Author: Mr Mohan Savarkar, Vice President, Product Line, Tata Motors Passenger Vehicles Ltd
Evolving needs, changing social priorities and economic circumstances have consistently determined the nature of mobility across the world. Passenger vehicle styles have undergone consistent transformation over the years in tandem with varying geographical requirements and customer needs. In the past decade, sports utility vehicles (SUVs) have increasingly made their presence felt within the market, seeing marked increase in adoption. Between 2010 to 2021, the global population of SUVs has increased from fifty million to a whopping 320 million.
India too, has seen considerable increase in the adoption of SUVs. In the last three years alone, the SUV share in India increased from about 23% in FY19 to about 41 % in FY22. So, why are SUVs becoming increasingly popular in India, and what are some key defining features that determine the SUV preference today?
Changing consumer perception and the SUV demand surge
For starters, the way SUVs are perceived has shifted considerably. Utility vehicles were initially conceived as hard-wearing, utilitarian workhorses with an emphasis on enclosed utility. They were purpose-built, high on capability and meant for off-road usage (for use in challenging terrain, like sand, mud, rocks, in the absence of paved road). But today, SUVs are increasingly becoming lifestyle-defined, high on practicality, and meant for urban usage with on-road capability (the ability of a vehicle to drive at high speeds on highways and in ghats with good stability).
Within India particularly, both practical and aspirational/emotional considerations are driving demand for SUVs within customers. SUVs offer a significant advantage on Indian roads, providing optimum navigation with high ground clearance on broken tarmac and speed breakers. On flooded roads during the rainy season, their increased ride height and command seating position allows for more confident driving, and Indian customers generally feel safer in an SUV in typical Indian driving conditions. Besides this, SUVs also come with a strong aspirational value, with the promise of fun and adventure fuelled by their go-anywhere capability.
Changing vectors in SUVs today: Comfort and design are key
Utility vehicles of the past essentially just came with seats on a chassis, offering comfort which was just a little better than riding horseback. Compare that to SUVs today, which offer unparalleled ride and seating comfort. Modern SUVs are comfortable to drive and ride in, ergonomically designed to provide enhanced ride and seating comfort. They also include advanced features for temperature control.
Further, SUVs before typically connoted big, large, and bulky. This was in tandem with their view as mostly utility-based vehicles. However, with changing customer demands, SUVs have evolved considerably. SUV design elements on small but capable products have largely democratised the SUV lifestyle. Consequently, SUVs today come in all sizes. Just as in the case of cars, they are categorized as sub-compact, compact, and full-size. Their design aptly symbolizes the stylized, sturdy and confident, and irrespective of the size they come in, they deliver uncompromisingly on expected performance.
Combining superior performance with enhanced safety
Since SUVs initially were built to tackle challenging terrain, the focus was mainly on offering good low-end torque. These vehicles were not ideal to drive on roads or highways. Modern SUVs, however, have a considerably better spread of high performance and capability, both at low and high speeds. The downsized petrol and diesel engines and EV powertrains help provide adequate performance across speed range.
Combined with this promising performance is the augmented safety SUVs offer both on and off roads. Safety has gained increasing traction from Indian customers, and it is no surprise that SUVs are incorporating heightened safety features to deliver on this front. They offer improved structural safety with features which enhance crash avoidance like anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and electronic stability programs (ESP). Additionally, multiple airbags offer in-crash protection, with advanced safety features like advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) and post-crash assistance in the form of auto-emergency calls.
Besides, like all future-ready vehicles, SUVs today come equipped with modern technology elements, tying together connectivity and convenience and safety to provide for an elevated driving experience.
The reason SUVs are fast emerging as the category of choice in India is because they bring together a very wide arena of benefits. They project confidence and stature and are a style statement, but also offer unmatched comfort, superior performance, flexibility in size, and enhanced safety. With changing lifestyles and priorities, it seems India is eagerly marching towards making SUVs the norm. Now is a time like no other to ride on the crest of this transformation, bringing forth elevated offerings within the segment that not only delivers on existing customer expectations, but also takes it a step further in surprising them.