Economy

Passenger minivans create the ‘magic' in metros

Murali Gopalan Mumbai | Updated on April 28, 2011 Published on April 28, 2011

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An extra wheel is all it takes for automakers to create new opportunities.

Take the Tata Ace as a case in point. One of the reasons for its success was that it conferred a sense of ownership pride in the mini goods carrier segment traditionally dominated by the three-wheeler. Ergo, the four-wheeled Ace suddenly looked fashionable and prompted Mahindra & Mahindra and Piaggio to follow suit with competing models such as the Maxximo and Ape Truk.

The same principle is now being tried out in the passenger vehicle space where the Magic, a derivative of the Ace, is notching up impressive numbers as a taxi.

On Wednesday, M&M launched the Maxximo minivan which will have a similar role to play across India's vast landscape. Piaggio, likewise, is looking at a people's carrier option for the Ape Mini which could hit the roads in the coming months.

Bajaj Auto has also made it known that it is working on a four-wheeler (and not exactly a car) in its project with Renault.

Sources say the final product will be more on the lines of the Magic and Maxximo. The company has said the same platform would also produce three-wheelers which, in that case, will wrap up key ends in the passenger carrier space.

Auto rickshaw prospects

Will all this affect the prospects of the auto rickshaw? At the time of the Ace launch over five years ago, experts said it was only a matter of time before the cargo three-wheeler was consigned to the archives. Nothing of the kind happened though the Ace spawned a product category which is doing nearly 25,000 units a month. As the numbers continue to grow, it remains to be seen if the three-wheeler will finally bow out.

The same holds true in the passenger segment where the Magic and Maxximo minivan will grow the market while gradually eating into the share of the auto rickshaw. Interestingly, Tata Motors had launched a smaller four-wheeled rival last year called the Magic Iris while M&M recently put out the passenger version of the mini Gio pickup in select markets.

Manufacturers are gung-ho on these products largely because of the poor state of public transport in most cities and towns.

“There is a big opportunity for vehicles like the Magic and Maximmo to double up as taxis and save people the bother of cramming themselves into buses and trains. They also feel a lot safer in these vehicles compared to auto rickshaws which are unstable,” sources said.

With intercity connectivity being the need of the hour across India, these passenger minivans are making the most of the situation. Most State Transport Corporations do not have the money to buy endless number of buses and it is here that the Magic and Maxximo will do their bit.

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Published on April 28, 2011
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