What good is a luxury car if it costs too much?

All cars are becoming equal. Luxury cars are becoming equal faster. So what good is it paying for a brand, when you get the same at a lower price, in another brand?

Here’s a short and quick history lesson that also relates to comfort on wheels.

About 40 years ago, the ultimate in luxury on Indian Railways was known as the “Deluxe Express”, operating on the New Delhi-Bombay Central and New Delhi-Calcutta (Howrah) routes. These were faster than the Frontier Mail and Kalka Mail, also on the same routes. With some smart re-scheduling and optimal rake utilisation this train would re-form at New Delhi and then go on to Amritsar. What made it "deluxe" was that it had, in those pre-Rajdhani days, air-conditioned chair cars (ACC). Even First Class was not air-conditioned, so you get the drift, this was luxury.

It was not uncommon for First Class passengers to migrate towards empty AC Chair Car seats during the day, even though ACC cost a fraction of the elite First Class, and that’s where I learnt my first lesson in luxury.

It is never the price. It is the product, silly, which decides luxury.

Now this correspondent is not on the “A” list of automobile PR company invites anymore, for that matter, more likely on the “Z” hit list. So we don’t get invited or when we do, we don't accept the junkets and freebies, that go with these luxury car launches. As a result, we can write what we think are the realities based on our observations, based on facts. And this is achieved by going walkabout into dealerships, going on test drives with actual owners who visit a friend’s filling station for fuel, and taking feedback from fleet operators.

Over the last few days, there have been some very interesting developments in the automobile world, and one of them was the launch of the 2-wheel drive version of the Tata Aria. Now this would have been news, except for the fact that a few weeks ago, the Tata Aria was spotted doing yeoman duty carting GoAir crew around at the Delhi Airport. On casual questioning, it was revealed that this was a 2-wheel drive version—and had been around for some time.

The Tata Aria is certainly a very interesting vehicle. It reminds me of my drawing room, on days when there is heavy traffic outside, with the double glazed glass windows pulled tight. A bit rare on the streets, though, and so the shooters in the marketing backroom felt they need some publicity. So, what better way, than to launch an already available version?

Fair enough, but at the price they are quoting for a perfectly decent luxury SUV (sports utility vehicle), Rs12-Rs14 lakh ex-showroom Delhi, Tata Motors need to go to the customer a bit more. The Aria literally oozes luxury and comfort, and all at a fraction of the price of similar foreign brand SUVs, with a warranty package that is an industry leader. Worth a visit to a Tata Motors showroom if you are in the market for First Class at ACC prices.

Something like that also marks the arrival of the "new" Audi A6 into India. First of all, this writer does not understand why the Audi A6 costs so much, when you can get the VW Phaeton, which is from the same stable and much bigger as well and much more opulent, for almost the same price—say half a crore, give or take a few lakh. Yes, there is a lower version of the Audi A6, for about Rs38-Rs40 lakh, but a buyer went in for the full package, remember? Unless Audi plans to start discounting the A6 right away—which might not be a bad idea, too.

To be perfectly frank, there are now other cars which provide almost the same level of performance, luxury, gadgets, gizmos and more—at half the price or less. To start with, the VW Passat from the same stable, the new 2012 version, which will be positioned against the new Toyota Camry 050A series due to be launched internationally this month, too. Both these new models had better release their newer versions in the Indian market co-terminus with their global launch, because to show them all a thing or two, the new Hyundai Sonata is rapidly dominating this segment of the luxury market—the comfortable large sedan—and is expected into India very soon, too.

So here’s the takeaway—with the four-wheeler private car market in the doldrums, and expected to remain there for the next 6-12 months despite brave announcements by manufacturers basis factory despatches, you may need to first write out a list of the luxuries you are looking for in a car, and taking the spec sheet on the new Audi A6 is a good place to start. Then work the list backwards into a Passat, Camry and Sonata.

And then decide. Especially when it becomes apparent that residual value, 5-6 years down the line will be almost the same—for all of them.

Today I need to go and understand what is really happening in the 2-wheeler market, and why there is such a resurgence in the 3-wheeler segment again.

1 decade ago
hello mr malik

how about kia??i see a lot of kia motors - 4 wheel drive and normal car , with same features as say Hyundai the parent company or honda at the best price .. it is tempting price.but kia is still considered downmarket here in middleeast , used as second car , many times preferred by philipinos and some indians.
1 decade ago

I strongly dislike the pricing of these cars in India. They are priced double or more than the US. Inspite of India being a developing, low per capita country than US being developed and high per capita country, we have to pay more than double. Indians loose out on everything. We pay many times more for fuel, only to be forced to drive on potholed roads to drive tthe hese expensive vehicles after paying high road tax, cramped service centres which only believe in churning the vehicles coming in for service and do shoddy job in the name of service. Honda is a glaring example. Nowhere in the world they would dare give such service to their customers except India. The dealers are rarely hauled up because they are the ones from whom they get higher sales for vehicles as well as high priced spare parts. I am sure most of the Honda owners do not know that it has an office in Mumbai, because they never give out office numbers nor names of the people nor their numbers. It is a hush-hush act. Whereas Hyundai or Maruti clearly inform about the company offices in places and one can easily take their grievances to them. Not with Honda.
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