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

Environmentalists may hate SUVs, but most Indians seem to love the practicality they offer.

Published
Tech and Auto
4 min read
The SUV segment grew 30% in 2016 in India. 
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Every time someone talks of pollution or the environment, everyone’s favourite whipping boy is brought to the forefront – SUVs, the root cause of all evil. A recent blog on The Quint goes after SUVs with a vengeance.

If SUVs are as bad as they are made out to be, why do Indians continue to buy them? In 2017, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, one out of every four vehicles sold was an SUV. That’s a 25% market share in the passenger car market in India.

Last year, 700,000 Indians bought SUVs, registering a 30% growth over the previous year, while the passenger car industry overall grew at only 4%.

Every car manufacturer is busy trying to get SUVs – compact SUVs, crossovers and anything that looks remotely SUVish on the road. Why are Indians obsessed with SUVs?

(Disclaimer: The author and his wife both drive SUVs.)

Also read: Dirty Diesel: How Bad Is It Really and Can We Do Without It?

Potshots at Potholes

SUVs can handle potholes better than sedans.
SUVs can handle potholes better than sedans.
(Photo: Imgflip/Twitter)

Let’s face it, India does not have the best of roads. In fact, in many places, even the so-called roads are so dilapidated that any regular sedan or hatchback would break its suspension.

With the vagaries of monsoon and poor road quality, only an SUV with a firm suspension system will be able to take a constant beating. SUVs, therefore, give their owners better peace of mind when it comes to bad road conditions. In Mumbai, the only vehicles that could still manage to wade through the flood waters were SUVs, buses and trucks.

Also read: Tera Gadhdha, Ya Mera? Why Mumbai Will Never Be Pothole-Free

Speed Breakers are Car Breakers

This image of a Bugatti Veyron trying to negotiate a non-standard Indian speed breaker in Hyderabad went viral.
This image of a Bugatti Veyron trying to negotiate a non-standard Indian speed breaker in Hyderabad went viral.
(Photo courtesy: Drivetribe)

Ground clearance is one of the key benefits of SUVs. In India, road building rarely conforms to a uniform standard. And hence, you get speed breakers that can often be mistaken for small hillocks. Hatchbacks and sedans end up scraping their bellies on these chassis-breakers of speed breakers. Not convinced? Ask any Bangalorean.

Family Movers and Shakers

Most Bollywood stars prefer SUVs to ferry themselves and family around. 
Most Bollywood stars prefer SUVs to ferry themselves and family around. 
(Photo: Yogen Shah)

Many Indian households have large families, and hence, the need for a large vehicle that can seat five to seven people in comfort. SUVs and multi-utility vehicles usually have this ability to carry passengers and luggage with relative ease. If a gang of friends want to head out on a road trip, often an SUV is their first choice of vehicle.

Cheap Diesel

Despite deregulation, diesel is still cheaper than petrol by about Rs 9 per litre on average.
Despite deregulation, diesel is still cheaper than petrol by about Rs 9 per litre on average.
(Photo: iStock)

One argument that is always brought up is that SUVs running on diesel pollute. Well, there are SUVs that run on petrol too, but they are just not as fuel efficient. The point is diesel SUVs are more fuel-efficient than their petrol counterparts, and diesel as a fuel is also cheaper than petrol. That’s two reasons to buy a diesel SUV right there.

One Size Fits All

Mercedes G63 AMG looks quite intimidating on the road.
Mercedes G63 AMG looks quite intimidating on the road.
(Photo: The Quint)

Size matters. India has an obsession with size, and therefore, SUVs have an advantage. Their large size allows drivers to look over other traffic. The larger size also has an intimidating effect on the road. Since very few Indians follow road rules such as maintaining distance between vehicles or sticking to a demarcated lane, a menacing SUV makes it easier to navigate through tricky traffic.

Besides the above reasons, there are a few who buy SUVs for their utility value such as driving in off-road conditions and carrying camping equipment. These are the few who opt for genuine four-wheel drive variants.

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