The next big thing for Maruti Suzuki in India is nothing but the launch of the Baleno hatchback. The Baleno nameplate is coming back to India riding on a premium hatchback.
Maruti Suzuki and the word 'premium' are not something we have seen going together. I am talking about the Kizashi sedan, a car, which was sold in the country in the same decade, albeit unknown to many.
The Kizashi was arguably the first premium product from Maruti Suzuki, which was launched in February 2011. Blame it on the petrol only engine, higher price tag of close to 17 lakh and fuel efficiency around 12kmpl, customers completely ignored the imported as a completely built unit (CBU) sedan. The car is literally an alien on roads.
Maruti Suzuki's effort to penetrate the premium segment met an abrupt end with the failure of the Kizashi. The coming years saw Maruti Suzuki returning to its core values of bringing value for money cars rich in practicality, fuel efficiency and lower price.
Fast forward to 2015, the industry has grown manyfolds from 2011 in terms of number of cars, segments and customer preferences. Guess what, we are not hesitant to buy a premium 'hatchback' that cost even Rs 25 lakh.
The change in the scenario again prompted Maruti Suzuki to give a second life to the dream again. This time, the company played smart with more homework and the result is Nexa experience.
The Nexa is the Maruti Suzuki's exclusive dealership for selling premium cars and the first product, the S-Cross crossover, was launched in August 2015. The intention of setting up separate Nexa dealership was to avoids confusion between the regular Maruti Suzuki customers and the people who opt for luxury.
A significant difference can be seen on the car as well. The S-Cross is sold without Maruti Suzuki nameplate anywhere on the car. In line with the S-Cross, the Baleno hatchback will also be sold without Maruti Suzuki moniker and in new variant names - Sigma, Delta, Zeta and Alpha.
The car is powered by a 1.2-litre petrol engine that develops 84bhp and 115Nm mated to five-speed manual and CVT transmissions with claimed fuel efficiency of 21.4kmpl. The diesel engine is a 1.3-litre DDIs unit developing 74bhp and 190Nm mated to five-speed manual with claimed fuel efficiency of 27.39kpl. The power figures are not promising, at least on the paper.
What is truly premium in Baleno is the addition of ABS, EBD and dual airbags as standard on all variants. Depending upon the variant, the Baleno gets keyless push start/stop button, reverse camera, voice recognition, projector lamps, LED DRLs and follow-me lights. Icing on top would the seven-inch touch display with Apple CarPlay system and a 4.2-inch TFT speedo display. The features are promising. However that is not enough to stand out or giving a character to Baleno.
That leads to the conclusion, now everything depends on the price. Learning lesson with the fate of Kizashi, Maruti Suzuki will be highly vigilant in pricing Baleno. Just because Baleno will be selling through Nexa dealerships, it need not be priced premium. How about incorporating Nexa's premium features and regular Maruti Suzuki's typical lower pricing? Does that sounds like a take off to the premium aspirations of Maruti Suzuki?