Snapshot – An unassuming car, if one can call automobiles that, the Hyundai Santro Xing has quietly driven into the sunset. Production of the car at Hyundai’s Sriperumbudur factory near Chennai ground to a halt late last year, and after 1.9 million examples produced in this very manufacturing facility, India’s original tall-boy hatchback is now a part of the history books. The car was a pioneer among budget hatchbacks in India, and there are many little known facts about it that have made considerable dents in the automotive universe. Here are ten such facts that India and her automobile enthusiasts should remember the Santro for.
The Santro (Atos for the world) was India’s first tall-boy hatchback. While the late entrant, the Maruti Suzuki WagonR, proved to be the Hyundai hatchback’s genesis, the tall Hyundai gave Indian car buyers the first hatchback into which one could walk into.
The Santro was named after the tony European party spot of Saint Tropez, continuing Hyundai’s tradition of picking out places for its car names. For instance, the Santa Fe, Tiburon/Tuscani, Tucson, Mistra, Veracruz and Verna car models also share their names with cities and villages around the world.
At its peak, no less than 500 variants of the Santro for markets in India and countries abroad were churned out from Sriperumbudur, making the car a mammoth logistical operation. A single vendor system, which is now a standard part of India’s automotive manufacturing lexicon, was pioneered by the first Hyundai hatch for this country.
The car was India’s most exported car for many years.
The hatchback has many firsts to its credit. It was the first small car in India to feature an MPFI engine with multiple valves (3 in this case), rear defogger, front fog lamps, power windows, and four adjustable head restraints as a standard safety feature.
One of the hatchback’s design attributes were simple. The car was to be tall enough for a turban clad, well built Sardar or a saree clad woman to enter and exit comfortably.
Hyundai’s tall-boy was a pioneer, instrumental in making air conditioning, power steering and extended warranty standard fare on cars sold in India.
Another very Indian aspect about the car was a requirement it needed to meet. The hatchback’s original 999cc-4 cylinder engine was designed to pull the car with minimal gear changes on Bombay’s Peddar road rush hour traffic, with air conditioning on and 5 adults aboard.
The Santro single handed-ly put Hyundai onto the path of profitability, something that not many first cars can claim. In 12 months of the hatchback’s launch, Hyundai India began turning out a profit, something that eludes global behemoths such as Ford and General Motors, who even after decades of operations in India are yet to hit the profit button.
The car’s success prompted Maruti Suzuki to bring in the WagonR and actually sell the initial batches of the tall boy hatchback at a nominal loss in order to match the Hyundai car’s cost advantage. While the Santro was heavily localized right the from the word go, initial batches of the WagonR featured higher import content as Maruti Suzuki was in a hurry to bring he car to the market.
Ok, here’s a 11th fact, almost a not-so-unknown fact. The old Santro, was and is, one of the ugliest successful cars in India’s automotive history. And a twelfth. The car was used to scare children, touche.