New Delhi: If Indian buyers are confused today by a choice of 80 different models of cars and SUV’s with over 200 variations of engines and fittings, they will be even more confused tomorrow with an additional 40 odd vehicles that have been lined up for launch.
Murad Ali Baig
In 2007, Indian buyers picked up 1.185 million new cars with the ubiquitous Maruti Alto emerging as a top selling model with a market share of nearly 20%.
This was followed by the Santro, Wagon R and Indica, each with over 11% market share. The remaining 35 models sold just 45%. The little Maruti 800 dropped to 6% while the other hatchbacks commanded 71% of the market. It was evident that there was a gradual shift from smaller to bigger models.
Newly launched models like the Swift, SX4, Wagon R Estilo, Spark, i10, UV-A, Logan, Verna and Civic were eagerly bought and many old faithfuls like the Ambassador, Accent, Ikon, Corsa, Lancer and Esteem also descended on the popularity ratings during the year.
New models in the new year
In 2008, a host of new models will further stimulate car demand. The star will undoubtedly be the Tatas’ Rs 1lakh car that will be displayed for the first time. Its small plastic body car is reported to be big enough to comfortably seat four amply sized adults. Its 660 cc rear mounted engine will give a fuel average of about 20 kmpl under normal conditions. There will also be a possible small 4-wheel contender from Bajaj.
Tata’s all new V3 Indica will be an attraction with a new Sumo and Safari, offering a range of compact common rail diesel engines. On view will be cars from Tata Motor’s JV partner Fiat including Grande Punto, Brava and a spacious Linea saloon. Many will be interested in Fiat’s small 500 cc Cinquecento and possibly their popular Panda.
Transitioning from smaller to bigger sizes
Maruti which holds half the Indian car market is making a strong bid to consolidate itsr market position by moving from small to bigger car segments. It will display for the first time the Rs.A Star’ saloon that will have India as its global manufacturing hub and a sedan version of Swift called Dezire with 1100 cc petrol and a 1300 cc diesel engine to replace the recently stopped 12-year old Esteem.
Another small hatchback, Splash will be positioned between Zen Estilo and Swift and Maruti may end up offering a low cost version of Maruti 800 to compete with the ultra low cost Tata car.
Honda, who have done well with the City, Civic and Accord, want to be in the lower cost volume hatchback segment and are gearing up to display a hatchback version of the City as Fit or Jazz. They are setting up a big plant in Rajasthan and will display a hybrid Civic with a petrol- electric drive and Hydrogen powered car, along with a new Accord. If Honda starts a local assembly of CR-V SUV, the lowered price will make it a big seller and if they introduce their 2,200 cc diesel engine, it may just end up notching some top grades.
Hyundai, following the success of their new i10, will also offer a bigger i20 or even the i30 sedans that will have India as their global manufacturing hubs. Diesel engines, LPG kits or automatics are expected for many models including Santro and Getz. The Santa Fe SUV will generate sufficient interest to those who want to opt out of city travel.
General Motors who have more than doubled their sales with successful launches of Spark and Aveo will offer Captiva SUV to complement their popular Tavera UV and a new Beat hatchback positioned between Spark and UV-A.
India’s leading utility vehicle company Mahindra & Mahindra will come up with the Ingenio, a sleek new MUV to compete with the popular Toyota Innova plus their new Scorpio, Bolero and other models with new engine options and upgrades.
Skoda too wants to move from its executive sedan to the larger hatchback segment with the Fabia that will compete with the Swift or UV-A. This has Skoda’s solid DNA and other attractive features.
Luxury imports likely to tempt middle income buyers
We can also expect many luxury imports from Alfa-Romeo, Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Volkswagen which will showcase numerous exciting saloons and SUV’s to tempt the increasingly upwardly mobile Indian buyers. With Indian upper and middle class incomes rising at 18% per year there are increasing numbers who can afford luxury wheels and are unabashed when it comes to flaunting them.
Volkswagen was a late entry into the Indian market and is now setting up a large plant near Pune. They will probably have products like the Polo and Jetta hatchbacks and the Passat saloon that might be assembled in India.
Two wheelers get a makeover
With a production of over seven million 2-wheelers, India is the world’s largest 2-wheeler market after China, so it is in the sights of all the world’s 2-wheeler makers.
We can also expect a range of big 500 – 1200 cc bikes from Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha which will complement a large number of new offerings for the existing commuter and executive segments.
New LCVs and Chinese models too to make an appearance
India happens to be a big market for commercial vehicles with an annual production of about 75,000 large and small buses and 400,000 trucks. With the rapid growth of highways and more sophistication of logistic systems, an entire new range of trucks, including huge freight haulers and luxury city and intercity buses are expected including big new offerings from M&M, Force Motors, Ashok Leyland-Nissan, AMW, Eicher and Daimler-Hero. Tata alone will display 30 new commercial vehicles.
We can also expect vehicles and components from 30 foreign participants including several from China.
Auto Expo 2008 has much to offer for the discerning auto lover as also the casual observer. Some important announcements and tie-ups are in the offing. There is a lot of eye candy out there, but just stay warned - carry your bisleri and wear a comfortable pair of walking shoes.
Murad Ali Baig is one of India’s foremost auto experts. Feedback to his column can be sent at email@example.com