Our mind-set towards cars accounts for India’s preference to SUVs says Dhiyanesh Ravichandran.
Big beefy, intimidating off-roaders and a variety of SUV designs have seized our domestic car market. It’s pretty evident and requires no testimony. They, invariably diesels, invade every car “segments” – from hatchbacks to ultra-luxury end – and every budget ranges. The SUV boom was indeed a prime factor that led governments to think and push for diesel deregulation and tax reforms which may affect the CV industry and lead to overall inflation in the long run.
SUVs are globally a recent development, gaining traction only since late 1990s or early 2000s. There were SUVs earlier too with truck like hideous looks, body-on-frame construction, two-door, no hard tops, etc. – certainly not for family fantasies. The dawn of millennium saw grooming of SUVs with sleek exterior design and styling. Consumer demands pushed automakers to carve out new models out of existing platforms. Monocoque designs and psedo-avatars like compact/ mini SUVs and crossovers gained prominence, the time when SUVs globally were elevated as premium vehicles from mere utility vehicles.
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India peculiarly reflected this global bloom of SUVs. We had very few models, yet were increasingly getting the taste of it. Home grown models like Safari and Scorpio were runaway hits and rightly proved their potentiality among the Indian buyers. And the game is on.
Many would think the SUV boom isn’t an aberration, as India makes perfect argument for SUV usage – bad roads, rugged driving and harsh weather conditions demand higher ground clearance, beefier suspension, 4WD, or whatever. We are also known for carrying hell lot of stuffs with us, both passengers and cargo – ‘large families’, canned food for trips, and whatever. They are spacious, practical, their balanced on and off-road abilities, etc. But then, these utilitarian arguments are partly true but they have their own limitations. They hardly explain fully why such a craze for SUVs exists.
A social-psychological approach can help. Is there something like an “Indian” mind-set towards cars or a way of driving? Let whatever that may mean, yes pretty much. A colonial, casteist and elitist mindset. Let me brief you how. SUVs are muscular, mammoth in size and distinctive, symbolising power and prestige on roads full of tiny hatches and vans. India is an “image and status-conscious” society since very beginning, we have the perpetual caste system ranking and differentiating people as a way of life. Every values and preferences, all across eco-social spectrum, are marked by status symbolism and desire to envy others and to be envied. Not just in buying, such values go hand in hand in all our decisions.
We also think “Big = Status”, as size means pricey! That’s why Nano glumly failed, we made too big a deal out of its cheapness! Why to own a car than to show everyone that you are poor? Therefore, we are not just value-conscious on car buying. Such an obsession with ‘something big’ can be clearly seen in all those cars that tries to emulate SUV cues. Why do we see more of “Cross” hatches or mini SUVs below 4m length these days? They serve absolutely no purpose of an SUV, but a mere show-off.
SUVs in cities like Delhi are best only at intimidating Rickshawalas, two-wheelers and pedestrians. That remains to be our attitude towards fellow road users. The ride height makes people feel that SUVs are safer than any other cars (as if they are ‘defensive capsules’ made for Mars mission!), and so need not take any basic precautions like seatbelts or slowing down while approaching speed breakers, potholes, etc. This is how we shift our driving safety focus from active to passive. Vehicle’s safety depends on the driver and not necessarily on car. Don’t we have to rethink this kind of malevolence in our driving?
Photo Credit: ZigWheels, MotorBeam, Autocar India