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Suzuki Baleno Altura & the Indian "Real Estate" Market

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Birth of the Estate / Stationwagon in India?

Wikipedia defines a station wagon as :

A station wagon, also known as an estate car or estate, is an automobile with a body style variant of a sedan/saloon with its roof extended rearward[1] over a shared passenger/cargo volume with access at the back via a third or fifth door (the liftgate or tailgate), instead of a trunk lid.

Practcally speaking a Station Wagon is a 5 seater car with its boot fitted within the cabin area. Now imagine a family of 5 going for a long drive and they have enough suitcases which can fit into either a sedan / station wagon. Both of these would offer almost the similar amount of luggage space - however there are a few positives and negatives for each :

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Tata was the first manufacturer to introduce the Indian market to the world of Estates / Stationwagons in 1992. And what more better name than naming it after the bodystyle - Estate. The Tata Estate was also the first proper car manufactured by Tata and boasted of many features which were then considered luxurious - height adjustable power steering, all 4 power windows, 15 inch wheels with wide tyres, tachometer, rear wiper. In addition to these luxuries, it also boasted loads and loads of cabin and luggage space - a combination which none of the manufacturers could offer then. The Estate also was a good looker - all thanks to the design cues taken from the Mercedes Benz T Series (E Class Estate). All these factors combined resulted in the Tata Estate being a hit in the market. Mind you - the bodyline (stationwagon) had nothing to do with the success of the Tata Estate.

The Tata Estate however had a couple of drawbacks - it was a very unrefined and crude car and was a quality disaster (obviously since it was just a testing ground for Tata). There were other more refined and fuel efficient vehicles in the market - Maruti 1000, Maruti Esteem, Daewoo Cielo which were priced almost the same as the Estate. Also, Tata had launched the mighty Sumo to cater to the UV market (which then was dominated by the Mahindra Armada). People looking for a lot of space and seating capacity moved from the Tata Estate to the Tata Sumo. And those looking for a good refined car moved to the 1000, Esteem, Cielo.

Basically it was Tata's own product - the Sumo - which killed the Estate. For the limited period of time that the Estate was manufactured and till the Tata Sumo arrived, the Estate managed to sell in decent numbers.

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Although the thread title states that the Altura was the 2nd Estate in India - this title ideally goes to the Rover Montego Estate which was launched only for a brief period in 1994. The car, although way much ahead of its time - hardly sold in even decent numbers.

Years later as the Indian market and economy opened up - new segment of cars started pouring in. Manufacturers started getting in their expensive models to get a good share of the luxury car market. Maruti Udyog Limited had launched their flagship model then - the new Baleno which had just received a facelift in internationally. Not only did MUL have its presence felt in all the segments - small car (800/Zen), Entry level sedan (1000). mid-size luxury sedan (Esteem), UV/MUV segment (Omni), SUV (Gypsy), high end luxury sedan (Baleno) - it was also leading them in sales. It was now time for them to tap into a segment which was left untouched after the Tata Estate. So in late 2000 / early 2001, MUL launched the Baleno Altura.

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Fiat and Opel lost no time and decided to jump into the estate bandwaon without even doing an evaluation. They blindly went aheas and launched the Siena Weekendand the Corsa Swing respectively.

But this wasnt the end of the Estate market in India. In 2004, Tata tried to make a comeback into the estate market with the Indica based station - Indigo Marina - wagon but that too did not do well and was a flop.

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Skoda went one segment higher than Maruti Suzuki and launched the Octavia Combi but this too couldnt not re-ignite the market in the way the original Tata Estate did.

Why the Stationwagon flopped in India?

All these station wagons (including the Indigo Marina and the Octavia Combi) - suffered the same fate - they all flopped. And all due to the same reasons :

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1. PRICE : Station wagons were priced more higher than their sedan counterparts. The Altura It was an expensive Maruti at Rs 9 lakhs. Until the Baleno hit the market - the most expensive car in MUL's stable was the Maruti Esteem. At an on-road price if Rs 9 lakh, the Baleno was more then twice the price of the Esteem. And the market couldnt accept such an expensive luxury car with a "Maruti" tag. I believe the same is the case with todays models - the Kizashi and Grand Vitara are amazing cars - but havent been a success. The high price of the Baleno / Altura was also due to it being assembled - rather than manufactured in India. If MUL had chosen to manufacture the Baleno in India and localise most of the parts - the Baleno/Altura may have sold in decent numbers. So Price was the main reason that made look buyers away from this car.

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2. PERCEPTION : Stationwagons, in India, were perceived (and still are) as a Utility Vehicle (UV) more than a lifestyle product. Stationwagons are more looked at as vehicles which are used to carry heavy loads or luggages - and therefore was not acceptable socially(?). A first time luxury car buyer would be more image conscious and hence a sedan would suit his needs much more than a station wagon.

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3. PRACTCALITY : How practical was a station wagon then compared to the other options available in the market? What more does the station wagon offer that the sedan does not? To understand the practicality of a Station Wagon, lets first understand what a Station Wagon actually is.

Sedan +ve's :

  • Boot is deep.
  • Luggage in invisible to the outside world and keeps thieves away.
  • You have good visibility since there is nothing to obstruct your rear view.

Sedan -ve's

  • Boot space is limited.
  • Passenger needs to step out of the vehicle everytime something needs to be removed from the boot.

Stationwagon +ve's

  • Although the boot starts a bit higher than the sedan, it compromises in offering more height (till the roof).
  • Luggage and load is easily accessible from inside the car.
  • Long items can be easily loaded into the car by flipping all the seats.

Stationwagon -ve's

  • Your luggage is visible to the outside world and there are more chances of them being robbed. Just a knock on the rear windscreen is enough to access your boot.
  • If the boot area is fully loaded, it may hamper visibility and hence maybe a pain to park.

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4. The MUV/UV : Yes, a big part of the contribution towards the failure of the Station Wagon segment in India is the Utility Vehicle / Multi Utility vehicle. The average individual who considers buying a station wagon is mainly looking out for a comfortable 5 seater with loads of luggage space. This requirement could be fulfilled easily by a UV/MUV at almost half the price and double the seating capacity. Why, then, would someone buy a Station Wagon? During the Tata Estate days, people could chose the Tata Sumo which was much more spacious. During the Altura/Swing/Weekend days, people could chose a Qualis/Bolero/Sumo.

The extra space available in a station wagon could only be used as only that - Extra Space. I am sure if the extra space was converted into extra seating capacity - station wagons would have sold like hot cakes. But then again - we already had MUVs / SUVs which could do the same job at a much lesser price and would also run on cheaper fuel - like the Tata Sumo. Mahindra Bolero and the Toyota Qualis. This was the wrong car introduced at the wrong time (and can you imagine - its been almost 10 years things have not changed yet).

Like I said earlier, in India nothing killed the stationwagon more than the Multi Utility Vehicle. If you look now as well, no manufacturer would dare lauch a stationwagon in India. You already have cars like the Duster, Ertiga, Evalia, Xylo and Innova which do a much better job in terms of space and comfort.

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So while the REAL Estate market (property) appreciated in India in the new millenium, the real estate market (cars) only kept depreciating.

The Baleno/Altura flopping in the market meant :

  • Production would stop soon and spareparts would be rare and expensive.
  • Resale prices would drop drastically.
  • Second hand car buyers could rejoice cos they could get a 10 lakh car for just half the price (or less).

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Prologue

Our affair with Estate cars go back to the 1980s when my dad owned not 1, but 2 estate cars - the Premier Safari. I dont have much memories of the car except for the fact that one was blue and the other was red. That was, as far as I remember, the first Estate car we ever owned. The cars were purchased 2nd hand from a religious institution. The cars were with us for a very short period of time (one was even used for a Bombay-Mangalore trip) - and hence no pics or memories of them. From there till the late 90's we owned mostly small cars (M800s) or sedans (Premier Padmini, M1000, Esteems).

History Repeats Itself (the first time)

Having owned small cars/sedans for almost a decade, we now felt we needed a bigger car. While on the lookout for one somewhere in 1998 - there were not many options then - dad came across a well maintained Tata Estate which was up for grabs. We were excited to have an Estate back into the family - this was also our first diesel vehicle. Which meant that we as youngsters could drive more for less money - with diesel costing just around Rs 10 / litre. During 1998-late 2000, we had owned 2 Tata Estates and really got a good feel of how much of space and versatility an Estate can offer. In 2000, the Estate made way for the Toyota Qualis which subsequently made way for a Mahindra Xylo in 2012.

2010-2012 got a lot of changes to our garage. The Qualis was out and replaced with the Xylo. The Bullet and Yamaha were sold and replaced with a P220. We also acquired a Baleno in late 2011 which was CNG'ed and is used as a daily drive.

History Repeats Itself (again)

Saturday, 23th Feb 2013 :

I had just started thinking of doing up my 2009 P220, when I get a call from my dad.

Dad : Do you want to sell the bike?

Me confused.gif : No, I mean why would I sell it. I am using it to work daily.

Dad : Yes thats right. But do you want to sell the bike?

Me [Totally confused.gif again] : Is there anyone who is interested in buying the bike?

Dad : No, no one is interested. But the Altura is finally on sale and if you are not using the bike, then we could sell the bike, invest some more money and pick the Altura. We could then have it CNG'ed and since CNG turns out to be cheaper than the bike, we could use it to office daily.

Me :-D :

Although this sounded like a good option, I did not want to let go off the bike - since I would still prefer using the bike to office. After checking with my younger bro, we decided on keeping the bike.

So - finally - after 15 years - an Estate / Station Wagon is back in our life. Say hello to the Maruti Suzuki Baleno Altura.

About this Baleno Altura

While we were looking for a replacement for the Toyota Qualis in Jul-Aug 2012, dad came across this well maintained Baleno Altura. Dad gave it a shot and checked with the owner if he had any intention of selling the car. Although he did want to sell the car, the owner too was planning to replace this with a new car. And till then, he intended to keep this car. Months passed and there was not much news on this car. We had almost forgotten about it and had lost hope of getting this car - until last week (23rd Feb 2013) when he finally decided to sell the car. So our stock Baleno sedan has now got some company.

Jul-Aug 2012 -Notice there was no dent on the boot.

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24th Feb 2013 : We take possession of the car.

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This car is a 2003 model and has only run around 25000 genuine kms till date. This car was originally purchased by a hotelier for the sole purpose of transporting passengers from the hotel to the airport and back - and was hence using yellow plates. Although my dad knew about this when he purchased the car, my brother and me got to know of it only when we looked at the rear glass and the back of the plates. The rear glass had the "taxi registration" number etched on the glass. The back of the number plate was yellow and had "All India Permit" written on it. The car was used till 2007 after which it was converted for private use (with private plates) and sold to the current owner. Since 2007 the car has not driven or used much and hence it is still in its original condition.

10 years and only 25000 kms.

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The 12 CD changer - one of the most popular car accessory to be fitted in those days - before the Mp3 player / USB kicked in.

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The temporary registration sticker still intact under the rear number plate.

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The previous registration number etched on the glass and the "AIP" yellow plates.

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The exterior of the car however shows it age with the paint complete faded off, the interiors a bit loose, lots of scratches and small dents, broken or cracked tail lights etc. Mechanically the car is still excellent and not much need except changing the liquids and a detailed service. The suspension and brakes were checked and they are fine – the front axle however tends to make some noise while turning. The stock tyres show signs of wear and tear and would need replacement soon – probably with fatter rubber. The alloy wheels have lost their shine and would need a repaint - the rear ones have also lost their hubcaps. The interiors need to be thoroughly cleaned to give it a fresh and new look.

Dented boot, broken tail lights and cracked rear bumper.

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Alloys (rear ones missing hub caps)

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Plans for the Altura

Basically the car will go through a complete restoration job to bring it back to showroom like condition. There will be no modification whatsoever and the car will be completely stock (except for being fitted with CNG and probably wider tyres).

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Your attention to detail is what makes reading your reviews such a joy. It was nice seeing the car the other day but couldnt check out in detail because of the rain Knowing you, Im sure the car will be in shiny condition in no time at all. 25k kms is peanuts in 10 years. Being an Estate the CNG tank will still leave space for luggage in the boot :)

Hope you join us for the forum members meet we are planning next month.

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Work in Progress

Tail Lights

Work starts almost immediatley on the Altura. Tried many sources to obtain the Altura tail lights and got various quotes - the highest being Rs 8000 and that too only one side. We did think of the option of modifying the body to accomodate tail lights from a different car. But the fear of having our car featured in the Wierd and Whacky thread made us think otherwise.

The Fiat Siena tail lights come closest in shape to the Alturas lights and would have been a good option. But the problem was that the Siena was also a discontinued model and sourcing a Siena unit would be as difficult as a Altura's.

The car awaits its RHS set of tailights. Easily identified in this pic is the color difference bewteen the sedan and the Altura. The sedan is Pearl Silver metallic whereas the Altura is Silky Silver metallic.

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02nd March 2013

Finally after hearing atrocious figures - a used set arrives at less than half the price. Although its not in the best condition - have to live with it.

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The roof rails, rear tail lights, number plates are removed to prepare the car for its painting process. The rear dent is also fixed.

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03rd March 2013

The front and rear bumper had to be removed for painting and to fix any minor cracks.

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After hours of hardwork, the car is back home

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The dent completely fixed and ready for painting.

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The crack on the rear bumper completely fixed.

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The car looks completely incomplete without the roof rails.

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After 2 weeks, the Altura finally takes shape

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The first coat of paint applied

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The new tail lights fitted onto the car

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The final coat as well as polishing completed. The interiors were also cleaned and polished. The roof rails and emblems have been fitted on the car. Only missing emblem is the Altura one which was broken. Looking for new / replacement ones - else will get stickering done.

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Mid-March

The final things left on the Altura are :

1. CNG installation

2. Locating the hubcaps

3. Painting the alloys

4. New set of tyres

23rd March

The Altura is taken to Raju Auto (Vile Parle east) for CNG fitting while our Baleno sedan waits for a regular checkup. The guys are very professional in their work and the fitting is absolutely perfect. Its been almost a year since we fitted CNG in our sedan and it hasnt given any problems till date.

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As you may know the Altura has its spare wheel in the boot (obviously) which is accessed through the boot (obviously). The spare wheel cover is unlike any cover which come in other cars and the space under the boot also in unlike other cars.

You lift the boot carpet to reveal the tray attached with a string.

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Lift the tray and you will be surprised. The second tray has a lot of storage space and also holds a bucket. It actually resembles a thali plate.

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Lift this tray then to reveal the full size spare alloy wheel.

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Fitting the CNG would meant that we would have to cut off the first tray. Since that is an OE fitment, we kept the tray aside and asked the guys at Raju Auto to fabricate a wooden tray. Although the wooden tray looks horrible, it does the job and we didnt have to lose the original one.

25th March

CNG finally fitted.

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13th April

The Altura Logo was made and stuck at the back. Althogh it is a bit bigger than the original logo - we are looking to make the perfect size and the perfect color that would match with the cars color.

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And finally on 13th April - the Altura was ready :

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To take off

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Fantastic write up there. The car looks brand new. Said that stationwagons never took off here. Skoda RS Combis go for a song in the market and makes for a great used buy really. Wish you many happy miles with the Altura. Keep the updates coming in.

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About the Baleno Altura in general

After selling 7 cars in the Indian market (800, Zen, 1000, Esteem, Omni, Gypsy, Baleno), Maruti Udyog decided to launch its 8th model - the Baleno Altura. The Altura was introduced by Maruti Udyog Limited in 2001 at a time when there was no market for station wagons in India. The Baleno during its time competed with sedans like the Ford Escort, Opel Astra, Honda City and the Mitsubishi Lancer. The Altura however competed with stationwagons from the lower segment - the Opel Corsa Swing and the Fiat Siena Weekend/Adventure - since these were the only other stationwagons available then.

The Altura and its competitors

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The Altura looked much much better than its sedan variant. The best part I like about the Altura is the rear windscreen with the wraparound look. This feature really gave a premium and classy look to the car. Being a lifestyle car meant that the Altura was packed with various features as standard equipment - power windows, power mirrors, alloy wheels.

During its lifetime, the Altura went through one facelift which involved minor changes to the grille.

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Related Links

Exterior

You have to admit it - As much ugly as the Baleno looked from the rear, the Altura was as much beautiful. World over if you compare the sedan models with their estate counterparts - the latter has always looked way better. And that applies to the Altura as well. What the Sedan loses in its rear bland design, the Altura gains it and much more in a very classy and elegant.

From the front the Baleno and the Altura look the same - there is nothing to differentiate the 2 cars - except for the presence of the roof rails. The headlights were a very unique design - a mix of curves and straight lines. Unlike other Maruti cars, the headlight unit was a clear lens one and the indicators were integrated into the headlight unit itself. While this design looked good, it meant one thing in those days - be ready to shell out huge expenses during accidents or replacements. Most other cars available then - the Honda City, Opel Astra, Ford Escort - had separate units for headlights and tail light which meant replacements were required only on the parts that were damaged. The grille is typical Suzuki-type which went through some changes during its face lift. The pre face lift grille was a typical 90ish grille with a single chrome slat and honeybomb design. With the new millennium came a new grille which did away with all of it. Chrome was the in thing and the face lifted Altura got a 3 slat grille.

The Alturas side profile is similar to the Baleno sedan upto the C pillar - post which you will fail to recognise this car as a Baleno. The rear glass has been neatly integrated into the body and does not look out of place. To provide a true estate look, they gave it the wrap around effect which gives it a more upmarket feel. The tail lights - which are the most striking part of the car - are 2 piece ones and carry on the wrap around effect of the glass. The outer unit houses the brake light and the indicators whereas the boot units hold additional brake lights and reverse lamps. If you own an Altura, please be very careful since these lights are very expensive and not very easily available.

I have said this before and will always say - Cars of the past were made with such better quality. They don't build cars like these anymore. Compare the Altura with any other 9 lakh car available in the market. This car stinks of quality -

Take for example the chrome strip running around the windows. The quality of the chrome is so good that it hasn't started to rust or lose its shine after 10 years.

The quality of the door mirrors and the roof rail - these are not painted (i believe) but made of high quality plastic which still shine more than the mods on the new cars. If you see the quality of the mirrors its a rough plastic which fades very easily.

Dead front - the Altura clearly resembles the Baleno. The roof railings are a give-away on what exactly is there at the back.

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Looks much much - much better than the Baleno. If you own an Altura, please be extra careful of those tail lamps.

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Side view of the Altura.

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This view gives the Altura a very utilitarian look.

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The Altura looks best from rear quarter.

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More exterior shots

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Notice carefully how the rear quarter looks similar to the Fortuner.

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The door opens wide and the hatch opens high. Be very careful while opening the hatch in basements.

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Blackened B-pillar and quality chrome lining around the doors.

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Manual antenna, power mirrors and the roof rail.

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13 spoke Alloy wheels standard

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