S. Ronendra Singh ronendrasingh.s@thehindu.co.in

S. Ronendra Singh divides his professional time writing about the IT and automotive industries. Better known as Ronny, he likes to swim and play volleyball when not test driving cars or chasing IT stories.

S Ronendra Singh

Why does India lag behind in automatic cars?

| Updated on May 08, 2013

Over the last one year, I have noticed that automatic transmission (AT) or automatic geared cars are in more demand than they were three years ago, their popularity helped largely by the growing number of women drivers in the country. The reason is simple: it’s quite a relief from pushing the clutch pedal again and again, while shifting the gears in choc-a-bloc traffic.

In fact, it’s not just the rising number of women drivers -- we all like the ease with which we can drive automatic cars. Of course AT cars cost more -- and India’s is a very cost-sensitive auto industry -- but buyers don’t mind paying that much extra for that peace of mind. But why are automatic cars more expensive? Yes, it’s the cost factor -- AT gearboxes cost carmakers more money as most of them are not made in India unlike their manual versions.

The rising number of AT cars also indicates that buyers don’t really bother about fuel consumption as we would imagine. The basic fuel efficiency is about 10-15 per cent between an AT and a manual transmission car.

We want to enjoy driving in our congested cities; comfort while driving and no headache of shifting gears. Just keep the gear lever on D (drive) mode and relax -- accelerate and brake when needed by using only the right foot, while the left foot rests and you can drive with both hands on the steering wheel, eyes focused on the road. The only time one has to shift gears in an automatic car is while reversing the car and while parking.

"It's effortless and the best part is that a new driver like me does not have to bother about the car stalling in traffic, which happens often," a friend of mine recently said while driving an automatic variant of the Honda Brio.

AT cars have existed for decades, and it’s understandable that we have been introduced to them much later (India didn’t really have a booming auto industry until very recently). The concept is very good and companies like Honda give the automatic option in their smallest car (Brio). But not all companies offer AT variants as of now. For example, passenger car market leader Maruti Suzuki India offers the AT option only in four models -- A-Star, Ritz, DZire and SX4. But, those are also made when customers demand for the AT version, especially in small cars like A-Star and Ritz.

Similarly, Hyundai Motor India also offers AT variants from i10 onwards.

But, for an AT variant in small cars irrespective of any company, they are not available off-the-shelf. A customer has to book the car in advance and pay a certain amount (around 10-15 per cent) and delivery takes around a month.

It is because the demand is not much today and may take time to scale up.

So shouldn’t car companies promote automatic vehicles and make them available off-the-shelf, just like gearless scooters? In one of the largest car markets in the world, shouldn’t we make such cars for ourselves? When cars with AT can be manufactured for other countries from here, why not for own too? Just a thought…

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Published on May 08, 2013
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