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Automatic cars speed down the fast lane

One in every 10 new cars now sold in India is an automatic.

With a flurry of new launches - there were two last week - the demand for automatic cars have soared. The new models in showrooms now provide buyers a wider range of options.

According to a Nielsen and Frost & Sullivan report, automatic vehicles commanded a market share of 10 per cent in the January to March quarter of 2016.

The sales of automatic cars were earlier predicted to touch this figure in 2020. In 2015, the share of automatic cars in the automobile market was six per cent, with 165,000 units sold, according to the report.

Rough estimates suggest that in 2016, sales of automatic cars may touch 200,000. There models that have been generating volumes - Renault KWID, Tata Tiago and RegiGo - will get an automatic gearbox option later this year.

The introduction of the automatic manual transmission (AMT), a cheaper version of the traditional and expensive technology, has pushed demand for automatic cars to new highs.

Market leader Maruti Suzuki, the first to introduce AMT in India (it has renamed it automatic gear shift, or AGS), has even set up an AMT kit-making plant to meet burgeoning demand.

Automatic cars speed down the fast lane C V Raman, executive director (engineering), Maruti Suzuki India, said, "About 50 per cent of Celerio sales are from the AGS variant. Now that we have the new plant ready, we are pushing this technology even more. About 11 per cent of WagonR and 20 per cent of Alto sales are with this technology. What is lacking is communication and buyer education. That's what we are working on."

Maruti Suzuki registered an 82 per cent rise in sales of AGS cars last year at 54,719 units, as against 30,017 units sold in 2014-15. At present, four of its cars (Alto, Celerio, WagonR and Dzire) are equipped with AGS, while two cars (Ciaz and Baleno) have the traditional continuously variable transmission (CVT) technology.

AMT is a semi-automatic transmission, which gives the driver the option of switching to manual gearshift that is not possible in a conventional automatic car.

The gear box of AMT is similar to the ones found in manual transmission. However, the clutch control and gear shifting is done by an on-board computer. Therefore AMT cars are as fuel efficient as manual transmission but much more efficient than the traditional automatic.

But, it is not just buyers of mini cars and sedans that prefer automatic.

Sports utility vehicle market leader Mahindra & Mahindra has launched two new models, TUV 300 and Nuvosport, both of which come with AMT options. It is considering extending the technology to its cheapest offering, KUV100, too.

Automatic cars speed down the fast lane Pravin Shah, chief executive (automotive sector), Mahindra & Mahindra, said, "Around 20 per cent of TUV 300 sales are from AMT. TUV is not a product for the city, it is an universal product. If we have a 20 per cent AMT share from a city-centric product like Nuvosport, then it is certainly good." The trend is expected to further gather pace. By 2020-22, 25-30 per cent of the car market is expected to use AMT.

Sandeep Pande, director, Nielsen India, said, "The shift toward automatics isn't occurring for just one vehicle type but across segments. In fact, most car buyers looking at automatic variants are in the compact sports utility vehicle segment." About 75 per cent women buyers are considering purchasing automatics for their next purchase, according to the Nielsen study.