It’s been 3 years already since GM stopped selling cars in India and pulled the plug on Chevrolet Sales India Pvt. Ltd. With the Chevrolet brand, we also had to bid adieu to cars like the Beat and Cruze. These two cars, in particular, gained a lot of admirers coming from a brand which itself wasn’t able to leave a lasting impression on the Indian market. There was a time when the Indian car fanatics would’ve simply loved to have a tasteful American spec Chevrolet in India. But today with the advent of new brands in the Indian car market, not a lot of people recall the Chevrolet brand in its glory years in India.
However, the existing owner of Chevrolet cars in India have helped to keep the brand’s existence afloat in the country. For the rest, we decided to draw a picture (not literally) for them depicting Chevrolet’s journey in one of the most competitive automotive markets in the world. Here’s the history of Chevrolet in India.
Before the modern-day Chevrolet India came into existence
Chevrolet’s India history started long before you can imagine. General Motors’s heritage subsidiary Chevrolet has been around even before cars saw their ‘coming of age’ some hundred years ago. In India too, Chevrolet cars have been strolling much before the 21st century, years before the launch of the brand in India. You may see various examples of vintage Chevrolet cars owned by collectors and enthusiasts in India. These cars must’ve been imported once by the oofy people from that era. We once saw a 1960 Chevrolet Impala parked in the driveway of a bungalow in Delhi. Its condition was derelict. But still, it helps in tracing back the existence of Chevrolet cars on Indian roads from the retro era.
Another very prominent evidence of the existence of Chevrolet cars in that era is the classic Bollywood movies from the 60s or 70s. Hence, Chevrolet has always been a prominent auto brand amongst the Indian masses.
Opel | GM’s attempt on the Indian Market before Chevrolet
Opel came to India in 1996 under the umbrella of General Motors. It was the first time GM sent in their sepoy subsidiary to India. Their cars like the Astra, Vectra and Corsa helped them get a perspective of the Indian car market. However, the Opel cars didn’t turn out to be a great catalyst for analysing the Indian car market for GM. The German-spec cars didn’t make much sense to the Indian buyers for whom affordability was the key.
During the span of 10 years (1996-2006) of the company’s existence in the Indian market, Opel couldn’t deliver a substantial win to GM. They were not able to conform with the needs of a typical Indian customer and hence couldn’t land a massive success. Despite their models Astra and Corsa seeing some takers during their 10-year run in the subcontinent, still it wasn’t enough for their subsistence. Hence GM decided to stop selling the Opel cars in India and discontinued all the production in 2006.
Chevrolet enters India | GM brings out the big guns
GM did pull out Opel from India but the American auto giant itself had no intentions to exit the market altogether. Hence, GM replaced Opel India Pvt. Ltd. with Chevrolet Sales India. They used their plant in Halol, Gujrat which was earlier used for Opel operations for manufacturing Chevrolet cars.
The one thing that GM got wrong with Opel is that with Opel cars they didn’t really hit it off with the psyche of the Indian customer. GM didn’t want to make the same mistake with Chevrolet and hence they refrained from bringing in all the American-spec cars to India.
Thanks to GM’s collaborations with Asian car manufacturers like the Daewoo, Subaru and Isuzu, they were able to bring cars that were suitable for the subcontinent and could catch the fancy of the people. This way they were able to bring cars that were relatively affordable while also providing customers with the heritage of the Chevrolet Badge.
Chevrolet Cars in India
Chevy started off with an SUV, they did it before it was cool. The first SUV in Chevrolet’s history in India was Chevrolet Forester. It was the rebadged version of the Subaru Forester. Forester came with a 2.0-Litre boxer engine (being a Subaru) making 120hp and 178Nm of torque. It had all the credentials for a proper SUV but it came at a price of Rs.16 Lakh when it was launched in 2003. However, the car got discontinued in 2007 as the steep pricing caught up to it eventually.
Chevrolet India lineup followed
- The first taste of success that Chevrolet got in India was with the Tavera. It was a rebadged Isuzu Panther. In India, it came with a 2.5-litre turbo diesel engine and a 2.0-litre TDCi engine as well. It was spacious, had three rows of seat and looked big on the outside too. The best part was that all this came for a price of Rs. 8.54 Lakh. The perfect family car dominated the Passenger touring and Fleet market for years.
- Further diversity in the lineup followed when Chevrolet brought in Rebadged Daewoo cars like the Aveo, Aveo U-VA, Optra, Optra SRV, and Spark.
- Optra SRV was the most interesting of all. It was the hot-hatch in the early 2000s and that was something people didn’t ask for especially from a relatively new car company. As a result, it bombed in the Indian car market.
- The Chevrolet Captiva was launched in 2008, the first full-blown modern Chevrolet car in India.
- Chevrolet also launched the full-size SUV Trailblazer in 2015 and the family MPV Enjoy in 2013.
Chevrolet Cruze and Beat | The most successful cars by Chevrolet in India
So far Chevrolet tried to establish itself in the country with all rebadged products. At this point, it was time they brought in cars that gave the Indian masses the authentic experience of the American Chevrolet.
The best way they could’ve executed that is by bringing in something that wasn’t too outlandish and made sense to the households of India.
In 2009 Chevrolet launched the Cruze in India. It was this flamboyant executive sedan with muscular looks and a powerhouse that could take you to the moon.
The Cruze came with a 2.0-Litre VCDi diesel engine making a 166HP and 380Nm of torque mated to a 6-speed manual and 6-speed automatic transmission. The car was advertised and popularly known as the “Diesel Rocket”. All that healthy power output made the Cruze arguably the fastest diesel car in the price range during the time.
The Cruze was a global offering from Chevrolet being on sale in car markets all around the globe. Hence, it was built for the purpose. It had premium looking interiors with all the segment-leading features and the built quality was phenomenal. Unlike the other executive sedans from the time, the Cruze was not a convention chauffeur-driven sedan. The Cruze rather had the pedigree for an interesting drivers car.
All this caught to the fancy of numerous car buyers in India. As a result, the Cruze did better than most of the Chevrolet car around. In 2016, Chevrolet achieved a milestone of 3.5 million units with the Cruze globally. Indian market sales had a significant contribution to that.
The Decline of Chevrolet Cruze
Despite being one hell of a package, Cruze sales started declining after a point in India. The Cruze was popularly known for its hefty cost of ownership. The Service cost was peaky and also the diesel rocket wasn’t the most fuel-efficient motor out there. Also, the car had reliability issues as thousands of Chevrolet Cruze(s) were recalled during the car’s span in India. All this made for poor resale value for the Cruze which further made customers consider other options.
Now we’re not saying that the Cruze had a hefty price tag. But Rs 15 Lakh+ mark in 2010 has a lot of money to invest in a car which came with some baggage. Chevrolet Cruze stayed in the company’s India lineup till the very end as their one of the most popular monikers in the country. Therefore, needed a mention in Chevrolet’s history in India!
In the year 2010, the same year the Beat was launched, Chevrolet in India recorded a sales of 1,10,804 units. The Chevrolet Beat came in as a saviour for the brand in India. Chevrolet Sales India made the right move with the launch of a hatchback this time around. The Beat was not anything you had ever seen in the segment before. It was compact yet stylish, it was conventional yet quirky and it had all the bells and whistles which a car of its segment never had before.
Initially, the Beat came with a 1.2-Litre petrol motor making 80.5 bhp and 108Nm of torque. Then in 2011, Chevrolet completely knocked it out of the park with the launch of the Beat diesel. At that point, the Beat was the smallest diesel car on sale in India. It came with a 936cc, 3-cylinder diesel engine making 56 bhp and 142Nm of torque. The Beat had an ARAI claimed fuel efficiency rating of 25.44 kmpl, the strongest figures ever seen on a car before.
The Beat was a sheer recipe for success and it soon became CSIPL’s sole breadwinner. Chevrolet sold close to 1,78,000 examples of the Beat in India. The small and efficient diesel engine played well for the car and overall the Beat was a promising package. Therefore, formed the most selling Chevrolet hatch in Chevrolet’s history in India!
However, the competition soon caught up to the Beat as manufacturers like Maruti came with small diesel engine options of their own. The Beat’s sales soon slumped and the car was ultimately phased along with the rest of the lineup in 2017.
The Sail Twins | the economy cars India didn’t ask for
In 2012, Chevrolet decided to use their partnership with the Chinese automotive conglomerate SAIC to launch two new low-cost cars in India. They named them the Sail and the Sail U-VA. Sail twins came with a 1.2-Litre petrol engine and 1.3-Litre diesel engine making 84 bhp and 76 bhp respectively. The Prices for the Sail hatchback started at Rs. 4.79 Lakh to Rs. 7.46 Lakh (ex-showroom) whereas the Sail compact sedan had a price range of Rs. 5.76 Lakh – Rs.8.44 Lakh (ex-showroom).
Despite being affordable and efficient, Chevrolet failed to churn out great numbers with the Sail moniker in In India. In comparison to the strong contenders that had already made a lasting impression in the segment, the Sail cars seemed pale and uninspired. Their conventional appearance and functional interiors didn’t land the faith of the public. Hence, the two cars bombed in the market. This was one of the most remarkable failures among the Chevrolet history in India.
End of the Road for Chevrolet in India
By the year 2016, Chevrolet already had seen a huge slump in sales which lead to various Chevrolet dealerships all around India to shut down. Chevrolet’s market share dropped below 1% in 2015. Chevrolet in India was in a position where due to poor sales, it was having trouble sustaining its dealership and after-sales network around the country. Due to the poor network, the sale of new cars was becoming more difficult than ever.
On the other hand, GM’s global strategy to focus more profitable markets and innovating the new-age mobility technology meant that it had to back out of various markets around the globe. Hence, GM’s India chapter became a part of that and strategy and in 2017, GM decided to stop selling Chevrolet cars in India. It discontinued all the existing cars in its lineup and stopped all operations in India, except for providing after-sales service to its existing customers. GM sold its Halol plant to MG Motor India, confirming that the company has closed shop here. Chevrolet did make the next-gen Beat to export to international markets from its Talegaon plant until they sold that as well to the Great Wall Motors.
With the Advent of Electric Mobility technology in India as well and the feisty hype for SUVs and crossovers. Once the dust settles, we believe that Chevrolet could give India another shot with a new range of SUV crossovers and electric cars. This was all for Chevrolet history in India. Do you think Chevrolet should make a comeback to India? Let us know in the comments section below!