Maruti dealers are reporting that buyers of the newly launched Ritz hatchback prefer the petrol version, over the diesel. In fact, about 70 percent of current Ritz sales are for the 1.2-litre petrol engine version, with the remaining opting for the 1.3-litre Multijet diesel version. This marks a significant shift in preference among buyers of B-segment hatchbacks who have traditionally preferred diesel versions for their lower running costs. In fact, the sales of existing models like the Maruti Swift are evenly split between their petrol and diesel versions and in some months the diesel even outsells the petrol version.
Among the major reasons for this preference for the Ritz petrol is that it is significantly cheaper than the diesel version. For example, the entry level Ritz LXi petrol is priced at Rs. 4.51 lakh on road in Mumbai, while the base diesel LDi version is priced at Rs. 5.34 lakh, making it cheaper by a substantial Rs. 83,000. The difference narrows somewhat, as buyers move to higher trim levels. The petrol VXi version (with ABS) is priced at Rs. 5.14 lakh, while the diesel VDi (with ABS) is priced at Rs. 5.93 lakh, a still substantial difference of Rs. 79,000.
On the other hand, the difference in prices for the Swift petrol and diesel versions is narrower. For example, the Swift LXi is priced at Rs. 4.7 lakh on road in Mumbai, while the base diesel LDi is Rs. 5.37 lakh, a difference of Rs. 67,000. For the higher VXi petrol version the price is Rs. 5.04 lakh, while the equivalent diesel VDi version is Rs. 5.75 lakh, a difference of Rs. 71,000.
Another reason for the popularity of the Ritz petrol is that it is powered by Suzuki’s new generation KB series engine which offers improved refinement and relatively better fuel economy. This helps it to narrow the gap in terms of efficiency and running costs between the petrol and diesel versions. On the other hand, the 1.3-litre petrol engine in the Swift is actually derived from the now phased out Esteem model and is a much older design.
Due to its improved technology and slightly smaller size, the Ritz petrol engine offers fuel economy of 11.8 kpl in the city and 17.2 kpl on the highway according to AUTOCAR INDIA test figures, compared to 11.5 kpl in the city and 16.2 kpl on the highway for the Swift petrol engine.
The increased popularity of petrol engines among hatchback buyers is an important new trend in the Indian automotive industry. It is also an indication of the increasing maturity and sophistication of car buyers in India, who are carefully weighing the pros and cons of petrol and diesel versions and not buying diesel merely out of habit. Upcoming entrants such as Volkswagen and Toyota would do well to keep these new trends in mind before they launch their models in this segment in 2010.