Auto focus

‘Alto-nate’ reality: The resolute, people’s car

S Muralidhar | Updated on October 29, 2020 Published on October 29, 2020

In many ways, the Alto has been a bellwether of the automotive industry’s position (file photo)   -  SONDEEP SHANKAR

Two decades and more than 4 million of them later, the Maruti Suzuki Alto is still persisting in the race

For a company that was instrumental in the Indian middle class discovering the joys of personal mobility, it is not surprising that Maruti Suzuki is considered the brand that put India on wheels.

And within the passenger car market leader’s portfolio, the one that will be considered the ‘People’s car’ is the Alto, even though the M800 originally started the mobility revolution in India. About 2.7 million of the M800 were sold in 31 years till 2014.

In 2000-01, when the Alto was launched, the M800 was contributing more than 45 per cent of Maruti’s total sales. In comparison, this month, the Alto completes 20 years in the market, a significant milestone, and cumulative sales of this entry small car also crossed four million.

The brand will certainly go on, though the Alto as we know it today will possibly not survive future, more stringent, safety regulations. Over the last two decades, the model has changed, somewhat, though the brand promise has remained the same.

Last year’s refresh to the model brought it up to the new BS6 emission norms and additional safety kit also ensured that it matched required regulations in this regard.

In many ways, the Alto has been a bellwether of the automotive industry’s position. The model’s numbers hit a peak in 2010-11, a year when the Alto K10 was introduced, and nearly 29,000 of them were being driven out of the dealerships every month.

Sales of the Alto 800 and the Alto K10 put together have been on a slow decline since due to a combination of new competitors eating into the entry small car pie and due to buyer preferences shifting up into the B segment.

An analysis of the sales data of the Alto for the last few years throws up some interesting titbits. The Alto’s rural sales bias has been evident for years, with more than 50 per cent of its buyers residing in Tier 3 and Tier 4 cities in the country. But, the interesting point is that the remaining half of the sales have still been from urban centres.

The rural penetration for the current financial year is a high 62 per cent; but that could well be due more to urban dealers being closed for longer during the lockdown and due to a higher concentration of ‘work from home’ professionals in the metros putting off car purchases.

Mileage, Maruti brand

A lot many more nuances emerge when we look at the average customer profile of the Alto over the years. An overwhelming majority, more than 90 per cent, of the buyers are male and are married (85 pc). The average age of the buyer is also an indicative 38 years. Nearly half of all Alto sales have been to salaried employees over the last five years. And most buyers are part of a 5-member family, indicative of the larger family size, on average, in the Indian context. An overwhelming majority of the Altos were self-driven by the owners; but, even though it is a tiny car, almost 12 per cent of them are being chauffeured around even today. The two factors that were most influential in making the purchase decision continues to be mileage and the draw of the Maruti brand.

There may have been aspects of the Alto that made it feel like it was probably built to a price. But, it was never pitched as a poor man’s car or an ultra-low cost car. The Alto also managed to keep away that image by delivering on reliability ratings. Over the years, most buyers have been first-time car buyers - an average of about 56 per cent amongst family-focused owners and nearly 80 per cent amongst individual buyers.

Yet, it is eye-opening to see that the Alto commanded considerable loyalty amongst buyers who were replacing their current vehicle. Nearly 60 per cent of the replacement buyers were existing Maruti loyalists, of which 3-out-of-4 were replacing a previous generation Alto or M800.

Given today’s average replacement period of 3.5 to 4 years, Alto owners also tend to replace their cars (on average) after more than nine years. Predictably 4 out of 5 financed their purchase of the Alto, and as many were convinced of their choice when they approached the dealership!

Does the data about the Alto buyer throw up any interesting trends about sales during the pandemic and post-lockdown? While the salaried continue to be more than half of all buyers, the share of Government employees buying the Alto has gone up. And the numbers for the April to September 2020 half year, also indicate that women homemakers have decided to postpone their car purchase.

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

Published on October 29, 2020
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor