Over the past few months, this has been a constant theme in all my columns—the growing relevance of India and its automobile industry in the global auto world. India has been hot for a while, with many manufacturers setting up big plants here and investing money. But now it’s getting hotter, as the investments keep pouring in and the model launches keep coming like a dam burst.
India in focus
What is starting to change is the kind of models we are now getting. Earlier, car makers would give us their global models, which were modified only slightly to operate successfully in India. That usually just meant a tweaked suspension, higher ground clearance and a more powerful air conditioner and horn. But now many new models are being developed specifically for India, such as the recent Ford Figo.
And then there is the bigger news: a trend that is seeing vehicle engineers taking India into consideration when developing global models on a larger scale.
A car that is very relevant and drives the point home is the new sixth generation Volkswagen (VW) Jetta. Based on VW’s NCS (new compact sedan) platform, the car is wider, bigger and roomier than the current model. It’s also the first time that a new Jetta will not sit on the Golf platform—which involved simply adding a boot to the Golf. Now it’s being developed as a sedan (independent of the Golf) for the first time. VW felt it needed to develop a fresh car from the ground up in India—especially since the Jetta represents volumes in markets such as Russia, India and the US, where the Golf is not necessarily relevant.
(From top left) Jetta: The new version of the car is wider, bigger and roomier. Etios sedan: Toyota considers the success of this project crucial to its India expansion plans. Vento: This car is scheduled to be launched in the last quarter of 2010. Micra: Nissan designed this car with the specific intent of selling it in India.
And here comes the best part, which tells you how serious VW seems with this strategy. The 2011 Jetta will be cheaper to make and so, cheaper to buy. It’s the price sensitivity of markets such as India which has led to this being a big part of the NCS project. In the US, VW has announced that the new car will be available at an entry price of almost $2,000 (around Rs94,000) below the earlier generation Jetta. This means it will start at $16,000 for the base variant. Of course, the car will attract some higher duties in India and, given the way the executive sedan segment operates, VW will probably not consider very basic entry-level cars for India. So expect the new Jetta to arrive here by April in a Rs10-14 lakh price range—which would still be cheaper than the current model available in India.
And that’s not all. In tandem with that model development programme, Volkswagen has also been busy getting another car ready for India. The Vento is the other sedan VW will introduce in April, and it will address a segment that is lower than the Jetta’s. The Vento is the car VW hopes will sell in large volumes and the company hopes it will help dislodge the Honda City, currently the segment leader.
Unlike the Jetta, the Vento is based on a hatchback platform, much like the Polo, but the platform was developed keeping in mind a hatch and sedan from the start. The Vento will be launched in the October-December quarter, says VW—so I expect it just before Diwali. It’s going to be available in petrol and diesel versions, and they are expected to be priced in the Rs7-9 lakh range. I am especially pleased that it will also sport an automatic transmission option, but sadly that will only be in the petrol version.
Japan gets on the bandwagon
It’s not just Volkswagen that is developing India-specific cars. It’s also happening with other car makers—both at the mass and high ends of the market.
Nissan is rolling out Micra —a global hatch designed with the specific intent of building and selling the car in India too. In fact, Nissan will also be exporting the car from here to Western Europe.
Other Japanese companies are not far behind.
Honda is working on its hatchback model for India targeted at the segment below what Jazz is targeted at; Toyota is rushing to have its Etios hatch and sedan ready for India. The Etios is a crucial project for the world’s largest car maker and it will be the big make-or-break car for Toyota as it tries to finally expand its base in India.
The Etios has been developed to stay cost-competitive, and Toyota is expecting big volumes, which means we can expect aggressive pricing. The company showed the concept versions of the car at the Auto Expo earlier this year; it has since been showcasing them at its dealerships across the country and gaining consumer feedback. Expect the Etios hatch and sedan to be in the market early 2011 with a price tag of Rs3-6 lakh for diesel and petrol variants.
PSA joins the party
The other big news share is that the French car-making conglomerate PSA Peugeot Citroen is finally ready with its India entry, or re-entry, I should say. And while I will leave the business specifics of the roll-out plan out of this column, suffice to say a bigger roll-out is expected—a new plant, big volumes and cars on road by 2012-13. The Citroen badge is likely for the car here as Peugeot branding would revive memories of the failed Peugeot 309 launched and then pulled out of India in the late 1990s.
The PSA is working on two cars—a hatch and a compact sedan that will be tailor-made for emerging markets. The Indian market is leading the design and development for this project, so again it will be a global car that has India at the fore.
The action is all set to increase on this front. The cars I have talked about here are just a drop in the ocean of what’s to come over the next few years. The party is just about getting started. Excited? I sure am!
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is editor (auto), NDTV.
Write to Siddharth at email@example.com