Goodbye Maruti Omni: Versatile Van Bows Out After 35 Years
The Maruti Suzuki Omni will likely be replaced by the Maruti Eeco, which recently got a host of safety upgrades.
The Maruti Suzuki Omni is being discontinued after 35 years in production. Till its last month of sales, it has constantly been selling over 6,000 units a month. In its 35 years of existence, there have been close to 2 million or 20 lakh Maruti Suzuki Omni units sold.
Sadly, the Omni will not be able to meet India's new safety norms, the first phase of which kicks in from April 2019 onwards. All cars will now have to come with an airbag and ABS as standard in addition to seatbelt reminders, speed warning beeps and reverse parking sensors.
From October 2019, they will also have to meet new crash test norms, which the Maruti Omni isn't likely to pass. Which is why, the Maruti Eeco will be its replacement in the market, although there's a significant price gap between the two (the Omni's last price tag was Rs 2.85 lakh ex-showroom, while the Maruti Eeco starts at Rs 3.55 lakh ex-showroom).
My Experience of Owning a Maruti Omni
It is sad to see an iconic vehicle like the Maruti Suzuki Omni go. I've owned one since 1998, which I finally sold in 2018, after 20 years and 1.2 lakh km. The thing is, it still fetched a good resale price as there's still demand for the vehicle, especially in rural India.
Back in early 1998, when I was a young journalist on a monthly salary that can barely buy you a good dinner at a restaurant these days, there was not much I could afford in terms of four wheels. I was driving my grand-dad's hand-me-down 1964 Fiat 1100D in Bengaluru those days, but the family needed a more dependable runabout.
The demands were diverse. My mother wanted a vehicle that could transport everything from aromatic jackfruit to stinky manure. The vehicle should be comfortable enough to do long trips. It had to have space for a dog and a cat. It needed to do roundtrips from Bengaluru to Chennai in a day to drop or pick my sister from high school.
And for me, it had to be inexpensive to run and even cheaper to buy. The Maruti 800 was ruled out because of lack of luggage space. Everything else was too expensive. Finally, I took a loan of Rs 1 lakh (with an EMI of Rs 3,000 a month), and bought this omni-functional van that cost Rs 1.94 lakh ex-showroom in Bengaluru, coming to Rs 2.30 lakh on-road (Karnataka continues to have some of the highest road taxes in the country).
The Dependable Can
While it wasn't a car, it wasn't much of a van either. Because of its multi-purpose nature, Maruti called it the Omni. Our family just referred to it as the "Can" (car-van combo). It was pretty much a tin-can on wheels. But it did everything we asked of it.
Powered by a 796 cc, three-cylinder carburettor-fed engine, the Omni we had was among the first to get a catalytic converter, when India was moving to unleaded petrol in 1998.
Since unleaded fuel was hard to come by, outstation trips back then involved carting a 20-litre can of petrol in the boot, just enough to make it to a large city to refuel. Of course, fuel efficiency was always over 17 kmpl per litre, going up to 21 kmpl on the highway.
It had its fair share of quirks. The driver sat ahead of the front wheels, which meant you turned the vehicle, like you would a bus, going wide. Visibility was excellent all around. The engine, was below the front seats, accessed by taking the seats out to check fluids. And on long highway runs, it did get pretty hot too.
It didn’t have power steering or air-conditioning or booster-assisted brakes even. Steering it at slow speeds needed biceps. The Omni those days came with hydraulic drum brakes all around, which meant you had to almost stand on the brake pedal to get it to stop.
I'm grateful to the "can" though for keeping me safe despite its brakes. It was the first vehicle that I had a crash in. While overtaking a couple of trucks, one of them swerved into my lane forcing me to slam the brakes. The Omni locked its wheels skidded and then flipped over on its side (it weighed just 785 Kg, with most of that weight up front).
I emerged unscathed from that thanks to the habit of always wearing my seatbelt (it had static front seatbelts back then). Damage was restricted to a few body panels on the left side and the roof. With the help of passersby, we set it back on its wheels and it started up first crank, letting me drive it back to the workshop!
During the monsoons it was quite an effort to drive an empty Omni on the slushy roads in Coorg. The mid-engine, rear-wheel drive vehicle would constantly lose traction as there was no weight over the rear axle. The solution: Keep a 50 Kg bag of cattle feed in the boot or get people to climb in the rear!
Over the years we owned the Omni, it has served us well. When I got married in 2002, it ferried all the paraphernalia for the wedding. When the dog needed to go to the vet it obliged. When irrigation pipes had to be transported, it obliged. It was a proper workhorse.
We finally let it go last year after multiple people kept asking for it. My mother sold it to her driver for Rs 35,000 after 20 years, while I hear he has since upsold it, making a neat profit on the vehicle.
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