Tata Motors recently launched the Altroz iCNG, and in our review, we found that it made a strong effort to improve the perception and proposition of CNG for buyers, by addressing a lot of inherent shortcomings, like a lack of boot space and features. The latter also helped give it a premium perception that CNG otherwise lacks, and while that was a conscious move by Tata, it will only do it in segments where it will really work.
CNG a logical substitute for diesel
“We will introduce CNG in segments where diesel is exiting,” Tata Motors passenger vehicles MD Shailesh Chandra told Autocar India, and this makes a lot of sense. When it comes to customer perception, CNG is associated with low running costs, as is diesel. Both fuels had become hugely more expensive with price hikes, but have since settled, with diesel ultimately still being pricier in most cities, and then there’s Delhi-NCR’s 10-year cap on diesel cars that puts people off them.
Diesel’s bigger problem, however, is meeting emissions regulations, and CNG is a great solution here, as it is much lower on emissions, and can even help lower a carmaker’s overall CAFE score. Most carmakers opted to kill off their smaller diesel engines than spending big to upgrade them, but Tata was not one of them. Though it killed off the Tiago and Tigor’s 1.2 diesel for BS6 Phase 1 in 2020, it kept the 1.5 diesel alive through BS6 Phase 2 in April 2023, in the Altroz and Nexon.
Tata achieved this using the relatively less expensive passive SCR (selective catalytic reduction) solution, and though the Nexon and Altroz’s 1.5 diesel is in the clear for the foreseeable future, it remains to be seen how this solution fares come the next set of emissions regulations. Tata Motors, however, is aware of this, with Chandra telling us that though the solution is temporary, it’s still enough to give Tata a strong advantage in segments where diesel is going or gone, like premium hatchbacks and compact SUVs.
Tata Motors upcoming CNG cars, SUVs
So the Altroz currently has both CNG and diesel powertrains, and we know that the Punch will be the next Tata Motors model to get CNG, but what about the rest? Considering its 1.5 diesel engine will not be around for more than a couple of years, the Nexon is likely the next big candidate for Tata’s iCNG treatment. Though compact, it’s still an SUV, and this means there’s some likelihood of long-distance or high-mileage usage. This is the same reason why Hyundai and Kia have retained their 1.5-litre diesel in the Venue and Sonet, respectively. As such, buyers will be looking for a more frugal alternative to the Nexon’s diesel engine, and CNG will most likely be it, and the upcoming facelift would be a good time to introduce it.
When asked about the Harrier and Safari, Chandra suggested that they would be a segment too far for CNG. Diesel is still dominant in these segments, and both cars offer the powerful, proven and popular 2.0-litre Stellantis Multijet engine, with both manual and automatic gearboxes. And while there’s currently no petrol engine to fit a CNG kit to, the new 1.5-litre turbo-petrol shown at Auto Expo 2023 will be introduced soon. Moreover, at their price range, which nudges Rs 30 lakh, CNG is unlikely to break the glass ceiling of premium perception for these two large SUVs. As for Tata’s upcoming midsize SUVs, the Curvv and Sierra, we know they too will be getting Tata’s new-gen turbo-petrol engines and EV versions too, but we’ll have to see if they will get CNG or not.
Rivals offer CNG in premium SUVs
Maruti Suzuki has gone big on CNG, offering it in most of its models, even higher up the range. Not only in the Altroz-rivalling Baleno premium hatchback, but also in the Brezza compact SUV, Ertiga and XL6 MPVs, and more recently the Grand Vitara SUV, presently its most premium product. Toyota, subsequently, also offers CNG in its Maruti-sourced products – the Glanza and Urban Cruiser Hyryder. Hyundai’s CNG line-up starts and ends with the Grand i10 Nios and Aura compact cars, with none of its SUVs on offer (though the upcoming Exter is a likely candidate), and while Skoda and VW have expressed interest in the fuel in the past, they have yet to launch any models. Mahindra does not offer any CNG models.
The difference, of course, is diesel. Hyundai has, at great cost, extended the life of its 1.5 diesel engine that goes into the Venue, Creta, Alcazar, and Kia Sonet, Carens and Seltos. Mahindra has a diesel-heavy model line-up, and Toyota has it in its larger models, but not lower down. While Skoda-VW, also having abandoned diesel in 2020, has nothing that can match diesel’s running costs, its TSI petrol engines do at least offer that punchy driving experience buyers miss. Maruti, has also abandoned diesel, but with strong hybrids only at the top end, and EVs too far off, CNG was its best shot at filling that market gap.
Would you buy a premium CNG car? Let us know in the comments section.