This column appeared in the January issue of OVERDRIVE
2015 has begun with a bang. Through the Christmas weekend and into the new year, the family was quite pleased to see me park myself at home. A week later they have absolutely no idea of my whereabouts. Is daddy at home or is he out travelling, if he's out travelling is he in India or has he gone abroad? There are all sorts of questions being raised over breakfast directed at my empty seat.
It's a bit hard on the kids when I'm not home, harder on the missus cause she's the one often explaining my absence. It's even harder trying to explain to her that I'm off to another exotic location somewhere around the world to drive a new car, every week! The last few weeks have just been me unpacking my suitcases and re-packing them for the next morning. The whirlwind trips are going to carry on for the next few months and if there is an end to it, I don't see it. And while I could choose to stay within home base, this year has a lot of drives revolving around my favourite type of vehicle, the SUV.
More than anything else, 2015 could very well be the year of the SUV. There are dozens of new SUVs expected to be launched globally and quite a few of those will be coming to India. In between there will also be several hatchbacks and sedans to drive but SUVs are clearly going to dominate the proceedings.
There is a simple reason why SUVs are as important as they are presently. Yes they provide an elevated driving position, better sight lines, the construction is generally stronger and durable and there is more room on offer, sometimes to seat up to seven. They're also pretty imposing and handsome to look at and in a market like ours, they are considered a strong indicator of your status and lifestyle choices. They also provide a mythical sense of security to most customers who believe that the larger size and weight make them inherently safer than sedans or hatchbacks. Modern SUVs also possess better dynamics and feel sharper, more composed and more confident when being driven. But those then are seldom the ones you take off-road which sort of defeats the core purpose of an SUV. For the crawl through the mud, there are specific SUVs but you really wouldn't enjoy them on road.
Today China and the USA are two of the largest customers of SUVs but in several other regions, SUVs are increasingly getting more popular than sedans and hatchbacks. In the Chinese market, SUVs are considered something of a social status bearer and most SUVs are targeted at very premium buyers. In India too, SUVs are status bearers but they also conform to the typically Indian mentality of providing more bang for the buck even though this is not entirely true. Nonetheless, SUVs in India hold over 30 per cent market share and it's growing.
Recently though, I was quite appalled to see a purist like Alfa Romeo confirm plans to build an SUV to be launched in 2016. But then again, if Lamborghini, Bentley, Lotus and even Rolls-Royce have steered from the path, then Alfa Romeo really can't be heckled. I guess all that's left is for Ferrari to jump onto this bandwagon, and even though they insist that they will not set foot in that direction, never say never.
What no manufacture can however deny is that SUVs are a fad - like every other type of vehicle, they will have their moment in the spotlight and then probably blend into the background when the spotlight shifts onto another breed of car. Sedans and sportscars and hatchbacks have had their moment in the sun and presently SUVs are a rage. And like all fads, they are bringing in the money, lots and lots of it. Money that is needed to develop better cars - be it sedans or hatchbacks or even more SUVs, sustainable technologies and safety systems, and so much more.
So no matter how much concern they raise on environmental and sustainability issues, there is no denying that SUVs are a necessary evil. Manufacturers need these vehicles because they also command a premium and that improves profitability. Tomorrow it may be hybrids and electric cars that may come into the spotlight but today is the day of the SUV.