Utility vehicles (UV) sales in July dropped nearly 10 per cent year-on-year as compared to a six per cent drop in overall all volumes.
But the big surprise was the sharp drop in UV sales at Renault whose flagship compact sports utility vehicle (SUV) Duster sold just 3,100 units in July, a 31 per cent drop as compared to June (4,500 units). This was the third straight month when Duster sales fell (month-on-month) in this fiscal year.
Earlier, Duster sales dropped 12 per cent in June (from 5,146 units in May) and were flat (down 4 per cent) in May (from 5,362 units in April).
Nomura analysts Kapil Singh and Nishit Jalan expect Duster volumes to further decline over the next few months because of competition from Ford's newly launched compact SUV EcoSport.
Nomura's analysts also confirmed that EcoSport's volumes remained strong due to high bookings. The EcoSport had received 30,000 bookings within 17 days of its launch, Ford India said last month.
While, it would be unfair to compare the Duster and EcoSport (because of the large difference in price points), analysts predict difficult times for the French automaker. That's because the Duster accounts for around 75 per cent of the cars Renault sells in India.
Like the Duster, the EcoSport is also a compact SUV, but while the Duster comes at a starting price of Rs 7.99 lakh, the EcoSport starts at Rs 5.59 lakh.
M&M, Renault's competitor in the UV segment and also India's biggest utility vehicles maker, has also been reporting sluggish volumes, but its July sales were far better than Renault. M&M's July sales (UV & Verito) fell nearly 10 per cent (in line with the industry average for UVs) at 15,500 units as compared to 17,200 units in June.
Maruti Suzuki's UV portfolio, mainly Ertiga, fell nearly 9 per cent for 4,560 units in July.
Clearly, the Duster's one-year successful run has come to a halt, but what next?
Two analysts told NDTV that Renault may have to "rationalize" Duster's pricing to make it more attractive.
It's no secret that Indian consumers are price sensitive and the EcoSport's price tag is extremely competitive. Renault can also take a cue from rival Honda, which has tasted success with the launch of its first diesel vehicle in India, the Amaze, in April.
The Amaze diesel starts at Rs. 5.99 ex-showroom Delhi and compares with Maruti's best-selling DZire, which is priced Rs. 500 more. Brokerages such as CLSA have earlier said that Amaze's ex-showroom price is a threat to Swift DZire.
Not surprisingly, Amaze's July sales jumped 31 per cent month-on-month to 6,500 units, while DZire sales saw a 21 per cent month-on-month rise.
It will be interesting to see how Renault reacts to the challenge.