A BRIEF HISTORY
The MPV segment was always kind of non-existent in India until a few years ago. The Matador from Bajaj Tempo (now Force Motors) and Standard panel vans doubled up as large family carriers, but were never truly designed as one.
It wasn't until the mid-1980s when Maruti brought the Omni that India got its first MPV. It had space for five to eight persons, sliding doors and versatility that wasn't seen until then. Powered by the same 800cc unit from the Maruti 800, it wasn't quite powerful and couldn't handle an air-conditioner, but it was efficient and that made it quite a hit among Indian families since there weren't other credible options.
The next set of MPVs were only to arrive in the second half of the nineties when Mahindra would bring in the Voyager, a Mitsubishi L300 van that was brought in via the license route. It used a Peugeot 2.5-litre XD3P motor that wasn't the most powerful but provided decent torque. High pricing meant that it was out of the reach of many looking for a vehicle that size and it disappeared from the Indian market by early 2000.
Another vehicle, the Kazwa, a sort of a cottage industry reproduction of one of the most successful MPVs in the world, the Renault Espace too was limited by capacity. And demand. Powered by HM's 2.0-litre diesel, the Kazwa did sell in some numbers in its home state in Kerala and some of the other neighbouring ones, but it vanished without a trace.
In the meanwhile, Daimler Chrysler India (now Mercedes-Benz India) looked to attract the swish set with their MB100D and 140D vans. Built by Ssangyong, these 10 and 14 seater MPVs featured a 2.9-litre, 90 bhp diesel motor. Performance was decent, though the price tag wasn't for everyone. Nevertheless, it did decently well for the intended bracket.
The next serious MPV to arrive was the Maruti Suzuki Versa at the turn of the millenium. Essentially a next-generation Omni, the Versa was larger, more spacious and had a bigger motor too - the venerable 1.3-litre petrol motor from the good ol' Esteem. With Amitabh Bachchan and his son Abhishek as brand ambassadors, few thought it would do badly, but we guess the market wasn't ready to pay the price it asked for. It faltered and kept doing so until 2010 when it was rebadged the Eeco with a smaller engine, fewer features and a much lower price tag. Success hasn't eluded the Eeco, though.
Between the Versa in 2000 and the Toyota Innova in January 2005, there weren't any MPVs of signifcance or consequence. Driven by a thought process that MPVs represented utility and goods transport rather than a family solution, MUVs and SUVs took off. Though that changed with the arrival of the Innova in a big way and they say, the rest is history.
In the last six years, the success of the Innova has been keenly observed by the competition. The arrival of the Mahindra Xylo and now the Maruti Suzuki Ertiga are the very result of Toyota's domination in this field. But there may be a shift in the coming months and years as manufacturers across the board gear up for a marketshare battle. And the first to arrive will be the Nissan Evalia, this July.
When?: July 2012
How much?: Rs 8 to 12 lakh
Variants: 1.5 dCi diesel
Nissan's NV200 MPV for India, the Evalia will hit showrooms closer than you might think. Production of the Evalia has begun and you can expect it to be on sale from late-July this year.
The Evalia is a petty conservative looking MPV – nothing futurustic about it, but nothing offensive either. It's a proper 7-seater, with the front and last row being individual seats and the middle row being a bench. The Evalia sports twin sliding doors (i.e. sliding doors on either side of the cabin) for the middle row and interior space, typical of all current-gen Nissans is pretty good.
The gear lever is of the joystick variety (as previously seen on the Honda CR-V), which means it's mounted on the dashboard, hence freeing up space on the cabin floor. With the last row in place, the Evalia can accomodate two large suitcases with ease and the count goes up to five large ones with the last row folded.
The Evalia is 4.4 metres long with a height of 1.88 metres and the width being 1.69 m. The wheelbase is 2725mm – just short of the Innova's wheelbase. Standard on the features list is the electric power steering unit and Nissan claims car-like handling and ride comfort for the Evalia. Interestingly, the fuel tank is placed beneath the floor, under the driver's seat with the fuel filler cap located on the B-pillar, behind the driver's door. The Evalia features strut-type suspension at the front that is mounted on a rubber insulated subframe with an anti-roll bar. The rear suspension is a single leaf spring affair mounted on a subframe. The shell is very rigid and it's equipped with reinforced sills and four crossmembers.
On the engines front, the 1.5-litre dCi diesel motor is going to be on offer. It may either produce 86 bhp (like in the Sunny) or 104 bhp. We think it could be the former owing to the economy factor and the fact that MPVs don't warrant spicy acceleration numbers. If Nissan gets it right, just like it did with the Sunny, then expect it to mount a serious charge on the Innova.
When?: September 2012
How much?: Rs 4.9 to 6.5 lakh
Variants: 1.5-litre diesel
The Mini Xylo (just a nickname for now) is nothing but a 4-metre version of the Xylo to help it meet the lower excise duties and take on the hatchback segment.
What's new with the compact Xylo you ask? Well, quite a bit. For starters it will be a 5+2 seater, the plus two being side facing jump seats at the rear. This gives the compact Xylo a competitive edge. Other changes include a lowering of the standard features on offer as well as some changes to the trim quality to ensure that it can slip in under the Rs 5 lakh tag for the base variant, going all the way up to Rs 6.5 lakh for the fully loaded versions.
To meet the lower excise duty bracket, Mahindra have also developed a three-cylinder engine, based on the current 2.2 mHawk motor that powers the Scorpio, Xylo and XUV5OO. This 1.5-litre diesel powertrain is mated to a five-speed gearbox. Little is know about the power it develops, but sources suggest it could vary from 70 bhp to 90 bhp.
Expect it to hit Mahindra showrooms just before Diwali, sometime in late September. It has the makings of a runaway success and could potentially turn the whole MPV market on its head.
How much?: Rs 6 to 8 lakh
Variants: 1.0-litre Ecoboost and 1.5-litre TDCi
There are favourable signs that Ford's big launch at Geneva earlier this year could make a grand entry in India. The B-Max, a five-seat, five-door MPV that replaces the slow-selling Fusion in Europe may be one of Ford's eight new vehicles for our market.
After launching the new Fiesta and unveiling the EcoSport concept at the 2012 Auto Expo in Delhi, this could very well become a link as Ford India plans to launch up to eight new vehicles by 2015. The B-Max measures 4.04 metres and it's quite likely that the production model could measure a little less than that. And if it does duck under four metres, the potential is immense, given our excise structure.
The B-Max is designed to have pillarless doors, i.e. it doesn't have a conventional B-pillar while the rear doors are of the sliding variety. Ford claims that it has managed to 'beat the authorities' through some clever design techniques to ensure the car can meet the much coveted EuroNCAP Five-Star rating. The boot is rated at 397 litres which can be expanded to over 1000 litres.
The B-Max will get both petrol and diesel motors, including the three-cylinder 1.0-litre EcoBoost with 118 bhp or 100 bhp from the EcoSport and most likely a 1.5-litre Duratorq diesel motor with 90 bhp, identical to the one that powers the Ford Fiesta saloon in India. Both these engines will come with manual transmissions and may run with the Zetec trim levels that are on offer in the UK market to keep prices competitive. The B-Max also comes with Start-Stop, though whether Ford India keeps it or deletes it remains to be seen. These motors are quite efficient, delivering between 20-22 kpl in the European Drive Cycle. Also, the B-Max could potentially be offered with the PowerShift, dual clutch automatic gearbox with the petrol version, though it's too early to suggest.
While pricing too at this point is a matter of conjecture, our best guess is that Ford India could price it just below the EcoSport, in the range of Rs 6 to 8 lakh. A launch date of second-half of 2013 looks most likely and could be the first of many new Ford products to roll out from their new plant in Sanand, Gujarat.
When?: November-December 2012
How much?: Rs 6 to 7 lakh
Variants: 1.3-litre diesel and 1.4-litre petrol
Little is known about the Chevrolet Enjoy or the Wuling CN-100, except that it's a seven-seater and will be powered by a pair of petrol and diesel offerings.
To be assembled at GM's facilities at Halol, the Enjoy is based on the Wuling CN-100, a product of the GM-SAIC alliance in China. And since SAIC has picked up a 50 per cent stake in the Indian operations as well, a whole bunch of products can be expected, such as the Sail hatch and sedan as well as the Enjoy MPV.
First shown at the 2012 Auto Expo in New Delhi, the Enjoy is a proper seven seat MPV with conventional hinged doors instead of the sliding variety. Built to a cost, the Enjoy is nearly as large as the Toyota Innova on the outside, the Enjoy could set the cat among the pigeons in the MPV space on the sheer dint of its price tag.
Powering the Enjoy will be either a 1.4-litre, 94 bhp petrol engine from the Sail sedan or a 1.3-litre Multijet diesel, the first on a GM product with about 75 bhp. Performance is expected to be decent and the gearbox will most likely be a 5-speed manual.
If GM pulls this one off, expect more MPVs to arrive from its Chinese partner into the Indian market.
When?: Early 2014 possibly
How much?: Rs 5 lakh to 7 lakh
Variants: 1.3 multijet
Fiat India is slowly figuring out that it needs some serious success in India. And fast. Having seen below par sales after its tie-up with Tata Motors, it has decided to go alone, using its own distribution setup while continuing to manufacture vehicles at Ranjangaon with its JV partner.
Having made a name for itself with the Multijet diesel motor, Fiat seriously needs to sell more vehicles than engines and it seems it is willing to offer an arsenal of products in India, apart from the Punto and Linea. One of those names is that of the Qubo.
The Qubo is based on the Grande Punto platform and this MPV application is also available as a Peugeot product. Measuring under 4 metres, it stands a good chance to meet the lower excise duty bracket. Designed to be a five seater it is offered with both the 1.3-litre multijet diesel and a 1.4-litre petrol motor, part of the same family found on the Linea and Punto. Our hunch is that Fiat would offer it only with the multijet to begin with and most likely with the 75 bhp version and not the 93 bhp one, though both are offered in Europe.
Versatile, it surely is. The five-seat Qubo isn't in the same vein as the Multipla, but it does have enough storage space for luggage and knick knacks. It's a bit basic on the inside in its current guise, though expect Fiat to top it up with all sorts of bells and whistles.
It's also quite possible that Fiat may bring in its next generation Qubo to India instead of the current one, depending on the model lifecycle. Fiat could do with a product like the Qubo if it intends to extend its stay in the Indian market and be truly competitive.
ASHOK LEYLAND STILE
How much?: Rs 7 to 10 lakh
First shown at the 2012 Auto Expo, the Stile is nothing more than a Nissan NV200 nee Nissan Evalia for India. Ever since Ashok Leyland signed the deal with Nissan to develop and manufacture LCVs in India, the plan was to bring some of its existing platforms into the country. While the Dost pickup was a more radical development, the Stile is pretty much in the vein of a re-badge job.
The Stile intends to target a different sort of customer than the Evalia. Where the Evalia is targetted at families, the Stile targets fleet users, corporates, hotels and the transportation business. Expect it to come as either a panel van or a personnel carrier with multiple seating options.
Little is known about the powerplant, though our guess is that Ashok Leyland would resort to the 1.5-litre dCi powerplant rather than resort to an altogether new one. The vehicle will be built at Ashok Leyland's own facilities and will have its own stamping facility as well. It will be available through the current Dost dealership network which will also sell a larger LCV later in 2013.
FORCE MOTORS MPV
How much?: Rs 10 to 13 lakh (estimated)
Variants: 2.2 FMTECH diesel
Force Motors first serious foray into the car market with the Force One has met with decent success. On the back of it comes its second product, its first MPV.
To call it an MPV would be rather wrong, it's more of a large van. In fact if you do know your vans, you would know the Mercedes-Benz Viano, which is what it exactly is. Except, what Force Motors will offer will be the last generation Viano that went out of production last year.
The Viano comes with different wheelbases and different lengths depending on application. While it is not clear whether Force Motors may do the same, what is known is that it will be offered with the same 2.2-litre, 138 bhp Mercedes-Benz diesel motor that also powers the Force One. Refined, torquey and efficient, the motor will be mated to the same five-speed manual gearbox as well.
Offered as a six, seven or eight seater, the Viano is much larger than the Innova. In fact, at 4.8 metres for the shortest variant, it rivals many luxury SUVs too! The seating is flexible with the second and third row capable of moving fore and aft, reclining and each individual seat can rotate by 90 degrees. The rear-wheel driven Viano doesn't have car-like dynamics, nevertheless for its size and kerb weight it is quite decent. Unlike the Innova, it comes with sliding doors, a plus especially for those in the hotel or corporate trade.
Think of the Viano as a viable option for large families, corporates, hotels and fleet services, a sort of modern day replacement for the good ol' MB 100 and 140D. To be assembled at the same facility as the Force One at Pithampur in Madhya Pradesh, the Viano's tooling and dies are being transferred from Germany. Whether Force Motors can pull this one off remains to be seen.
*Disclaimer: Prices are estimated and not exact. They could vary at the time of launch. Launch dates too are based on market estimates and knowledge and may wary.