In praise of WagonR: Why India loves the tall boy

    In praise of WagonR: Why India loves the tall boy

    When Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) head Arvind Kejriwal was projecting himself as a quintessential common man, the aam aadmi, in the beginning of his political career, one of the important aam aadmi lifestyle symbols he used, along with sandals, an untucked formal shirt and a muffler, was WagonR. If anyone was in doubt which car was the car of the common family man in India, Kejriwal laid those doubts to rest.

    A few days ago Maruti Suzuki India announced that WagonR had crossed the 30 lakh sales milestone in over two decades. The model, which was introduced in the market in 1999, achieved 5 lakh sales mark in 2008; 20 lakh in 2017; 25 lakh in 2021; and 30 lakh milestone this month.

    The great survivor
    That’s a unique achievement for a humble car without any pretensions to make it big but with lots of practical appeal.

    If the Maruti 800 was India’s first middle-class car, the WagonR, a hatchback with a tall boy stance, was India’s first family car. It was launched in 1999 in response to another super hit car, Hyundai’s Santro, which was launched a year earlier. Both were similar in their promise but WagonR soon overtook Santro which was later discontinued. Unlike the plain-Jane WagonR, the stylishly curvy Santro was a car with an attitude, named after Saint-Tropez. a town on the French Riviera known for its glamour and luxury lifestyle. But Santro could not survive in the long run. WagonR’s workaday viability and rugged efficiency had more lasting power than Santro’s smart glamour. WagonR may have looked dull and drab in front of Santro but it has constantly evolved and risen to the pulse of changing customer preferences. More than two decades later, WagonR still becomes the bestseller.

    In the Darwinian car market, where ever-new and improved models push the previous ones down the evolutionary chain, WagonR, the humble species, is not just a survivor but also the bestseller. No sister species from Maruti Suzuki could cannibalise it. The new smart and rugged species such as compact SUVs have failed to push it down the road to oblivion.

    Why WagonR?

    After the roaring success of the Maruti 800 as a mass market car for the common Indian, WagonR appeared as a studied improvement of the same formula. It was more spacious and more fuel-efficient yet nifty, rugged and built to last. The original Wagon came with a 1061cc engine, which produced 66 hp of power. Later in 2003, the hatchback received a minor facelift and the upgrades included chrome in the front grille, and a body-coloured bumper among other changes. Initially, the exterior design of the car was disapproved by many as people found it to be too ‘boxy’. But due to the same boxy and tall-boy design, the WagonR offered significantly more space than its dimensions suggested. This made the car a hit among family-oriented buyers who wanted space for people and their luggage without having to pay a big premium.

    Its first major leap of evolution came in 2006 when it was adapted to the LPG. As India’s growing middle-class started travelling more as families (to relatives and nearby getaways) and emerging satellite colonies made daily commutes longer, it demanded more fuel efficiency for its workhorse car and WagonR was ready in its new avatar. Later, it was also quick to jump onto the CNG bandwagon which gave a huge boost to its sales. Now a flex-fuel model is in the works while it could also be a key piece of Maruti Suzuki’s electric strategy.

    Early last year, Maruti Suzuki launched the updated version of WagonR priced between Rs 5.39 lakh and Rs 7.10 lakh (ex-showroom), powered by the advanced K-series 1-litre and 1.2-litre engines. The 1-litre trims were priced between Rs 5.39 lakh and Rs 6.81 lakh, while the 1.2-litre variants were tagged between Rs 5.99 lakh and Rs 7.10 lakh. Available in both petrol and S-CNG fuel options, 1-litre engine delivers a fuel efficiency of 25.19 km per litre in petrol, higher by around 16 per cent from outgoing model and 34.05 km per kg in S-CNG, higher by about five per cent from outgoing S-CNG model. The 1.2-litre petrol delivers 24.43 km per litre, higher by around 19 per cent from the outgoing model. The new Wagon R is available with both manual and automatic gear shift (AGS) transmission options.

    WagonR created for itself a large class of buyers when Indian middle-class families were taking to cars for the first time and wanted the worth of every rupee spent on their car. Those were not the days of the consumer culture of ephemerality where even middle-class buyers are willing to replace cars every few years. WagonR promised a lasting value. Its ‘dibba’ looks were no discouragement for the middle-class buyer. Its shape and design eloquently explained how the company had tried to cram in as much value as possible.

    WagonR, the car of the future?
    WagonR is not just an enduring model but also at the forefront of Maruti Suzuki’s future strategy. At Auto Expo in January, the company showcased a flex-fuel prototype of Wagon R which would run on a higher ethanol-petrol blend. WagonR could be India’s first mass-market flex-fuel small car. It can also perform the same feat in the electric segment. Given WagonR’s continued popularity, it’s not surprising that Maruti Suzuki plans to go electric in India with it. If that happens, WagonR would make a major evolutionary leap because electric mobility is going to fossilize a lot of popular cars that run on conventional fuels.

    Maruti Suzuki had started testing WagonR Electric a few years ago. While WagonR may not be Maruti Suzuki’s first electric car in India, it may well become India’s first mass-market small electric car.

    WagonR is a steal
    The popularity of WagonR can be gauged from the fact that this Maruti Suzuki model has the highest percentage of repeat buyers. As many as 24 per cent of its customers, one in four, prefer to upgrade to a new WagonR. That’s a definite mark of customer satisfaction and loyalty.

    If this fact doesn’t tell you all about WagonR’s popularity, here’s another: WagonR is the most stolen car model in India. Even Kejriwal’s ‘aam aadmi’ WagonR was stolen though was found later. WagonR’s sheer utility and economy make it a steal.

    (With inputs from TOI)

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