New Delhi: The world’s largest car-maker, beleaguered Toyota Motor Corp., unveiled its latest small car in India, one of an unprecedented 10 global car launches and at least 50 other unveilings expected at the 10th Auto Expo in the Capital.
After an eventful night when photos of the Etios—as the plain-looking new car is called—leaked and spread like wildfire over the Internet, from Russia to Brazil, Toyota India managing director Hiroshi Nakagawa exulted: “The time has come! A world first! India first!”
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About 2,000 engineers in India and Japan worked for four years on the Etios, expected to be priced under Rs5 lakh and launched this year. An hour later in the same ramshackle hall, ignoring a pigeon that soiled an exhibit, rival Honda Motor Co. Ltd’s executive vice-president Koichi Kondo unveiled another small car (codenamed 2CV), “designed exclusively for Indian consumers and society”.
By afternoon, market leader Maruti-Suzuki pulled its ace, a seven-seat family car and said it would expand production by 50% and up the ante.
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Global auto executives, analysts and journalists drove straight in from the airport for the Expo’s blockbuster first day, stepping warily past the third-world mounds of trash, stray dogs and speeding vehicles outside the exhibition halls.
Here’s why they came: India is among the world’s fastest growing auto markets. Sales are set to rise to 1.4 million vehicles this year and double by 2015.
At least 2,000 firms from 30 countries are participating in what is now one of the world’s most watched and attended auto fairs, but the story of the day was the range of new India launches—from Harley-Davidson motorcycles to small and super-luxury cars and sports utility vehicles.
Toyota’s vice-chairman Kazuo Okamoto, while saying the Etios had been made with “all of Toyota’s energy and passion”, acknowledged the hard times in the West. “We are now in a difficult situation,” he said.
Toyota, which made 9 million automobiles in 2008, also posted its first loss in 59 years in 2009. General Motors Co. (GM), the world’s second largest car maker declared bankruptcy last year.
GM hopes to recover partly through India—it expects to sell 100,000 cars this year, driven by the Beat, the small car it launched on Monday—and China, where it sold a record 1.83 million cars last year, a growth of 67%. China’s car sales are set to surpass the US this year with anticipated sales of 13 million automobiles.
Around two million people are expected to visit the Auto Expo, more than the number that visited the last expos in Shanghai, Frankfurt and New York.