact-SUV outsell the Maruti Vitara Brezza, it definitely uplifted the visual appeal of the popular compact SUV. Today, the Maruti Vitara Brezza leads the sub-4-metre SUV segment but it’s the success of the EcoSport that prompted Maruti Suzuki to launch the Brezza.
For a large period of time, the Honda City remained solely responsible for bringing in decent sales numbers to Honda Cars India. The Honda City was launched in India at a time when the majority of buyers picked up cars like the Maruti 800 and the Maruti Zen, while a select few bought the Esteem.
The Honda City was pricier than the Maruti C1-segment sedan but ended up carving a space for itself by offering a stonker of a petrol engine, spacious interior, and a really high reliability. And right when the competition started catcing up, Honda surprised everyone by launching the second-generation City with a cab-forward design and a 1.5-litre iDSi petrol engine that was high on fuel efficiency but low on power.
India being a fuel economy-conscious market lapped up the ‘Dolphin’ City in really high numbers. With changing times, Honda again shifted its focus back to delivering a high performance with a respectable fuel economy. The last two generations have been anything but underpowered and offer powerful engines with decent fuel efficiency. The Honda City is a car that made the C2-segment popular, something that the Opel Astra and the Mitsubishi Lancer couldn’t. Even today, it’s among the highest selling cars in its segment.
The Renault Duster is the vehicle that kickstarted the affordable small SUV segment in India. While this segment is today ruled by the Hyundai Creta, it’s this SUV, which finds its roots in a Dacia offering in Europe, that shifted focus away from the likes of Tata Safari. The Duster showed the country how a rugged looking car can have traits of both a macho SUV and a dynamically sorted sedan. Soon, it became a force to reckon with and spearheaded Renault India’s charge in the market.
The Renault Duster truly changed the game in the affordable small SUV segment. It paved the way for the entry of new models like the Hyundai Creta and the upcoming Nissan Kicks.
The Toyota Innova replaced the successful but dated Qualis. The Innova showed us that the Indian car buyers, which have traditionally stayed away from MPVs, can spend lakhs on a premium MPV without thinking twice. And just when we thought that we’ve seen it all, Toyota replaced the first-gen model with the Innova Crysta. The second generation was even pricier and many were initially quite sceptical about its sales performance. However, it was soon to put all doubts to rest as it went on to repeat the sales success of the previous version.
It’s easy to see how the Toyota Innova became one of the biggest game changers of our market. The MPV offers a spacious cabin, a comfortable ride quality, decent dynamics, frugal engine, and reliable engines that are known to last lakhs of kilometres. While the Toyota Innova and the Toyota Innova Crysta have been game changers, no other MPV, including some globally successful models like the Nissan Evalia and Renault Lodgy, have sold in good numbers here.
While the premium small SUV segment was started in India by the Honda CR-V, it’s the Jeep Compass that made it really popular. It’s easy to see why this SUV is so popular. It has got butch looks, offers powerful engines, is sufficiently capable off the road. More than anything else, it’s a world-class product that comes across as a great all-rounder.
The Jeep Compass has been so popular that it has been eating into the sales of the Mahindra XUV500, which is bigger and offers more seats. The Jeep Compass goes on to show that there is a fast emerging market for European Small SUVs in the Rs 15 – 20 lakh price bracket.
Another Toyota product in our list of game changers is the Toyota Fortuner. At the time when big SUVs like the Ford Endeavour hardly found enough takers, the Toyota Fortuner showed us that there’s a huge demand for premium large SUVs with an ex-showroom price of more than Rs 25 lakh. It isn’t easy to see why the Fortuner got so popular. It offers a macho design, a powerful diesel engine, a high reliability and decent ooff-roading capabilities.
In its second generation now, the Toyota Fortuner continues to find many takers every month. While it paved the way for many similar products, like the Isuzu MU-X and the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, there’s none other product in this segment that has managed to become anywhere as successful as the Toyota Fortuner.
The Hyundai i20 came in at a time when the Maruti Swift used to be the only successful expensive hatchback in the market. The Hyundai i20 was costlier than the Swift and was no where as frugal. Yet, it got a good response from the market and sold in great numbers. The reason behind this was due to the European design, a feature-laden cabin, great ride quality, and the decent after sales from Hyundai Motor India Ltd.
The success of the original Hyundai i20 was repeated by the second-generation model, the Elite i20. The latest version of the company’s B2-segment hatchback offered all the qualities of its predecessor but offered better dynamics, a more modern design, and a more premium cabin. The Hyundai i20 was a big game changer and continued to be on top of the sales charts until the launch of the Maruti Baleno hatchback.
The Nissan Sunny was another game changer. Launched at a time when entry-level sedans were at most as spacious as the premium hatchbacks, the Sunny offered a really spacious interior that was comparable to much more expensive sedans. The spacious interior, particularly the great rear legroom, helped the Sunny quickly shoot to popularity. The tried-and-tested 1.5-litre K9K diesel engine was another reason for the good response from the buyers. This led to Nissan Sunny becoming a game changer by paving way for more such spacious sedans.
While the Nissan Sunny is no more selling in great numbers, it showed manufacturers that there’s a huge market for C2-segment sedans with D1-segment sedan-like interior space. The Maruti Ciaz, which is the highest selling car in the C1-segment, followed the footsteps of the Nissan Sunny and impressed everyone with a very spacious cabin.
The last car in our list of game changers is the Renault Kwid. While the Renault Kwid has never sold as much as the Maruti Alto 800, it is the only entry-level hatchback that has managed to leave a sizeable dent in the sales of the high-selling Maruti Suzuki hatchback. Te Renault Kwid is a game changer as it became the first budget hatchback with a crossover-ish design. India being a SUV-hungry market was quick to buy the Kwid in huge numbers.
Even today, the Kwid is the most successful crossover-like hatchback in the market. Other than its Renault Duster-inspired looks, its peppy engines, spacious cabin with a huge boot space of 300-litres, cheap spares and the optional AMT are other reasons for its success.