Ever since I was a child, I have been witnessing the Hyundai Santro on the roads. While there was not much I knew about the car back then, now that I sit down for research, I get to know that Santro was launched in our country back on September 23, 1998. This marked the first product from the Korean auto giant in India. For the record, Hyundai officially set up shop in our country in 1996. Interestingly, there were just 5 other carmakers here at the time – Maruti Suzuki, Hindustan Motors, Premier, Tata Motors and Mahindra. With so many new variables in the then-rather-new car market, Hyundai took its first step with the Santro. And rest, as they say, is history.
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Growing Up With Hyundai Santro
Being a millennial and a perennial automobile enthusiast, I used to keep track of all the cars on the roads from an early age. In fact, I remember taking it as a challenge to name all the cars that appeared on the road in front of my parents. At the time, it impressed them a lot. It still does! Even though there are hundreds of new models in the market since then, I keep track of them all. That is what I do for a living. But watching the Santro for the first time amidst Marutis and Hindustans of the time highlighted that there are new avenues to explore.
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HMIL (Hyundai Motor India Limited) tasted instant success after the launch of the Santro. As a matter of fact, the Korean auto giant became the second-largest carmaker in the country within a few months of the launch of the Santro. That is the title it holds to date, even after 25 years from the inception of the iconic Santro. In essence, Santro’s success gave immense confidence to Hyundai to experiment with more models for the Indian market.
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Exclusivity of Santro
Even back then, Santro was perceived as a great alternative to the Maruti Zen and WagonR. Clearly, the demarcations between segments were not so pronounced back then. It was the most affordable model from Hyundai. Hence, people often even compared it to the 800, the most affordable Maruti car back then. In doing so, the Santro emerged as a relatively more premium alternative. That is what was the main attraction of the Santro. It offered something unique in the face of what Maruti Suzuki was offering at the time. Please note that the Zen was a bit costlier and felt smaller. Once people got the taste of what it felt like to own a Santro, the success came fast.
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Initially, the Santro was powered by a 1.0-litre engine. However, the powertrain on the last model was a 1.1-litre petrol mill which produced 68 hp and 99 Nm of peak power and torque. There were options of choosing between either a 5-speed manual or an AMT automatic gearbox. In the CNG trim, the power and torque figures dropped to 59 hp and 85 Nm. It was used by those who were looking for low running costs. The prices of petrol and diesel are at an all-time high. Hence, the trend of CNG cars has been on the rise in the last few years.
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Evolution of Hyundai Santro
Over the years, there have just been two major generations of the Hyundai Santro. The first model was launched in 1998 which went on with minor updates for around 5 years. In 2003, Hyundai launched the proper facelift of the first generation model with the nameplate, Santro Xing. It was the most successful vehicle from Hyundai at the time. It went on to woo the customers left and right. Many first-time buyers opted for it. Others wanting to upgrade from Maruti 800s (like myself), also went ahead and purchased it. This first-generation model was only replaced in India in 2018 with the second-generation variant.
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Sure, in the international markets, there might have been some other iterations and names for the Santro. But in India, there were just two major generational changes. Unfortunately, the second-generation model was not able to replicate the success the first-gen model achieved. By this time, there were more players in the market. Also, Hyundai was more focused on other models in its portfolio. It never lost sight of staying in the second place behind Maruti Suzuki as the biggest carmaker in the country. In the process, it has become the largest exporter in the country.
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It makes me slightly sad knowing that the Santro nameplate no longer exists in India. Still, there are lakhs of Santro cars from the era gone by on the roads. Sure, these numbers are rapidly depleting with each passing day. But the legendary compact hatchback will always remain the vehicle which ensured Hyundai’s grand success in India. It is a perfect case of how a single car could set up the entire future of a carmaker. Cheers to our beloved Hyundai Santro.