Some 31 years ago, engineers at Suzuki Motors Japan developed the second generation of Suzuki Alto, better known to us as the ‘Suzuki Mehran’.
The first generation of Alto was called ‘Suzuki FX’ in the Pakistani market. While globally the lifespan of the first generation Alto (or FX) was between 1979 and 1983, and that of its second generation model (Mehran) was from 1984 to 1988, the FX was available in Pakistan from 1983 to 1988, while the Mehran, which appeared with an Alto badge in 1989, is still available as a ‘brand new' car in 2015.
And, by the looks of it, it will remain with us for years to come.
When the second generation Alto (Mehran) arrived in the local market back in 1989, it costed roughly around 90,000 rupees. And like its predecessor - the Suzuki FX - it was the cheapest car available.
With an 800cc carburetor engine under the hood, and a very basic leaf-spring rear suspension setup, the car was undoubtedly one of the easiest vehicles to maintain.
It was a common man's dream to afford a car - and the Mehran was the perfect package. With little or no drive pleasure, zero safety and a rather uncomfortable drive, the Mehran still rules the hearts of many.
Additionally, over the years, the quality of its built has declined, but its price keeps shooting up.
In a time when technology is at its very best - when we use smartphones, wireless broadband, maintain our bank accounts and transfer funds online, watch TV on flat-screen LED televisions at our home and communicate via 4G mobile internet networks - we are still travelling in a car with carburetor and leaf springs.
We are living in a time when cars around the world are equipped with latest tech gadgets at throwaway prices. These cars are environmentally friendly, consume the least amount of fuel and are equipped with modern active and passive safety devices - the Mehran lacks all the above.
Since it was developed during the mid ‘80s, utilising rudimentary technology from the late ‘70s - the Mehran has no collision protections, no airbags and no ABS brakes, which makes it one of the most unsafe vehicles to be produced in this day and age.
Although a Mehran comes equipped with a small engine, and is considered to be quite fuel-efficient, the fact is, it lacks five-speed transmission and consumes more fuel than any other modern engine with a similar capacity.
Today, most people are demanding a change, and it’s quite justified as well. The Mehran, since 1989, hasn’t evolved much.
In roughly over 25 years, apart from electronic fuel injection, the only ‘technological advancements’ the model has received are in the form of some variations of headlamps and bumpers, a radiator grill and yes, two less air-conditioning ducts in the dashboard!
Although the model received a lot of success in the last two decades, and is, in fact still preferred, as long as there is no competition in its class type in other motor companies, it has very low maintenance cost, it is reliable too, with dirt cheap spare parts that are available all over the country.
However, good things should be replaced by better things and that’s what PakSuzuki should do.
Instead, a whooping price tag of Rs 625,000 for the basic VX version and Rs 748,000 for the slightly advanced VXR CNG isn’t by any means justified.
If you add other minor expenses when purchasing the car, the price would end up to be a little less than Rs 800,000. If you spend such a huge amount on the simple Mehran, take one look at it and ask yourself, “Is this what my hard-earned money was really worth?" I'm pretty sure the answer will be an absolute 'no'.
With such a hefty price tag, it is no longer a ghareeb admi ki gari (poor man's car) as it was once known.
The second generation Alto was produced in various countries across the world but was eventually phased out. It was a popular car in various markets, but the difference between the price and the features offered was drastic.
In India, the Maruti 800 was phased out in 2013, but it was available starting from just 2,78,000 Indian rupees (PKR 4,49,000/-) to 3,18,000 Indian rupees (PKR 5,14,000/-).
A comparison with the Chinese Alto might give us a better idea of how a car from the mid ‘80s can be modernised and customised and also be made available at a reasonable price.
Zotye Auto, a small auto manufacturing company in China, acquired Jiangnan Autos who bought the whole vehicle intellectual property rights from Changan-Suzuki joint venture enterprise.
In 2010, Zotye released the TT with a price tag starting from just $2,830 (PKR 3,01,800/-) up to $4,200 (PKR 4,48,000/-) for the fully loaded version, as opposed to the local Mehran which is roughly around $6,000.
The Zotye TT boasts a redesigned dashboard, 4-spoke steering wheel, cup holders, digital odometer, an Mp3 player with a USB plug, an Efi engine, front and rear seat-belts, collapsible steering column, ABS brakes, proper rear suspension with coil springs and dampers, alloy wheels and retractable side mirrors.
Browse through pictures of the Chinese Alto below. —Photos courtesy of Autohome.com.cn
They are offering a lot more with affordable prices. Compare this with what PakSuzuki is giving out.
In early 2016, the Mehran will be entering its 27th year in the Pakistani market, and the improvements that PakSuzuki have made over the course of nearly three decades amount to nothing.
With a price tag this high, they could have given at least half of the features on offer by the Zotye, and even so, we still believe it’s time to say goodbye to the Mehran. The Alto is currently in its 8th generation globally.
It’s high time PakSuzuki gave us options for modern and fuel efficient cars, that are safer for the environment, as well as its occupants.
This article originally appeared on Pakwheels.com and has been reproduced with permission.