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.
IS THE NISSAN EVALIA THE TOYOTA INNOVA'S WORST NIGHTMARE? >>>