Here’s Why India Seems to Love SUVs More Than Cars
The SUV market in India grew 21 percent in 2017-2018.
The SUV market in India grew 21 percent in 2017-2018.Photo: The Quint

Here’s Why India Seems to Love SUVs More Than Cars

When it rains, that’s when more car buying decisions get swayed towards SUVs, especially in cities like Mumbai, where waterlogged roads are a common occurrence during the monsoon.

That’s just one reason to own an SUV, yet the demand for them is uniform across India. In 2017-2018, the SUV market in India grew 21 percent over the previous year, compared to an overall passenger car industry growth of 8 percent and 5 percent for cars (hatchbacks and sedans) alone.

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The Indian obsession with SUVs is such that even new carmakers entering the market such as Kia and MG are launching an SUV each as their first products in the market. Kia will be launching the Kia SP Concept SUV in January, while MG will launch the MG ZS mid-size SUV in the second quarter of 2019.

The sedan and hatchback market is still considerably larger than that of SUVs. While 9,21,780 UVs (includes MPVs, vans and SUVs) were sold last year, 21,73,950 sedans and hatchbacks were sold in the same period, according to data from SIAM. The higher sales of hatchbacks and sedans is because there are hardly any SUVs below the Rs 5 lakh price bracket.

Why do Indians like SUVs so much? Not all of them are practical. Is it for the butch image alone? Here are some of the pros and cons of SUVs compared to sedans and hatchbacks.

Advantages of an SUV

High Ground Clearance

One of the biggest reasons many choose SUVs over sedans is the high ground clearance offered by these vehicles. With many speedbreakers in the country being of non-standard size, an SUV won’t have issues with scraping its underside. SUVs also work better over bad road surfaces.

Better Water Wading Capability

Also, when it rains, SUVs have an advantage over low-slung sedans or hatchbacks. Most SUVs have their air intakes and exhausts located at a slightly higher level than that of a sedan or hatchback. This gives them better water fording capabilities over flooded streets. Most have at least 300 mm of water-fording capability.

Higher Driving Position

Many SUVs have a relatively higher driving position compared to a sedan or hatchback. This allows the driver to get a better view of traffic and take evasive action or lane-changing decisions earlier.

Go-Anywhere Ability

Buyers often pick up SUVs with the notion that they can go anywhere. That’s true only for SUVs that are equipped with some off-road credentials, like a proper four-wheel drive or at least all-wheel drive system. More than 90 percent of SUVs bought in India though are of the two-wheel drive variants, which doesn’t really justify the sport part of the sport-utility vehicle tag.

Seen as Safer Vehicles

An SUV is often seen as a safer vehicle, because of its size, which is not necessarily true. Crash test results have often shown that a well-built sedan or hatchback is just as safe or at times even safer than an SUV.

Also Read: The Big, Bad SUVs: Why Do Indians Still Love to Buy Them?

Disadvantages of an SUV

Not Great at Ride & Handling

The big advantage of an SUV is also its disadvantage. Simple physics. The higher ground clearance, leads to a higher centre of gravity, which translates to more body roll when cornering. This isn’t true for some newer compact SUVs though such as the Tata Nexon and Ford EcoSport, which handle almost as well as hatchbacks or sedans.

Seen as less fuel efficient

In fuel efficiency obsessed India, SUVs are seen as being less fuel efficient than cars. Again, this is a myth, because many SUVs now share the same engines and transmissions with sedans and hatchbacks, and are quite fuel efficient. Still, the bulky design of many does affect aerodynamics and adds to weight, which does reduce fuel efficiency marginally.

Size could be an issue

Many seven-seater / large SUVs are seen as too bulky for cities like Delhi, where people will even kill for a parking spot. This applies only to the large SUVs and obviously not to compact SUVs which are under 4 metres in length.

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