Mumbai: March sales at India’s top three auto firms rose at a rapid clip as buyers advanced purchases to beat an impending price hike.

Auto firms increased prices by 2-4% across models, following the levy of an infrastructure cess and other surcharges in the Union budget for fiscal 2017.

A raft of new model launches also helped the momentum of sales, shows data released by a handful of auto makers on Friday.

To be sure, the fiscal year-end phenomenon also bumped up sales.

Typically, auto firms despatch more to their dealerships in a bid to liquidate unsold stock before closing the accounts for the fiscal year.

Auto companies in India report despatches to dealers and not end-buyers.

Extending a trend seen across previous months, the growth was not uniform across all models and companies.

Car market leader Maruti Suzuki India Ltd led the growth trend.

The company’s domestic sales rose 14.6% to 118,895 units in March from a year ago, the company said in a statement on Friday.

The sales were led by new models, including the Baleno and Brezza, launched last October and this March, respectively.

Sales data from Maruti Suzuki also hints at the company’s improving model mix and an increased focus on the pricier segments of the market.

Its compact car models, including the Swift, Ritz, Dzire, Celerio and Baleno models, whose sales rose by 20%, now account for a higher share of the total sales than entry-level models such as Alto and Wagon R.

The sales of both these entry-level models declined 8.7% to 36,678 units in March from a year ago.

The local arm of the Japanese car maker ended 2015-16 with record sales of 1,429,248 units, an increase of 10.6% from a year ago.

For the fourth year in a row, the top four best-selling models in India are from Maruti Suzuki: Alto, Dzire, Swift and WagonR.

Hyundai Motor India Ltd, the second largest in the pecking order, also had a strong March, with sales increasing 4.24% to 41,201 units in the domestic market.

Hyundai, too, ended the fiscal year with record sales—484,324 units, up 15.1% from the year ago period.

Rakesh Srivastava, senior vice-president for marketing and sales, attributed this to the strong performance of models such as Creta, Elite i20 and Grand i10.

March was also a month of strong sales for utility vehicle market leader Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd.

On the back of newly-launched models such as the TUV3OO and KUV1OO, the company’s passenger vehicle sales rose 21% year-on-year to 26,885 units.

Meanwhile, a strong volume run at Renault India Pvt. Ltd continued on the success of the Kwid.

The local arm of the French carmaker saw a one-and-a-half times jump in sales to 12,424 units in March.

Tata Motors Ltd and Honda Cars India Ltd had no reasons to cheer with sales at both the companies falling steeply in March from a year ago.

The local arm of the Japanese carmaker said sales declined 23% in March to 17,430 units.

A company spokesperson attributed this to an inventory correction.

“We do not want to get into a new year with unsold stock at the dealerships," she said.

Tata Motors’s passenger vehicles sales fell 44% to 8,454 units. Sales of cars fell 47%, and sales of utility vehicles by 23%.

Growth has been crimped in the past three months by a ban on the sale of bigger diesel vehicles (over 2000 cc) in the national capital region (NCR), lower demand for new vehicles in the rural market, liquidity concerns and high interest rates, said Abdul Majeed, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

India’s apex court, in a ruling on Thursday, extended the ban on the sale of bigger diesel vehicles in the NCR until 30 April.

The imposition of an infrastructure cess in the latest budget has added to the woes of auto makers, Majeed said.

“Growth in vehicle sales and performance of the auto industry over the coming quarters depends on the performance of the rural economy, a reduction in interest rates and good monsoons," he said.

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