India | Tata Indigo CS | Car | Compact Sedan | Revolution | 31st December 2022 | Virtual Wire
The Indigo was one of the pillars of Tata Motors' rise to prominence in the 2000s, and the excise duty regulations gave the company a big hand when it came to ending the decade in good style.
The Indian government introduced very significant legislation on the automotive industry in the year 2006, which would shape the industry for years to come. This involved the imposition of lower excise duty on cars having an engine capacity of fewer than 1.2 litres in petrol and 1.5 litres in diesel, and more importantly, having their length tucked under the four-metre mark. To make things simpler, the product that fulfilled the above criteria was eligible for lower rates of excise duty to be levied on it, thereby translating to savings of about Rs. 90,000 for the company in general with each car sold. While the cause of this was stated as being to make India a "small car hub," the following move also attracted a lot of criticism from automotive enthusiasts and purists alike for putting a restriction on global automakers when it came to rolling out some of their best products to our market. On the other side of the coin, this had also rather unknowingly presented automakers with an opportunity to improvise and pack in the best possible product under the above criteria to avail massive benefits in terms of both sales and savings.
Hence, it was Tata Motors that did a rather clever implementation of the rules by introducing a sedan that had eventually measured less than four metres in length, roughly the size of a hatchback or "supermini," as it is called in some markets. In a major breakthrough for the Indian market in general, the Indigo CS (CS standing for the compact sedan) was showcased for the first time to the Indian public during the 2008 Auto Expo. The initial response of the public turned out to be a lukewarm one, with many pointing out the irregularities in length caused by the odd shaping of the boot, thus looking like a fixed job rather than an accommodating design. Tata Motors went ahead with its launch, and the public was in for a massive surprise ahead. The Indigo CS was introduced with an attractive starting price of just Rs. 3.8 lakh ex-showroom, thereby costing less than cars such as the Maruti Suzuki WagonR and Zen Estilo back in the day. It went on to be marketed as the smallest sedan in the world and, at one point in time, remained the most in-demand Tata model on sale. In fact, demand for the Indigo CS was so high that Tata Motors had to introduce a few more select trims on top of the line in addition to ramping up its production.
At an ex-showroom price of Rs. 4.5 lakhs, the newer iterations of the Indigo offered more value to an already attractive package, coming with features such as front and rear power windows, fabric upholstery, a seatbelt warning alarm, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a rear defogger as standard. The availability of a frugal diesel engine had further sweetened the deal for customers, with the Indigo CS expectedly racking up sales numbers superior to those of higher-segment sedans back in the day. Hence, the strong sales of the Indigo CS had catapulted Tata Motors to a much more commanding position in the sales charts, with the homegrown automaker holding an overall market share of 15 per cent in the passenger vehicle division by the end of the year 2008. Having been enthralled with the idea of the Indigo CS and the potential of the Indian compact sedan segment, it was only a matter of time before we saw a number of other manufacturers hop on the bandwagon. Maruti Suzuki successfully rolled out the second-generation Swift Dzire in the year 2012, which, being along the lines of the Swift, had its length finally come under the four-metre mark. Based on the Brio hatchback, Honda carved out a compact sedan of their own in the form of the Amaze, which turned out to be another clever implementation of rules and, in the process, became the first car from the brand’s Indian arm to be available with a diesel motor.
Likewise, there were a number of other desirable examples in the segment, ranging from the likes of the Hyundai Xcent, Ford Figo Aspire, Volkswagen Ameo, and Tata’s very own Zest to name a few, that had made a name for themselves and their respective brands by keeping the compact sedan segment on its own terms without the help of any external factors such as new regulations or emission norms. Thus, it can be safe to say that Tata Motors with the help of the Indigo CS had opened up a market from virtually nowhere, a market which at one point in time had commanded the largest chunk of sales in the automotive market. Furthermore, there was the concept of improvising and making the most of limited resources, which fit very well with the introduction of the compact SUV space popularised by the launch of the Ford Ecosport and, later, the micro-SUV segment pioneered by the Mahindra KUV100. The Indigo CS was not one of the most loved cars to be on sale here, nor was it the most popular. But it is to be one of the most important cars in the context of Indian history for the sheer level of innovation and technical genius poured into it, which turned out to be the benchmark for a number of successful product launches here during the last decade and a half.