Is the demand for off-roaders growing in India? Real off-roaders, not wimpy, car-based soft-roaders. Well, looking at the recent success of the new Thar, the answer has to be a resounding yes. Our Car of the Year is currently ranked third on Mahindra’s bestsellers list, with no sign of demand waning.
Question is, is the trend for real? Or is it just pent-up demand? And are Thar buyers genuine off-roaders; guys and gals who want to run trails, drive out into the desert, go explore Ladakh? Or are they just interested in the ice-cool looks? The jury is currently out on that.
Let’s not forget, not only is the Thar an off-roader that comes with more than a few compromises, it’s also a two-door. And that in the Indian market has always been a no-no. The historical demand for two-door cars is, in fact so bad, Maruti still hasn’t launched its cute-as-a-button Jimny here. And that’s despite export production having started. The Jimny will come to India, but as a four-door only. But is Maruti missing a trick?
Also joining the fray, but at a considerably higher price, is Jeep, the one that actually started it all. The Wrangler’s great, great, great granddaddy, the CJ (Civilian Jeep), was in fact among the first vehicles to be assembled and made in India.
So, does Jeep have an advantage with the more practical four-door? Even Mahindra doesn’t quite know the answer to that one. A four-door version of the Thar is currently being feverishly worked on, one that you can use every day with less compromise.
But what of the off-roader trend in general? Is that set to continue? Will they always be cool like the Enfield Bullet? There are now dime a dozen Bullet-like retro clones around.
But which one would I want? How about a more heavily localised two-door Wrangler – the best mechanical representation of a mountain goat there is. And Jeep can do it. Like the US, India still has a fair amount of chassis-based vehicles around. And there are suppliers of high-quality ladder frames, suspension components and axles too.
Sure, the Wrangler, in any of its forms, will almost certainly never be a Mahindra Thar rival. It is fundamentally a much more expensive vehicle, one that’s tailor-made to be the best off-roader in the world. And when you try and achieve best-in-class performance, cutting costs is seldom an option. The Wrangler gets a custom-made chassis, it gets a purpose-built suspension, the axles and differentials are very high spec and unlike the Thar, it doesn’t get to share its platform with a mass-market SUV.
The difference in price still would be nowhere near XUV500 to Compass, and it would still be sort of impractical. But would there be a queue for a more affordable Wrangler? Absolutely.