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Having produced, directed and presented a show on automobiles for over 4 years you can imagine that I get asked a lot for car advice. It could be at family functions, restaurants, parties, even at the shopping mall, and one of the most frequent questions I get asked is petrol or diesel?
There was a time not so long ago that the only diesel hatchback most people thought of buying was the Swift and that car had a loooooong waiting period, the other option was the Indica - favourite of the taxi crowd.
So typically anyone who wanted to buy a small car, possibly their first hatchback would have to buy a petrol. But now, even before the last couple of petrol price hikes, the market has changed, when, led by the Ford Figo, a new range of more "affordable" diesel hatchbacks entered the scene and the premium hatchback segment is completely spoilt for choice. So where the main doubt used to be "space or fun to drive" it became "petrol or diesel".
Over the years I have tried to answer that question with a question - how much do you drive? And then proceeded to explain to the anxious and often pretty stubborn friend/acquaintance/family member that he or she would be absolutely fine with a petrol car because his usage pattern didn't require a diesel. Those were of course the days when petrol cars also had great resale value (the other major requirement for first time buyers). This conversation would then continue towards my other favourite selling points - petrol engines are fun to drive, your maintenance costs will be lower (not in all cases) and please go test drive Honda's cars.
Ah Honda, the biggest losers of the petrol price reality show. Over the years the company had taken a principled (some would say stubborn) stand of not looking at diesel engines and at the time they had a point. Honda made efficient, high tech and fun petrol engines,the best in their segments and the company was riding high on the dominant success of its City sedan. That was 2010, in 2012 the picture is very different, the City now has at least 3 formidable rivals (all with diesel engines, in one case 2 diesel engines) and the company's big trump card, the new Brio, was delayed due to floods and production problems at Thailand.
The Brio is a hugely impressive hatchback, spacious, fun to drive and good looking but now sadly it will be defined by what it doesn't have - a diesel engine.
You see where even a month ago I would have tried to convince the many conflicted buyers to check out the Brio or the petrol Swift (another great engine), I simply don't bother anymore. Last week's price hike and the spectre of trying to explain their purchase to a group of jeering friends has perhaps finally sounded the death knell for the petrol hatch buyer. So if you really want to buy new car in this difficult economic climate, don't even bother asking the question anymore. The battle is over, the petrolheads are admitting defeat, diesel has won! At least for now!