Mumbai: Abid Laljee, a 44-year-old Mumbai businessman, has a chauffeur to help him navigate the city’s maddening stop-go traffic. So, it shouldn’t really matter to him whether the car has a stick shift or not. Wrong. Laljee’s garage of four cars is all automatic, making him one of the many that have changed gear, so to speak, across India’s urban landscape. Why? “Minimal wear and tear,” says Laljee.
He’s referring to the tendency among Indian drivers to wear out the clutch-gear mechanism at a rapid pace. It’s difficult to blame them though. If there’s one thing that’s common to India’s towns and cities at peak hour, it’s the terrible traffic. In mature car markets such as Japan, Europe and the US, automatics account for close to 90% of total car sales. India, however, is a price-conscious market and hence the stick shift still rules but its dominance may be eroding as car buyers increasingly give their left leg a rest.
Automakers in India sold a total of 125,000 “light vehicles” (the term used by some analysts for cars weighing less than six tonnes) in 2012, up from 40,000 units in 2010, according to Puneet Gupta, principal, sales forecasting at market research firm IHS Automotive. He sees the number to rise to 250,000 units in 2015 as more cars in the volume segment are sold with automatic transmission.