Maruti Suzuki Baleno: The flagbearer of premium hatchback cars


In the sub-4 metre space, premium hatchbacks have been able to resist the SUV onslaught. One of the reasons could be the popularity of the Baleno.

Very few cars have sold over 10 lakh units in India over their lifetime. These include Maruti 800, Omni, Alto, Wagon R, Swift and Dzire, Hyundai Santro and i10, and Tata Indica. The latest—and the fastest—to join the club is the Baleno.

“Launched in October 2015, the Baleno crossed the 10-lakh sales milestone in November 2021—it took 72 months, at a rate of a little under 14,000 cars per month—and has been the flagbearer of premium hatchbacks in India,” Shashank Srivastava, senior executive director, Marketing & Sales, Maruti Suzuki India, told FE.

Premium hatchbacks

In the sub-4 metre space, premium hatchbacks (like the Baleno, Hyundai i20, Tata Altroz, Volkswagen Polo and Honda Jazz) have been able to resist the SUV onslaught. From FY17 to now, the sales share of premium hatchbacks has remained in the range of 22-24% of the overall passenger vehicle sales. This, despite the fact that from 2016 to 2021, as many as 10 all-new sub-4 metre SUVs arrived in the market, and only one all-new premium hatchback did (the Altroz, in 2020).

“Premium hatchbacks such as the Baleno, i20 and Altroz are hot favourites,” an auto analyst who didn’t wish to be named told FE. “Even the Polo and Jazz, which sell in relatively fewer numbers, have a dedicated fan-following.”

Buyer profile

Srivastava said that 46% Baleno buyers are first-time car buyers, 34% buy it as their second car, and 20% buyers have replaced their existing car with the Baleno. The closest competitor, he added, is the Swift.

“Both these models (Baleno and Swift) have together given Maruti Suzuki a market share of about 60% in the premium hatchback segment,” Srivastava said. “While prospective buyers of these two models may overlap, our double channel sales strategy has worked quite well (the Swift is sold via the Arena sales channel and the Baleno via the Nexa).”

Baleno automatic

In 2015, the Baleno was one of the most affordable cars in India that came with the CVT automatic gearbox, but the new-generation Baleno—to be launched in a couple of weeks—might get the AGS (Auto Gear Shift) gearbox.

Short for continuously variable transmission, CVT is a very sophisticated technology. But it’s expensive (the price difference between a manual gearbox and a CVT can be about a lakh rupees).

The AGS (Maruti Suzuki’s automated manual transmission gearbox) is more cost-effective—about Rs 50,000 more expensive than the manual.

“Our recent data has indicated that the new generation AGS is a very competitive gearbox, and it offers an almost similar driving experience as a CVT does. In fact, some people have been rated it better than a CVT,” said Srivastava.

While he didn’t say whether or not the CVT gearbox will be discontinued, he pointed out that the AGS (in this segment) makes more sense.

The new Baleno will also be the first premium hatchback to get a heads-up display; it will get the new K12 engine with idle start-stop technology, “and will deliver more than 22 km/litre fuel efficiency,” Srivastava said.

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