Maruti Suzuki Drives Cleaner Mobility Much Before Indians Take To EVs
An employee refuels a vehicle with compressed natural gas. (Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg)

Maruti Suzuki Drives Cleaner Mobility Much Before Indians Take To EVs

Before electric vehicles become common in India, the nation’s largest carmaker is at the forefront of driving cleaner mobility.

Maruti Suzuki India Ltd., which accounts for every second passenger vehicle sold in India, has seen sales of compressed natural gas-driven cars more than double to 1,38,000 units as of February. The company estimates to sell nearly 1.6 lakh gas-powered units in the year through March. Or about 12% of its yearly volumes.

“It’s helping us push overall sales, especially when everyone expected us to lose market share after the exit from diesel last year,” Shashank Srivastava, executive director of sales and marketing at Maruti Suzuki, told BloombergQuint over the phone. The maker of the Swift hatchback, he said, has almost made up for the loss of diesel share, thanks to increased penetration of CNG vehicles.

Still, such units account for 5% of the total vehicles sold in the country, according to a Crisil report. Actual share will be higher as bulk of the CNG kits are installed in the aftermarket. But lack of infrastructure to boost adoption of electric vehicles, record high prices of petrol and diesel and demand for personal mobility during the pandemic is driving sales of natural gas-powered cars.

That’s why Maruti Suzuki’s bet has started to pay off, said Suraj Ghosh, who leads the South Asia division of powertrain and compliance forecasts at IHS Markit. They were the only one bullish on CNG, he said, and it’s driving industry volumes, with India’s No. 1 carmaker “miles ahead of the competition”.

Until 2019, Maruti Suzuki was selling an average 8,000 CNG units a month. That, according to Srivastava, has now more than doubled to 18,000-20,000. Hyundai Motors India Pvt. is placed second with 3,000 such vehicles a month. Tata Motors Ltd. plans to launch company-fitted CNG vehicles by next year.

Maruti Suzuki offers eight models of gas-powered engines. Among these models, the CNG accounts for 21% of the overall sales, up from 16% in the last financial year. For some models such as the Celerio and the WagonR in cities like Mumbai and Pune, the CNG penetration is as high as 70%, Srivastava said.

And it’s driven by retail demand.

According to Hetal Gandhi, director at Crisil, taxi purchases have been impacted by the pandemic. “That’s an indication that the demand driver right now is the personal mobility space.”

For Maruti Suzuki, 92% of the sales of factory-fitted CNG in the ongoing fiscal came from personal consumers, said Srivastava. That compares with 67% in the previous financial year.

On The Rise

Demand is expected to rise amid high auto fuel prices and a growing network of city gas distribution in India.

Running cost of a CNG vehicle is about Rs 1.6 a kilometre compared with Rs 3.5-4 for petrol and diesel, Srivastava said, adding that gas is becoming the most viable option for consumers.

India is also expanding the gas grid as the nation wants to increase its share in energy mix from about 6% to 15% by 2020.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in Budget 2021 announced that CNG will be made available in another 100 more districts, increasing the tally to 275. That will take Maruti Suzuki’s CNG penetration to 375 cities by next year, a target that it earlier expected to achieve by 2025, Srivastava said.

Maruti Suzuki, he said, aims to add more CNG vehicles and increase their share to 15-20% of its overall volumes.

Meanwhile, the government is also expected to introduce the second phase of the corporate average fuel efficiency and real-time driving emission test norms by 2022 and 2023. These, according to Ghosh, require auto companies to further lower their average CO2 emission by up to 10-15%.

Maruti Suzuki’s CNG penetration, he said, will ensure the company is ready for stricter standards.

Also read: M&M Plans Electric Variants Of All Its SUVs - Exclusive

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