2018 Detroit - Ford Ranger returns to America

America is the land of the trucks and Ford leads the full-size pick-up truck segment there by a country mile. Its quite an irony then Ford's big-selling truck in the rest of the world, the Ranger, has been kept out of the reach of Americans for so long. As a result, the top bosses at Ford Motor Company were forced to sit out and watch the action unfold between Chevrolet and Toyota that were riding high on renewed demand for mid-size pick-ups in the United States. Having decided it wants a slice of this pie, Ford announced the return of the Ranger to the States last year. 

The 2018 Detroit Auto Show marks the next step in the process with the first public unveiling of the truck. A big-seller in markets as diverse as Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and South Africa, the Ranger is sure to give the Chevrolet Colorado and Toyota Tacoma sleepless nights.

We have seen the Ranger in the current shape and form for quite a few years now and Ford isn't tinkering with the formula that clicked globally. As a result, the Ranger for North America gets just a few subtle changes externally to keep it fresh in the eyes of potential customers. The revised grille and the redesigned steel bumper are the major changes up front. At the rear, changes are so minimal that they are largely unnoticeable at first glance. Look closely and you'll observe the modified taillight lenses and bumper. Being the handsome and muscular brute that it is, the Ranger needed no change in the way it looked and we are glad Ford left it that way. 

Bigger changes for America are under the hood with Ford shoehorning a 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine under the hood in place of the 2.2-liter and 3.2-liter diesels that currently power the Ranger globally. The 4-cylinder turbocharged direct-injection gasoline mill is the same that we have seen in cars like the Focus RS and the Mustang. While the power and torque figures haven't been released yet, Ford has hinted at class-leading specifications when the Ranger goes on sale later this year.

Unlike the F150 that switched to aluminium in what was an industry-first, the Ranger only has its hood and tailgate made from the lighter alloy with the rest of the body and the frame made from high-strength steel. Higher variants get Dana axles front and rear with an electronic locking differential and a two-speed transfer case. The Terrain Management System on-board lets the driver choose one of the four modes - Normal, Grass, gravel & snow, Mud & ruts and Sand - depending on the terrain being conquered.

The interiors are straight out of the global Ranger in terms of appearance although we expect Ford to add improved materials and superior fit and finish before sending these out to American showrooms. Equipped with SYNC 3 infotainment system, the Ranger gets Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa integration. A suite of active and passive safety features are expected to be standard including blind-spot monitoring with trailer coverage, pre-collision assist, lane-keep and lane-departure assist and automatic cruise control. 

Ford's expertise in making and selling pick-up trucks is well-known and second to none. Combine that with a product as capable as the Ranger and the competition should be worried.


2018 Detroit - Mercedes-Benz unveils the all-new G-Class

In an industry where change is inevitable, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class had defied all odds being in production for far too long without significant changes in the sheet metal. Yes, the G-Class’ shape and dimensions hardly changed since 1979, the year it was introduced. As legendary as the G is, the fact that it was too old and, dare we say, outdated to comply with the current safety and tech norms was more than obvious. 

As a result, out went the G-Class to be replaced by this all-new version. Well, wait, where’s the all-new version, you ask? Believe us, this really is the new second-generation G-Class that just debuted at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show!

Much to the relief of thousands of fans and loyalists worldwide, the all-new G-Class looks pretty much like the outgoing G-Class. The iconic shape has been left untouched with subtle changes here and there to bring the G-Class up-to-date. Up front, the circular headlights are bigger and incorporate integrated LED accent lights. The panels on which the lights are placed are angled ever-so-slightly to the sides, getting rid of the cardboard box-like angles of the older model. The signature ‘clam-shell’ hood and the prominent indicators on top of the front fenders have been carried over to the new model as are the exposed door hinges, the old-school door handles, the flat windscreen and the boxy appearance. Changes in the rear are, again, minimal with the bodywork around the slim horizontal taillights being the most significant.

Crucially, the G-Class has now grown in size over its predecessor. The new model is 53 mm longer and 121 mm wider, giving the occupants much-needed improvement in leg room and shoulder room. The rear legroom, G’s traditional weak point, is now up by a whopping 150 mm!

The interiors have been sufficiently spruced up so as to not turn down a potential G-Class buyer who walks into a Mercedes-Benz showroom and happens to look at the cabin of an E-Class or S-Class sharing the floor. An all-new, customizable Digital Cockpit integrates two 12.3-inch screens that form the instrument panel and the central display. A touchpad with controller is housed in the center console, allowing drivers to operate stuff without taking their eyes off the road. The steering wheel has been redesigned as well incorporating more functions than before. Circular air-conditioner vents, like the ones on every other Mercedes-Benz car out there, are in there as well. Playing an ode to the old G-Class are the grab handle for the front passenger and three prominent, chrome-highlighted differential lock switches in the dashboard.

For its second-generation, the G-Class has gone through significant mechanical changes as well. Most importantly, the solid front axle has been shown the door, replaced by modern double wishbones that are sure to improve the on-road handling and ride quality. The ladder-on-frame construction, selectable four-wheel drive with low range and the front, center and rear locking differentials have been carried over, essentially making sure the G loses none of its competence off-road. With specs that read 270 mm ground clearance, 31° approach angle, 30° approach angle and 26° break-over angle, there is no reason to think twice before venturing off-road.

Powering this boxy brute is a 4.0-liter V8 engine that produces 422 horsepower and a peak torque of 610 Nm. The bi-turbo engine is mated to a 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission that’s been specifically adapted to suit the off-roading needs of the vehicle. 

The new G goes on sale later this year with the United States of America, Germany and China expected to be amongst the first markets. As they say, the legend lives on!


India's "Top 20" Best-Selling Cars in 2017

With cumulative annual sales hitting 3.2 million units, the passenger car segment in India had a solid 9% growth in 2017 over the prior year. The Top 10 Best-Selling Brands had no real surprises with Maruti-Suzuki wiping out over 50% of the volumes. Hyundai walked away with another 17%, with these two brands effectively closing out two-thirds of the market! 

Before we get into the details, here are the Top 20 Best-Selling Cars in India for the year 2017. 

The Top 20 Cars

In a country where one out of every two cars sold are from Maruti-Suzuki, you wouldn't expect cars from other brands to emerge as best-sellers. But, were you prepared for an onslaught of this magnitude? 

Podium was an all Maruti-Suzuki affair

Just as they did in 2016 and the year before that, cars from the Maruti-Suzuki stable swept the podium positions clean. India's love affair with the brand's little car, the Alto, continued in 2017 with cumulative sales of 257,732 units, a solid 5% growth over 2016. But the real star was the Dzire that ended the year in second position, just 30,000 units short. For a few times in 2017, the Dzire toppled the Alto from the top of the monthly sales charts and we wouldn't be surprised to see the promising sub-compact sedan taking the top spot going forward. With a whopping 64% growth over 2016, Baleno came in third, pushing the erstwhile favourites - Wagon-R and Swift - behind.

7 out of the Top 10 best-sellers are from Maruti-Suzuki

Yes, you read that right. Maruti-Suzuki's race didn't stop with winning the top three places. No, they weren't done with having their cars in the first five positions. They went further and ended 2017 with seven of their cars in the Top 10 list! The brand's slow and steady rise in the Top 10 list is a stuff of legends and a case study for global car-makers on how to sustain a dominant position in the market. 

Coming in after the Alto, Dzire and Baleno were the Swift and Wagon-R, both at the end of their respective life cycles. With the all-new Swift poised for launch at the upcoming 2018 Auto Expo and rumours of the new Wagon-R starting to do the rounds, expect both these cars to bounce back strongly in the coming years. In just the first full year on the market, the Vitara Brezza has become the country's best-selling Utility Vehicle with cumulative sales at 140,945 units. With a little over 100,000 units sold, the Celerio comes in at number ten. For a car that started off as Maruti-Suzuki's test bed, that's a tremendous result.

Hyundai occupies the remaining three positions

Hyundai, India's second-largest car-maker forever now, occupied the remaining three positions in the Top 10 list. The brand's three best-sellers - Grand i10, i20 and Creta - had a phenomenal 2017 and grew sales significantly over the previous year. But, for every step Hyundai takes, Maruti-Suzuki seems to be taking three steps. If they aren't careful, Hyundai might find itself in a position where its cars are pushed off the top ten by newer models from Maruti-Suzuki. The new Santro (or whatever they wish to call their new hatchback) couldn't come sooner!

The rest of the Top 20

Having secured the top ten positions, the country's two leading car-makers had five more of their models in the top twenty. Omni, Eeco, Ertiga and Ciaz did the honours for Maruti-Suzuki while the Eon pitched in for Hyundai. With 15 out of the top 20 positions locked out, the alarm bells should have started ringing for the other car-makers. What are these two brands doing that they aren't? Let's save that for a different day and a different post. 

Renault's Kwid, at number eleven, is the first car in the list that's not a Maruti-Suzuki or Hyundai. But, the smash hit that created quite a flutter in 2016 appears to be losing its sheen if the 13% drop in sales is any indication. 

Bolero, Mahindra's superstar in the semi-urban and rural markets, had a good year with over 20% growth in sales. For what's essentially a two decade old car, Bolero's performance is nothing short of outstanding. The Scorpios and TUV3OOs can learn a thing or two from this old workhorse sharing the showrooms!

Thanks to its stellar reputation for reliability and resale value, Toyota's high-priced Innova Crysta had another good year, staying flat at 72,349 units. Factor in the higher average transaction prices for this model and this Toyota is up there in terms of revenue and profits with the best-sellers from Maruti-Suzuki and Hyundai.

The cheerful Tata Tiago had a remarkable run in 2017, selling over 70,000 units. For a brand that was struggling not so long back, the Tiago has proved to be a blessing, bringing much-needed footfalls into Tata showrooms. The positive effect is already seen with the brand's other new models as well. Watch out for Tata, they are on the rise!

Honda City has existed in India for twenty years and for much of its life cycle, it was the best-selling car in its segment. 2017 was yet another year at the top for the City that proved to be Honda's saviour, edging out its arch-rival Ciaz by a measly 600 odd units. The Ciaz and the new Verna have a tough job on their hands, trying to wrestle the top spot from this Honda.

Outside the top twenty, Jeep Compass made a strong debut, reviving Fiat-Chrysler's operations in India. Toyota Fortuner had another astounding year, considering its segment and price point. 

Just like the rest of the world, SUVs and crossovers are on the rise across segments and price points in the Indian market as well, a trend that's likely to influence new model launches in the country going forward. 


India's "Top 10" Best-Selling Car Brands in 2017

As we saw a few days back, the best-selling car brands in the United States of America for the year 2017 didn't throw too many surprises. The Top 10 brands were the same as 2016 with the only change being Kia losing a position to Subaru. The scenario was very similar in India too with the Top 10 best-selling brands in 2017 being exactly the same as the year before.

While the passenger car segment on the whole saw a remarkable 9% growth over 2016, not all car-makers enjoyed an upswing in sales. That's not surprising. Here's why. The car market in India might be a shade under 3.2 million units but the sad reality is less than half of that is up for grabs for anybody that isn't Maruti-Suzuki. Hyundai walks away with a third of this slashed pie, leaving very little space for the rest of the brands to clobber up.

The Top 10 Brands 

'Red hot' Maruti-Suzuki scales new heights

2017 was yet another fantastic year for Maruti-Suzuki, India's largest car-maker by a country mile.

Highlight of the year was the dream debut of the all-new third-generation Dzire. Did you ever imagine a car priced between INR 6-9 Lakhs selling more than 30,000 units a month in India? Yeah, the new Dzire did just that, not once but twice becoming the fastest car in India to reach the milestone of 100,000 units.

Maruti-Suzuki's regular best-sellers - Alto and Wagon-R - continued their phenomenal run while the Swift, despite being in the last year of its life cycle, did a commendable job of sustaining sales against much-newer rivals. 

Capacity constraints that hampered Baleno and Vitara Brezza in 2016 became a thing of the past with Suzuki opening their new plant in Gujarat. The result? Both models posted double-digit growth vis-a-vis 2016 and surged to the top of their respective segments. 

Celerio, Omni, Eeco, Ertiga and Ciaz chipped in with significant contributions as well. As a result, Maruti-Suzuki grew its sales by 15% over 2016. Considering their incredible base, that's just astonishing!  

That said, there are a couple of 'dare-we-say' weak links in the chain. The Ignis, launched with much fanfare last year, has gotten off to what can best be termed a modest start while the S-Cross has failed to click despite a substantial facelift towards the end of 2017.

The future is looking brighter than ever for Maruti-Suzuki. In the short term, the new Swift is all set to storm the market after its debut at the upcoming 2018 Auto Expo while the Alto and Wagon-R are all set for overhauls next year. On the long term, the car-maker has tied up with Toyota to bring in electric cars in India. Clearly, the folks at Maruti-Suzuki think smarter, act quicker and work better than their rivals. The success, then, is well-deserved!

Hyundai defends its turf 

Hyundai finishes runner-up as usual, defending its turf as strongly as ever with a 5% growth over the prior year. Problem is, Maruti-Suzuki is so far ahead while Mahindra is a fair bit behind, leaving Hyundai in no man's land. 

The brand's three best-sellers - Grand i10, i20 and Creta - continued their strong run in the market while the new Verna is off to a great start. Unfortunately for the South Korean car-maker, their foray into the premium segments have not yielded results as expected. Yes, the Elantra and the Tucson post respectable numbers month-on-month considering the segments they operate in but more was expected of them. 

With the competition getting tougher and their best-selling trio getting older, the challenge for Hyundai going forward would be to sustain market share at the current level. Did you whisper 'Chuck the Eon, get back a contemporary tall-boy and name it Santro?' That was loud and clear. Are you listening, Hyundai?   

Mahindra falls, but clings on to third

Mahindra has done well to hold on to third in 2017 but the Nashik-based brand is in a vulnerable position. 

Amongst the front-runners, Mahindra is the only brand that has not grown sales over 2016. As if that's not enough, Honda and Tata, the two brands right behind Mahindra in sales, have posted strong gains. A hit or two from one of them in the coming years could easily push Mahindra behind.

While the Bolero, Scorpio and XUV5OO are doing great thanks to timely facelifts and feature additions, the newer models, sadly, have not done well for Mahindra. The boxy TUV3OO, the quirky KUV1OO and the forgettable NuvoSport have failed to capture the imagination of the masses. The lesser said about Mahindra's car line-up, the better!

Tata shines among the rest

Right behind Mahindra is Honda with a solid 6% increase in sales over 2016. The City is as dependable as ever while the WR-V has managed to do what the BR-V, Jazz, Mobilio and Brio couldn't. 

Up next is Tata, putting on what's arguably the most impressive show of all the brands in the Top 10 list. The Tiago is going all guns blazing, the Nexon has started strongly and the Hexa is doing reasonably well considering its Aria origins. Of course, the beautiful Tigor has been a rare disappointment but then every other car in the segment apart from the Dzire sell in similar numbers.

Toyota comes next, seemingly content selling Innova Crystas and Fortuners in India that yield fat profits. They have done well at that.

Seventh on the list is Renault whose 'Kwid' magic seems to be losing sheen as evident by the 15% drop in sales. They need another hit quickly to prevent falling off further. 

Ford comes in next with a mixed bag. The EcoSport and the Endeavour are doing remarkably well, no doubt, but the Figo siblings continue their dismal run. There's a facelift coming but will that be enough?

At number nine is Volkswagen. The German brand is in dire need of newer cars. Period. There's only so much the 8-year old Polo and the 7-year old Vento can do! 

Rounding off the list is Datsun, albeit with flat sales compared to 2016. The redi-Go has done its job and the onus now shifts to the upcoming Go Cross to deliver.

Mercedes-Benz tops the luxury segment

With the after-effects of demonetization still lurking, 2017 started off on a bad note for the luxury segment. While the implementation of GST provided a temporary relief, the Government did all it could by revising the tax slabs of luxury cars soon afterwards. Car-makers were peeved, no doubt, but the well-heeled car-buying public hardly cared. 

Mercedes-Benz took full advantage of the situation and raced to the top of the segment selling over 15,000 cars in 2017, their highest ever in the country. BMW came next with sales a little shy of 10,000 units. Audi, that was leading the luxury race not long ago, is languishing in third position with annual sales of 7,876 units. Outside the top three, Jaguar-Land Rover, Volvo and Porsche grew significantly in 2017 indicating a healthy market for these expensive machinery.


America's "Top 20" Best-Selling Cars in 2017

With annual sales of a little over 17.2 million units, 2017 turned out to be a good year for the American automotive industry. Yes, sales were down by a couple of percentages compared to 2016 but it was the third straight year Americans bought over 17 million new cars, a record of sorts. 

Ford continued its winning streak ending the year as America's most popular mass-market brand ahead of Toyota and Chevrolet. Mercedes-Benz won the race for luxury supremacy with BMW and Lexus not far behind. 

Click here for 2017’s ‘Top 10’ best-selling car brands in the United States. 

Delving further into the published sales figures, here we are, this time with 2017’s ‘Top 20’ best-selling cars.  

The Top 20 Cars

Ford F-Series reigns supreme for the 41st consecutive year

The title says it all, doesn’t it? 

Pick-ups have always been one of America’s hotly-contested segments with a rivalry so fierce it has the potential to make or break an entire brand. That Ford has been dominating such a crucial and, more importantly, profitable segment for such an incredibly long time is astonishing. Yes, 2017 was the 41st consecutive year the F-Series has emerged as the most popular vehicle in the United States. With sales of 896,764 units, the aluminium-bodied pick-up truck had its best-ever year in history. It's arch rivals, Chevrolet’s Silverado and Ram’s Pick-Up, are more than 300,000 units behind, further accentuating the iconic truck’s achievement.

Chevrolet and Ram Trucks post modest growth

Just like they did in 2016 and the years preceding it, Chevrolet's Silverado series and Ram's Pick-Up trucks finished in second and third positions respectively. There is still quite a gap to the F-Series up ahead but both these brands would be counting on the upcoming next-generation of these trucks to help bridge the gap. Chevrolet recently showed off its all-new Silverado and the initial reactions are promising while Ram is readying its redesigned series of pick-up trucks for a debut at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show. Will they deliver what is expected of them and challenge the F-Series for American supremacy? A hot contest is brewing up!

The rest of the Top 10

For the first time in several years, Toyota Camry is not America's most popular car after the Big Three pick-up trucks. That honour now goes to Toyota's RAV-4, thanks to the booming demand for SUVs and crossovers. Nissan's Rogue, with a whopping 22% growth over 2016, comes next relegating Toyota's popular sedan to the sixth position. Still, the Camry did well to maintain sales compared to the prior year. The same trend was observed in Honda's portfolio as well with the CR-V edging ahead of the hugely popular Civic that impressively posted an increase in sales versus 2016.

Its quite disappointing to see the royal hammering being handed out to sedans from crossovers and SUVs sharing the same showrooms. Brands like Toyota and Honda deserve appreciation for having lost no hope and putting their hearts and souls in this bodystyle. Be it the Civic, the all-new Accord or the new Camry, the current models are the best these nameplates have seen in decades. Many of these sedans are markedly superior to the crossovers based on them too but the customers seem to hardly care.

Outside the top ten, the same trend was observed as SUVs and crossovers marched ahead leaving the sedans to soak up the dust behind. With significant growth over 2016, the Chevrolet Equinox, the Ford Explorer, the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Subaru Outback gained multiple positions in the Top 20 list. The sedans that were left to bleed were the Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion and Hyundai Elantra. Chevrolet's Malibu was struck off the list by the Toyota Highlander Subaru Outback that makes its debut in the Top 20 list. 

Looking ahead, we wouldn't be surprised if the entire Top 20 list is occupied by SUVs and crossovers as more and more people migrate towards the perceived benefits of higher riding position and better space than equivalent sedans within the same footprint. Until that happens, let's enjoy this sleek and sexy bodystyle that has started counting its days.

Edit: The earlier list inadvertently had the Subaru Outback in the Top 20 instead of the Toyota Highlander that should have actually been there.