Petrol car buyers face waiting periods of up to three months, diesel loses allure

Thanks to a relentless increase in Diesel prices by state-owned retailers, waiting periods of petrol cars in India have zoomed to weeks, or in some cases – months, in recent days.

Among the cars that have become nearly impossible to get at short notice are the Maruti Suzuki Ritz and Swift, and to some extent, even models like the Nissan Micra, the Renault Pulse and the Chevrolet Sail U-VA.

The biggest rush is in the Rs 5 lakh category of cars that includes the Ritz, the Micra, the U-VA and the Hyundai i10.

“There is a waiting period of 2-3 months, depending on the variant and color,” said a Maruti Suzuki dealer based in Bangalore. “Diesel models are readily available,” he added.

Waiting periods range from 2 to 8 weeks for other cars such as the Pulse, the Sail U-VA etc..

The scene is in sharp contrast to the situation a few months earlier. Maruti had been forced to cut production of petrol cars after inventories piled up at dealers.

Since then, however, the government has announced that it would remove subsidies on Diesel, as it has on Petrol, over the next one year or so. Oil companies have been increasing diesel prices by about 1 rupee a month for the last 3-4 months. There was also a ‘mega increase’ of Rs 5 per litre.

In contrast, petrol prices, which are no longer controlled by the government, have declined by about Rs 5 per litre during the same period. The price difference between the two fuels has shrunk from about Rs 25 per litre a year ago to about Rs 15 per litre.

The Ritz and the Swift the best selling mid-range cars in India, and have always been in demand. But till about six months ago, the waiting period for a diesel Swift was in excess of six months in many cities.

The Swift is given preference by consumers due to the high build quality and resale prices associated with the Maruti Suzuki brand name, and the availability of cheap spare parts and ubiquitous service centers.

Diesel cars typically cost about Rs 1.2 lakh to Rs 1.5 lakh more than their petrol counterparts and offer about 20% more mileage. While the category has always been popular with taxi operators, ordinary consumers are rapidly switching back to petrol cars.

Petrol cars, in addition to being cheaper, offer more power and driveability, and are cheaper to maintain.

Among the companies that have managed to keep production in line with demand is Honda. The company’s Brio, also priced in the Rs 5 lakh category, is available for immediate delivery. The car, however, has disappointed some buyers with a relatively small boot, despite being arguably the best vehicle in its price class.

On the other hand, newly launched Amaze – a sedan model priced in the Rs 6 to 8 lakh range – has been sold out for 3 months or more at most dealers. Both the diesel and petrol versions are unavailable for ready delivery. The car, which marks the entry of the Japanese carmaker into the lucrative ‘Swift’ (or large hatchback) category, is currently the hottest-selling car in India.

Separately, Mahindra, India’s biggest maker of SUVs, announced its entry into the hatchback segment with Verito Vibe, a compact version of its sedan, priced in the Rs 6 lakh plus category.