India a sub-4 metre paradise as compact cars form 70% of market

Gone are the days when only premium sedans and luxury cars used to have air bags. Automobile companies are now installing it in almost all their models, including the entry-level ones. 

The trend seems to be picking up even before the Indian government’s norm, which made having air bags in all passenger vehicles from October 2017, kicks in. The norm mandates that any car that gets launched from October next year needs to have an air bag to meet the new crash test standards. For existing models, a two year transitory provision has been made. In effect, the price of a vehicle may go up by up to Rs 20,000 depending on the segment for a single air bag.

Most of the new launches of last year — Creta (Hyundai), S Cross and Baleno (Maruti), Jazz (Honda), Kwid (Renault), Figo and Figo Aspire (Ford) and TUV300 (Mahindra & Mahindra) — had the option of air bags, except for GenX Nano from Tata Motors. 

Over the last couple of months, the country’s largest player, Maruti Suzuki, introduced air bags for entry-level cars like Alto and WagonR. It has offered an option of an air bag in almost every launch that it had in the last one year; some of them even have it as a standard in their base variants. 

The company now offers air bag option in 11 of its 15 models in all variants, including base ones. The latest addition to the list was Alto where the company, earlier this month, introduced driver-side air bag. Alto is the company’s entry-level model, beginning at Rs 2.62 lakh (ex showroom, Delhi). The introduction of air bag has led to an increase of just Rs 6,000.

CV Raman, executive director (engineering) at Maruti Suzuki said it is too early to comment on the response. “They are fairly new initiatives. As awareness levels would enhance penetration would enhance. In many models customers opt for middle or higher trims that have safety features”, he said. Some of Maruti’s models without an air bag option are Eeco, Gypsy and Omni.

Hyundai too has introduced safety features across its products in most of its variants. 

 “Customers are aggressively seeking safety features in vehicles and the government too has mandated safety features for new products from October 2017. In view of this, new launches are being done with additional safety features. Many manufacturers are providing safety features in many variants as optional while keeping in mind the price sensitivity of buyers. Hyundai is providing safety features across its products in most of the variants and has a strong road map to enhance safety features across products including the Eon”, said Rakesh Srivastava, senior vice president (sales and marketing) at Hyundai Motor India.

The rising awareness of buyers has driven companies to introduce air bags. Last year, Japanese car maker Toyota introduced air bag as a standard option across all its models. 

The drive towards air bags in a country where 2.7 million passenger vehicles are sold every year implies big business for air bag manufacturers. Bulk of the air bags used is imported. Some of the leading air bag manufacturers are Stockholm based Autoliv and Japanese company Ashimori.