Acceleration towards automatics and petrol

By Austin Lobo

Car users are gradually switching lanes - they have been looking at ways to get the most out of government policies and other regulatory procedures. A few years ago, most car buyers were likely to have opted for diesel versions of their favourite cars simply because the government subsidised diesel.

But times are changing. Mahindra and Mahindra's latest offering, the KUV100, a compact SUV, expected to retail at between Rs4 lakh and Rs5 lakh, is the only car in the Mahindra stable to be sold with a petrol engine.

Car buyers in India are now having second thoughts about diesel-powered cars. They would tend to opt for petrol-fuelled cars since they not only retail at lower prices but are cheaper to maintain. In December 2015, the Supreme Court banned diesel cars with engines larger than two litres from being registered, until March 31 2016, in Delhi, ranked the most polluted city in the world by the World Health Organisation.

After the government scrapped subsidies on diesel at the end of 2014, and with diesel being blamed for pollution in Delhi, petrol has become more attractive.

Consequently, more carmakers are launching petrol models in India. Ford Motor Co. introduced EcoSport in June 2013 and Hyundai Motor Co. rolled out the Creta compact SUV in 2015.

If petrol is the big new attraction in India, it is not the only switch. More car buyers are discovering the pleasure of the automatic manual transmission (AMT) system. The AMT system has no clutch pedal, but uses a friction clutch, and in "drive" mode a computer does the work of a clutch.

Industry experts expect the ATM system to account for 15-20 percent of the Indian market by 2020. That is largely because Maruti has offered the AMT as a mid-range option, instead of top-end stereos and anti-lock brakes. Car buyers in India have been wary of automatic systems' fuel economy. They also feared that hydraulic transmissions would reduce efficiency. However, now with the AMT system offering a performance as good as manual transmission, fears have been receding. 

Carmakers have not been afraid to introduce the AMT system either. Maruti Suzuki is believed to have sold more than 50,000 cars featuring the ATM systems since it unveiled its model at the Delhi Auto Expo in 2014. It plans to roll out AMT variants across its product range. 

An industry analyst says other carmakers are following suit - Renault, Ford India and Hyundai have introduced the AMT system. Tata Motors' introduction of the AMT system in the Nano apparently helped to boost its sales.

Car owners in India then may soon accelerate in the fast lane on petrol, the AMT and of course, thrill of speed.