In the early days of mass production cars in India it was exclusively limited to a few local manufacturers, but in the 1980s foreign firms were eventually allowed to invest in the Indian market, leading to the alliance between Japanese Suzuki and Indian Maruti.
Maruti Suzuki was the first and most successful multinational car manufacturer in India, and it wasn’t until 1991, when India began to further liberalise the automotive market, that it faced any real competition from foreign firms.
So by the time any rivals came on the scene, Maruti Suzuki was already well established on Indian soil, with cars like the Maruti 800 dominating the market.
The reason the firm was so popular then, and remains so popular now, is also down to how well-suited its line-up is to the market.
Suzuki may be eyeing up crossover conquests abroad with the new Vitara and SX4 S-Cross, but Maruti Suzuki remains largely focused on its values as a cheap and cheerful small hatchback manufacturer, although tentative steps into the more premium sector have been taken recently.
Its extensive small car range includes the Swift, Celerio, Wagon R and Alto. The Baleno has just joined its ranks, too, becoming the sixth best-selling car in the country during its November 2015 launch and the first car the company will make in India and sell globally. It’s not resting on its laurels, either. The Ignis, based on the iM-4 concept, is on its way too, with a launch reportedly set for the end of 2016.
The manufacturer has also embraced development around India’s car tax laws to further establish its grip on the market. Cars more than four-metres long have to pay an additional tax rate, which doesn’t trouble Maruti Suzuki’s small hatchbacks and saloons, and cars that are built in India don’t have to pay import tax, which gives them an advantage over other rivals built abroad. There’s also a great interest from buyers in locally built cars as opposed to foreign rivals, which helps sales further.
Maybe the most important factor, though, is the cheap price range. While India recently overtook China in having the world's fastest-growing big economy, buying a new car is something only a small proportion of the population can afford. And people buy with confidence in the revered brand thanks its vast number of garages and dealerships, which have helped build a reputation for reliability and support, as well as a fruitful supply of cheap parts.
Indeed, the manufacturer recently came out on top of the JD Power survey for best aftersales service for a staggering 16th consecutive year, as reported by Autocar Professional.
But Maruti Suzuki’s dominance is not unchallenged. Hyundai is its next-closest competitor, with a market share that fluctuates between 18% and 25% each year, and it’s the biggest exporter in the country, plus the emergence of the bargain-priced Renault Kwid could yet take some sales away from the stalwart of the Indian automotive market.
Furthermore, Suzuki's bid to take 100% ownership of the currently shared Gujarat plant hints at a move toward independence, as does the removal of the Maruti tag on its new cars. Further developments and implications will be watched closely both at home and abroad.
For now, though, Maruti Suzuki’s net profit rose more than 42% in November this year compared with the same period in 2014, so it’s clear that its status in the Indian market will take some toppling.