The Baleno name has been brought back from the dead and given to Suzuki’s upcoming premium hatchback and i20 rival,which a lot of us know by its internal code, YRA.
For now, the Baleno name is confirmed just for Europe where it might have a whiff of equity left. The old Suzuki Cultus, which also sold as the Baleno in European, Asian and Australian markets in the mid-1990s was Suzuki’s biggest hatchback at the time, and a cheap but reliable runabout. There was also a four-door sedan version, which is the Baleno as we know it.
It’s hard to understand why Suzuki resurrected an old and long forgotten badge to stick on an all-new premium hatchback which is one of the key models in the grand plan to spice up Suzuki’s image. In India especially, the sad-looking Baleno is synonymous with Maruti’s failure to crack the premium mid-size segment and the reason why the company discontinued the name along with the car. Success in rallying hardly helped it.
It was the same story with the SX4. Like the Baleno it replaced, it struggled to make a mark even with the help of a diesel motor and auto transmission. The SX4 name too came and went, and it’s not missed. It’s only now with the Ciaz – Maruti’s third shot (with a third name) that India’s largest carmaker is making some headway in a segment that has long eluded it.
It’s quite obvious that Maruti doesn’t like continuing with names that haven’t clicked in the Indian market and the recent launch of S-Cross is further proof of this thinking. Known as the SX4 S-Cross in Europe, Maruti has pointedly dropped the SX4 prefix for India, to avoid making any link to the defunct mid-sizer. This makes me believe that while the YRA will be badged the Baleno in Europe, good sense will prevail and Maruti is likely to give it an altogether different name for our market. But what could that name be? Given the YRA’s positioning as a stylish, sporty hatchback sold through the premium Nexa network to aspiring young buyers, it needs a strong badge that has no past baggage.
Adopting one of Suzuki’s many unused nameplates or creating an all-new name would be the obvious thing to do, but what better time than now to bring back the legendary Zen brand?
Apart from the Swift, no other Maruti model has evoked as much emotion or a cult following as the erstwhile Zen. It was India’s first ‘hot’ hatch and kicked off the ‘Mod’ culture in the country. Not many know that the its spiritual successor, the Swift was nearly called the Zen as well, but the idea was shot down at the last minute. Instead, the moniker re-appeared as the Zen Estilo, which was essentially an older-generation Suzuki MR Wagon. This poorly built city runabout had a vapid character that was diametrically opposite to the feisty original Zen. Thankfully, Maruti quickly dropped the ‘Zen’ from the Estilo before much harm was done.
The YRA however, by the look of it, has the Zen’s DNA which makes it an ideal car for this iconic name to make a comeback. The YRA with its sharp styling (by Suzuki’s standards) and exciting performance (the top-end variants will get the potent 1.0-litre Boosterjet engine) should thrill owners just like the original Zen did.
From a marketing standpoint, it would be easier to re-launch the Zen brand than build a completely new one. Besides, the Zen has a strong legacy and brand recall which will surely resonate with a lot of potential buyers, many of whom are likely to be past Zen owners.
This thought must have crossed the minds of the marketing men in Maruti too who are all predictably tight-lipped about YRA’s India name.
What’s for sure is that Suzuki knows the importance of having the right name. Let’s not forget that Osamu Suzuki himself dropped his original surname (Matsuda) and adopted his wife’s family name of Suzuki after he married her. He’s never looked back since.