The year 2012 is unlikely to be counted along with the ones in which the automobile industry had celebratory numbers to announce. But that didn’t dampen the spirits of car makers who made a string of launches last year across the entire range of car segments.

The market conditions could remain stagnant at best and so the sales numbers will possibly reflect a similar showing this year too. So, though the scenario won’t be so bleak there is still the possibility of the industry facing a near double-digit fall in volumes. This could change if the general economic scenario improves dramatically in the months to come.

But, year ’13 is still unlikely to prove to be unlucky for buyers. Just like last year, there is a lot of excitement still lined up in 2013 in the form of new car launches. And there will be strong contenders that could potentially upset the apple cart.

However, the fact that the year could potentially prove to be tougher than anticipated is obviously not lost on manufacturers, who will also attempt to rationalise, strengthen, leverage and extend the lives of their existing vehicles. So, this means we can expect facelifts, new features and design improvements across segments. Cars like the new BMW 7-Series on the one end and, the new facelifted versions of the Fiat Linea, the Hyundai i20, the Chevrolet Beat and the Maruti Suzuki A-Star on the other end of the price spectrum.

The proposed hike in fuel prices especially for diesel is likely to dent the beneficial differential that currently exists for buyers of diesel cars. But, with so many super efficient diesels coming in, quite a few buyers are likely to still choose diesel over petrol. A few more diesel options amongst hatchbacks and small sedans are likely to join the existing bunch.

More and more buyers are willing to forgo the manual shifter in favour of the automatic gearbox thanks to the heavy traffic in most metros. While the price differential is only expected to fall marginally, there could be more takers for the convenience factor. So, we can expect more cars with automatics in them, especially from companies that do not currently have one in their portfolio.

This year could also be the year of the compact sports utility vehicle. After the grand success of the Renault Duster, there are more in the pipeline from other brands. One, of course, is from alliance partner Nissan, which will use the same platform and share components with the Duster. Design differentiators will focus largely on making the badge engineered SUV take on Nissan’s design philosophy. The other highly anticipated compact SUV could be the one from Maruti Suzuki and based heavily on the XA Alpha concept vehicle.

Here is our list of new vehicles for the year that will be worth waiting for:

New Hyundai i10

The small hatch that took over from the Santro – the Hyundai i10 – has had a great run for the last few years. But its age is showing a bit on the monthly sales numbers and it is time for a refresher.

What the rumours doing the rounds and the camouflaged model on the roads seem to indicate is that the new i10 will be a slightly larger hatch, with an even taller stance. The model year change will, in addition to the design changes, also be used by Hyundai to introduce its new 1.1-litre diesel engine, a much anticipated powertrain, currently under testing. It will be one of the smallest diesel burners in the market.

Chevrolet Sail sedan

The new Sail UV-A has had a luke warm start, though it is still too early in the day to really make a categorical observation. But, if the conservative styling was a bit of dampener in the hatch, the Sail’s sedan form may not seem all that unexciting. The sedan is likely to share the same engines as are offered in the hatch. The Sail sedan will also be presented as a more spacious and more premium option compared to competitors like the Swift DZire.

Volkswagen Cross Polo

Volkswagen will attempt to extend its portfolio of small vehicles in the Indian market with the possible introduction of the Cross Polo. Based entirely on the Polo hatch, the Cross Polo just gets special moulded side cladding, a raised stance and roof rails that go on to offer it the presence of a compact SUV. Visually the impact is quite good, and the larger rims also add to the allure. Volkswagen will probably use this variant to lure buyers from other segments and to enhance the appeal, this crossover wannabe could be offered with the special 1.5-litre diesel engine that is being developed for markets like India. VW may also decide to launch the new Beetle here later this year.

Honda Amaze

The Amaze will finally offer diesel relief for Honda in India. This is a sedan based on the Brio, so familiarity to the design and overall layout in the cabin is inevitable, but it is still likely to be most remembered for finally offering a diesel option to buyers here. A sub-1.5-litre diesel engine and a sub-four metre car will mean Honda will also manage to get some pricing power to take on the existing entry-sedans. The Amaze could be launched by April this year.

Chevrolet Enjoy

The success of the Toyota Innova is unrivalled and others attempting to capture the buyer’s mindshare in that segment obviously haven’t met with similar success. But, the Mahindra Xylo and the recent addition of the Maruti Suzuki Ertiga have been the other success stories of note in this category.

However, on the other hand Nissan’s Evalia has had a lacklustre beginning. That is not going to deter GM India which is priming itself to launch the Enjoy. This MPV will be a premium 7-seater that will attempt to offer a practical and comfortable option for individual and institutional buyers looking for a people’s mover. A 1.4-litre petrol and the Fiat-GM-Suzuki 1.3-litre multijet diesel will be the engine options on offer.

Hyundai New MPV

Like the Chevrolet Enjoy, the proposed new Hyundai MPV was also showcased at last year’s Auto Expo, albeit in concept form. The final MPV that gets launched could be based heavily on this concept, though unlikely to be as luxurious in its production trim. But, knowing Hyundai, it will be a bit different from the others offering an 8-seat configuration and a value-for-money price tag. Engines could be shared, retuned units from Hyundai’s current sedans like the Elantra.

Ford Eco Sport

By far the most anticipated new vehicle launch of the year, the Ford EcoSport will be in showrooms by March 2013. Built on the same platform as the new Fiesta, the EcoSport will be a compact SUV with a rugged stance and ride quality and still fall within the category of small cars as far as the regulations go.

It will be less than four-metres long, sport engines that are sub-1.2-litre for petrol and sub-1.5-litre for diesel. The, by now famous, one-litre EcoBoost turbocharged, direct injection petrol engine will be offered with this new vehicle. For Ford, the EcoSport has the potential to rake in the numbers that the new Fiesta hasn’t been able to.

Maruti Suzuki XA Alpha

Maruti Suzuki’s big launch of this year could be the new compact SUV based on the XA Alpha concept. Designed and largely conceptualised by Maruti’s Indian R&D, the new vehicle will be just shy of four-metres in length and attempt to offer urban buyers the build and feel of a rugged SUV. The new vehicle will be more a 2014 model, but might just make it by the end of this year. It will mostly share the K-Series 1.2-litre petrol and the 1.3 DDiS diesel engines.

Mercedes-Benz A-Class

The all-new A-Class will probably be the most important launch in a long while for Mercedes-Benz India. This car has the potential to really draw back in a lot of Merc fans with its great package, superb, new-age design and agile, fun to drive dynamics.

While engine and trim options will possibly be under various stages of finalisation, it will be safe to say that the A-Class will arm Mercedes with the strength to let out the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons.

Honda CR-V

The new Honda CR-V is already out in other markets and could make it here later this year. The new gen model is bigger outside and inside, and is said to be better kitted out. Honda quality and reliability will already be loaded in too. But, we just hope the 2.2-litre diesel will also make it here and not just the two-litre petrol.

Jaguar F-Type

After the launch of the all-new Range Rover late last year, and its refreshing new almost entirely aluminium body, the next big launch from the JLR fold could well be the new F-Type sportscar. Likely to be debuted in India just months after its international launch, the F-Type has the potential to completely alter the brand image of Jaguar cars. Iconic already and talked about as a worthy successor to the E-Type, the new F-Type will mark the re-entry of Jaguar into the sportscar category.

muralidhar.s@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on January 1, 2013)
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