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August 31, 1999


Maruti to introduce 3 new Zen variants by March 2000

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Close on the heels of launching the Zen Classic, Maruti Udyog Limited is now working towards introducing three new variants of the popular Zen. They will be launched by the end of this fiscal, including a limited edition multi-point fuel injection version in September.

While the first new variant would be an upgrade of the existing Zen VX model, the other two would sport multi-point fuel injection engines, company sources said.

The final price tags of these vehicles are also being worked out, the sources added.

MUL, when contacted, said it was currently working on the existing as well as new models. However, it refused to state a timeframe for the introduction of these models. ''Upgrading of models and launch of new variants and models is a continuous process at MUL, as is evident from the introduction of six models and more than 35 variants over the last 15 years,'' the company said in a faxed response.

Meanwhile, the sources pointed out that an upgrade of the Zen VX, to be christened Zen VXI, would hit the city streets in September this year. To be priced slightly above the existing VX model, the car would feature a power steering, rear wind-shield demister, side mouldings as additions on the existing Zen VX features.

The first MPFI Zen, powered by a two-valve engine, would also zip the streets almost simultaneously. The car would be Euro-II emission norms compliant and would be produced in limited numbers initially for technology demonstration, the sources added.

''We propose to have on offer only 240 units of the variant for technology demonstration purposes and for testing out appropriateness of price positioning of Euro-II compliant variant and test marketing of the product,'' the sources added.

The final version of the Zen, which would have an MPFI four-valve engine as its heart, would be launched in March 2000. This would complete the product variants of the Zen that the company plans to introduce to stave off increasing competition in this segment.

According to the MUL sources, the upgrades and variants are being launched in order to improve value perception of existing models. Besides, it is also part of the company's strategy to tap more markets as also take care of emission related technology requirements on account of Euro norms in some markets.

It may be recalled that MUL had last week unveiled the Zen Classic, based on Suzuki Motor Corporation's popular small car, the Cervo-C.

Meanwhile, Maruti has decided not to phase out any of its existing vehicles in spite of new introductions over the next one year.

The decision to this effect was taken in view of the surging demand for all its existing vehicles, MUL managing director Jagdish Khattar had announced earlier this month.

''We will not phase out any product till the demand for that product is alive. As long as the product is viable for the vendors and the company and till there is customer demand for the car, why should we phase out the model?'' he said.

MUL has already lined up launch of three new models over the next one year besides a horde of upgrades of the existing models.

The Baleno, which will be the first of the three new models to be launched in India, would hit the street in November this year. It would be powered by a 1600cc engine. To be available in two variants, the car would sport a Rs 725,000 price tag.

The second model in the series would be the 1000cc Wagon-R, which would be introduced by the end of the financial year. The Alto, an upgrade of the existing Zen, would hit the streets in the beginning of the new fiscal and would be introduced in two engine variants of 800cc and 1000cc.

In a Maruti-related development, the eastern region accounted for the highest sales of the company's cars for the past three years with the rate of growth touching as high as 14 per cent annually.

According to a company spokesman in eastern India, of the present five passenger car segments comprising the Maruti-800, Omni, Zen, Esteem and Gypsi, sales of the Omni had so far been the highest in the region.

Sales of the Omni had recorded a phenomenal 98 per cent growth in eastern India last year alone, followed by those of the Maruti-800 and Zen, which had recorded over 60 per cent and 49 per cent growth in sales respectively in eastern India. A similar trend continued even during the first four months of the current fiscal.

As a result of such steady performance of the eastern region between 1996 and 1998, the sales figure of Maruti cars in the western region, including those in Bombay, had been relegated to the second spot, but is ahead of northern and southern regions', he said.

However, in terms of all India sales, Maruti continued to enjoy the highest growth, he added.

Terming the Hyundai Santro and Daewoo Matiz as the two closest competitors of Maruti in India, he pointed out that following the arrival of a number of new models of passenger cars, sales had gone up by at least 44 per cent in one year, which by any yardstick could be termed as phenomenol.

Speaking on Maruti's export of the Zen World cars to the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Belgium in Europe under the brand name of Suzuki Alto and to Latin America, Africa and some south Asian countries like Sri Lanka, he said during 1998-99 as many as 38,000 Zen cars were exported and hoped to register a ten per cent growth this year.

About Maruti's strategies to cope with the increasing demand in India and abroad, he pointed out that with the commissioning of Maruti's third new state-of-the-art plant at Gurgaon in March this year, the capacity had now gone up to 370,000 cars every year.

But with 150 per cent capacity utilisation, efforts were now being made to take the production figure to nearly 450,000 with Maruti-800 and Maruti Omni becoming the two major contributors.

In terms of division of production of different Maruti brands, he said Maruti-800 and Omni accounted for the highest 35 per cent each, followed by Zen (12 per cent), Esteem (ten per cent) and Gypsy (eight per cent).

However, except Gypsy, despite the introduction of several new features, sales of all other Maruti cars, including that of Esteem luxury cars in urban areas, were showing steady upward trends in all the regions.

But in terms of all India market-share of Maruti cars, which till recently was as high as 80 per cent (but 84 per cent in the eastern region), it had now come down to around 70 per cent despite the rise in volume of sales in all segments.

This was mainly because of the entry of several new players in the Indian car market during the past couple of years, he stated.


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