No more in the clutches of the clutch

Murali Gopalan | Updated on January 17, 2018


It’s the season of automatics and, on Independence Day, motorists will herald the growing sense of freedom from the clutch.

Right from scooters and cars to SUVs and buses, automatic transmissions have changed mobility dynamics across the country. What was considered the ‘sissy’ alternative in scooters three decades ago is rapidly becoming the norm.

The Honda Activa has emerged the single largest selling two-wheeler brand with monthly sales of over 2.5 lakh units. It has consistently overtaken Hero’s Splendor motorcycle for six months now and firmly established the automatic wave.

The success of Activa has spurred a gearless scooter movement with Hero, TVS, Suzuki and Yamaha getting more aggressive in this space. Today, scooters account for nearly a third of two-wheeler sales and are still growing.

Honda first brought in its gearless scooters way back in the 1980s in tandem with the Kinetic Group when Bajaj Auto’s geared scooters were ruling the roost. Indo-Japanese motorcycle collaborations were also making their presence felt and would eventually swamp geared scooters.

Kinetic Honda scooters comfortably created a niche in this overwhelming ‘geared’ space even though it was not considered too macho to be seen on them. Yet, their popularity grew and once Honda parted ways with Kinetic and launched the Activa in 2001, it has been an incredible journey since then.

With more women entering the workplace, this scooter quickly emerged their best mobility solution. Men also joined the growing customer base for Activa.

The transition took longer in the case of cars as people were concerned about mileage issues for an asset which was far more expensive than a two-wheeler. This explained the tepid customer response to the Maruti Zen automatic 15 years ago.

All this changed a couple of years ago when Maruti launched the Celerio with its automated manual transmission (AMT) that was affordable, with good mileage to boot.

By this time, the landscape had also changed with a greater number of vehicles on roads. The time was perfect for automatics and, today, Maruti’s portfolio has grown beyond the Celerio to include Wagon R, Alto K-10, DZire, Baleno and Ertiga.

Hyundai, likewise, has automatic options on its range, right from the i10 to Verna, while its recently launched Creta SUV is quickly building up a big buyer mass for this alternative, too. Mahindra & Mahindra and Tata Motors, likewise, have AMTs in their product portfolio as also a host of other automakers with the latest being Toyota with its Innova Crysta.

In buses too, intra and intercity travel has become a lot easier for drivers who have had to grapple with tough clutches and gears. Today, things are a lot better with brands like Volvo showing the way in comfortable driving and others following suit.

Published on August 14, 2016

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