Cross-pollination is a good thing, gives us new colours, varieties and a more dynamic outset of life. Same is the case with new segments created in cars. They are the blend of new engineering, old thoughts replaced by new as manufacturers judge the shift in paradigms while keeping themselves relevant. With new cars manufacturers expand their range of offerings addressing to differently priced segments, creating a niche or an affordable buying option. What ever the case might be, the move certainly encourages even more new buyers to the manufacturers offerings, and that is a sign of forward moving things.
Recently in the international marketplace, the German trio of the quad-ringed Audi, three-pointed star Mercedes-Benz and the Munich based BMW have committed to their ambitions of moving in a similar direction. By expanding their range of offerings on each side of the buying spectrum, the higher-end cars provide cars straight out of many wet dreams, taking them toward the higher side of desirability. But its the entry-level to mid-range offerings that actually mark a phase change in the manufacturers thoughts. The move marks a clear step in the brand’s thinking more and more outside their regular socio-economic clout, outside of their core audience and to invite a fresh breed of individuals to the brand. It also is indicative to the fact that the brand is looking out to the developing countries, where this segment would hold the utmost importance for the manufacturer.
For India, Mercedes-Benz became the pioneer of this ideology when it introduced the A-Class in 2013, and BMW was quick on its toes following up with the 1-Series hatchbacks. Both these cars had a lasting impression on the youth looking for a premium sporty hatchback. It was all brilliant uphill now, unfortunately for one thing. When an Indian buyer plans to slap a ’premium’ 20-lakh plus cheque on the sales counter, he looks for a car with at least a boot, if not a full sized SUV. And this is one of the primary reasons why both the manufactures haven’t seen leaps of success with their hatchbacks. And thus a premium compact sedan is the right direction to go towards in markets such as india where costs need to be balanced between brand value and platform offerings. The premium compact sedan offers a sober balance between styling, space and features, at a digestible price point. And that’s exactly what Mercedes and Audi have been working towards. Unfortunately, the leader of lightweight sport sedans (BMW) seems to have missed the wave.
While the A3 sedan is most certainly going to keep the cash registers ticking for Audi India, similar to the accomplishments of the Q3, it is the perfect sedan to welcome new faces to the brand. With an expected price range of Rs 20-30 Lakh, it would set a benchmark for car buyers looking for a small sporty sedan within that price bracket. On the other hand, Mercedes-Benz have taken a different approach with their CLA platform. Recently unveiling the CLA45 AMG, the German manufacturer showcased their entry-level platform in its high-performance avatar. With a price point of Rs 60-70 lakh, it would form a niche product that would work more for the manufacturers brand value rather than sales, but could soon see a foray of the less-powerful, entry-level CLA models like the CLA 180 and CLA 220 CDI to be introduced as the bread and butter of its segment.
Small entry-level sedans are fun. Their shorter hatchback-equivalent wheelbase makes them nimble and low overall weight keep the handling sharp. Being on a diet also implicates to better fuel economy and lesser wear and tear. BMW has always been the top gun with its lightweight sport sedans. the entire 3-Series range, all the way unto the M3 is a riot to drive, slotting itself comfortably ahead of competition in driving feel, power and the whole fun-factor. Their hydraulic power steerings better in road feel and car control than the ones fitted on Mercs and Audis. Their engines, although not always producing the highest power output, are the quickest to rev with a sharp and elegant sound all the way to the top. And finally, the signature rear-wheel drive setup means that they have the playfulness of a kitten while keeping one awake, clenched and wanting more. With all their technical knowhow of small lightweight cars, its surprising to see that BMW has been the backmarker in introducing a compact sedan to the world. With the 2-Series coupe unveiled only six months ago, Audi and Mercedes have taken the lead in the race to build cars in this segment.
BMW’s heritage and legacy is well known in developed international markets. Its where followers would wait for their favourable brand to launch offerings in their desired segments and would go ahead and make a purchase. The same is untrue for developing markets like india. First movers do have an advantage, in a market where the criteria for such cars are purely based on luxury. To most extent, a manufacturer’s marketing and promotional efforts trounce the general public knowledge of manufacturers and their key differentiators. The lack of general conscious, marketing and moving first combines to drive plausible sales, an opportunity clearly missed by BMW. Although the 2-Series coupe has created a positive plasma of reviews internationally, its fate in India could differ, although being a very potent machine, maybe even the segment-best. Unfortunately boiling down to bad timing.
As much as we love the current wave of premium offerings, the CLA 45 AMG for its styling and luxury and a bombardier of small 4-pot engine, the A3 Sedan for its practicality and ease of use, we would love to see the baby Bimmer coming to our shores quickly. As they call it ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ – true to its clain, we would be excited to see the streets with the ‘Blend Of Sports-Luxury In Fiery Hot Sauce’ before the ‘Stylish Vixen’ and ‘The Sensible Moustache’ blow it into oblivion.