Swiftly take me to the Ritz

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Here is a car that, until the new Swift came along, had all the critical elements common to the Swift but still did not do as well. Yes, I am talking about the Ritz. Based on the Swift platform, the Ritz is essentially a taller Swift – that’s it. Still the Swift literally flies out of dealership windows but the Ritz only walks out. If you look at average monthly sales of the Swift, it did over 12,000 units on a regular basis, while the Ritz has consistently done half that number, month on month.

Before we proceed any further, let me admit something: I love the Ritz as much as I love the Swift - no doubt about that. Which is why I wanted to find out why the Ritz does not sell as much as the Swift when it is in fact more practical than the best-seller.

Look at it: the Ritz is more practical because it is easier to get in and get out and if you are stuck in traffic jams, it does not freeze your knees the way the Swift does. It is a car that is easy for your family to use and its tall attributes also means it is easy to manoeuvre around. And it is pretty decent on the highway in terms of stability at speeds well above 100 kph. Of course, with the Swift’s petrol and diesel drivetrains doing duty in this as well, similar performance and fuel consumption could be taken for granted. It is as chuckable a car as the Swift and the effervescent underpinnings make it a delightful car to drive, except for the centre of gravity, that’s all. Steering feedback is also excellent. Okay, so it may not look as funky as the Swift, but when the Swift was launched, the Swift too received some negative feedback to its design.

So barring the external design, Swift = Ritz. So why are double the Indians buying the Swift to the Ritz? I asked Maruti Suzuki’s chief general manager-marketing, Shashank Shrivastava. Well, this is what he said: In hatchbacks, there are three distinctive segments – Individualised (dominated by the Swift), Family Oriented/Practical (like the Ritz) and the Premium/Sophisticated (i20/Polo). In this, the first segment is the most popular one and with more competition, the segment has also expanded. While the second one is not that big and other than the Ritz, there are no players. (To this I add: You can consider the i10 and the Santro, but still they are one rung lower.) So the size of the segment is much lower. Plus the image of the Swift brand is better and stronger than the Ritz. And finally, the design of the Ritz has polarised opinions.

To put that in a nutshell: 1. Not enough competitors to grow the segment, 2. Not as big a brand and finally, 3. The looks – especially the rear-end – is not to everyone’s liking.

So Toyota, Renault, Nissan and Ford: what are you waiting for? Bring on your respective tall-boy versions that you are planning of the Etios Liva, Pulse, Micra and Figo quickly. The brand: well, Maruti Suzuki needs to make it more ritzy. And finally, Maruti Suzuki is working on the Ritz makeover – we can expect it by early next year. (I really hope the firm can make it earlier).

But will the new Ritz do as much as the Swift? Though 6,000 units is not a bad number by itself, it looks unlikely. So sad...