Hyundai has successfully established itself as a premium car manufacturer but it needs Santro to bring in the volumes
Five years after the last of its 1.3 million units rolled out, Hyundai Motor India’s most successful car Santro has made a comeback to the busy production lines of its Sriperumbudur plant near Chennai.
It has been the most awaited launch not just for Hyundai but for Indian buyers, Hyundai dealers and parts suppliers as well. It will also be the first major launch in the mid-hatchback segment in over two years (last launch was the Tata Tiago).
Forgotten for being the ugly duckling in the pack of contemporary and stylish elder siblings, the dated design and architecture, coupled with reluctance of Hyundai to upgrade the model, led to the Santro’s demise.
But the Santro’s return to showrooms later this month (two weeks before Diwali) marks one of the rare instances where an automotive company has brought back a model back from the dead.
General Motors with the Chevrolet Spark (earlier Daewoo Matiz) and Mahindra Thar (earlier MM540) have been previous such instances, though the two models did not live up to expectations.
Labelled as the ‘sunshine car’, the Santro firmly established Hyundai as a solid player in the entry-level car segment, which had been the impregnable fortress of competitor Maruti Suzuki.
An easy to drive and value for money hatchback for family of four, the Santro went on to become one of the highest selling cars in India with monthly sales clocking 15,000 units during its hay days. Throughout its life span of 15 years, the Santro saw over 1.3 million sales. That is an average of more than 7,000 units a month – higher than what the entire portfolio of Nissan sells in a month today.Star pushAll this was not possible without the overbearing presence of Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan who holds the distinction of being the longest serving ambassador for the car company in India.
Starting from 1998, Khan shot several quirky advertisements that connected with the Indian buyer instantly. One such advertisement showed him chase fellow actor Preity Zinta in his Santro on deserted lanes under heavy downpour. In another ad, Khan donned several avatars, driving the Santro in different colours, to please the lady.
Khan moved from promoting the Santro to promoting the i10 and then compact sedan Xcent, tracing the progression of the buyer as well. But senior Hyundai officials said Santro’s return will be incomplete without the return of Khan who even joked in an media interview earlier this year that he would have named his third child Santro had Hyundai declined the name.
Santro is so synonymous with brand Hyundai that customers continued to walk into showrooms asking dealers if they have the car in their stockyards or if the company is planning its relaunch, even years after it was discontinued.
“Locals of Sriperumbudur and its vicinity still refer to Hyundai’s facility as ‘the Santro factory’ though we produce nine other cars,” said a senior official of Hyundai Motor India.
Hyundai has successfully established itself as a premium car manufacturer. Tasting three successful launches on the trot – Elite i20, Verna and Creta – the Korean brand fended off competition from Japanese giants like Honda and Toyota who are known for their premium position.
“The Creta retails at a big discount of Rs 15 lakh. We are the leaders in the sedan segment with the Verna and the Elite i20 is one of the largest selling premium hatchbacks. We have established ourselves firmly in the premium space,” YK Koo, Managing Director, Hyundai Motor India, said.
But there was always the need for volumes and at a price tag that is much cheaper that Creta because that is where the company could tap into the pockets of the rural buyer and establish its brand at the grassroot level.
More than half of Santro’s domestic volumes are expected to accrue from the rural and semi-rural landscapes; much like it did with the previous generation versions. Keeping the original characteristics in mind, Hyundai has declined to make any drastic changes to the new model.New styling aside, the core attributes of the new Santro such as engine refinement, suspension, quiet and spacious cabin and tall boy design are carried forward from the older generation model. Will the Santro loyalists line up outside Hyundai showrooms again?