Volkswagen gets set for GTI drive in India

Murali Gopalan Recently in Hannover | Updated on January 16, 2018


Deliveries of the hot hatch will begin in December

Volkswagen is gearing up for the India launch of its Polo GTI in the coming months.

“The cars must be on their way in the ship from our Pamplona plant in Spain,” said a beaming Michael Mayer, Director, Volkswagen Passenger Cars India, at a select roundtable in Hannover last week. If everything goes according to plan, the first set of GTI deliveries will begin by December.

Numbers will be limited and the car is expected to be expensive at Rs 25 lakh plus. Yet, this price will still be competitive enough to take on rivals like the BMW Mini and Fiat Abarth 595. “This is one pearl in a chain of pearls. We start where others have not even reached,” said Mayer.

From VW’s point of view, the timing is just right for this ‘hottest hatch’ to be launched in India. The Polo GTI is a lifestyle brand and attracts young customers across the world quite unlike its Golf GTI sibling which reaches out to an older buyer base. The model for India is a two-door variant which is expected to make a strong connect with youth.

“The idea is to offer something more on the plate for enthusiasts. Driving is the biggest strength in a GTI,” said Mayer. The Polo has already got a substantial share of women buyers in India and it is quite likely that they will queue up for GTI too. Market response will also decide if VW will contemplate assembly at a later date but all this is sometime away.

“On the radar is a local hot hatch though there is still some way to go before this becomes a reality. I am confident that GTI will set the bar. It is eventually about the brand since young people in India aspire for one,” said Mayer.

From VW’s point of view, the objective is to get people “seriously involved” with GTI especially in cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. Market research for the brand began two years ago and the German automaker believes GTI “is the best you can have beyond the Beetle”.

Clearly, the idea is to get youngsters hooked to the brand on the lines of what can be seen in the motorcycle space with the likes of Harley and Royal Enfield. Going forward, it will be interesting to see if VW will plan similar customer initiatives with GTI though a lot of this will depend on market response to the car.

Werner Muller, Head, Product Line (Polo), dwelt on the GTI journey which began 40 years ago with the Golf. At that point in time, only a handful of people within the company were privy to the plans. It was called the ‘submarine project’ since nobody was aware of it except engine developers who were closely associated with it.

The number of Golf GTI cars planned was barely 5,000 in 1976 which was understandable since it was twice as expensive as a regular model. Yet, it turned out to be a huge hit and has grown from strength to strength since then. As Muller explained, the GTI quickly became synonymous with sportiness and was seen as a cool brand. Some of its more popular markets are South Africa, Japan, the US, Australia and Europe.

Polo GTI came into being a good two decades after its (Golf) predecessor and initial volumes were 3,000 units. This tepid response had perhaps to do with the fact that there was limited design differentiation between the two brands.

By 2006, more work went into the Polo GTI with 150 hp and top speeds of 216 kmph. This was enhanced later in 2014 to 192 hp and 236 kmph. GTI has not looked back since with sales crossing two million units last year, a far cry from the conservative 5,000 cars planned by VW at the time of its debut in 1976.

The writer was in Hannover on an invitation from Volkswagen

Published on October 04, 2016

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