When the country last got excited about the auto expo, the feeling was one of euphoria. The industry was climbing out of its sales slump, new models were moving fast from dealerships, and the concentration was on how automakers could make India their big focus. So you had concept cars making their global debut at the Delhi expo for the first time, with Honda and Toyota leading the charge. Compact car concepts were the flavour of the day.

Since then we have had yet another sales slump. All those concepts have made it to the market in the form of cars like the Toyota Etios or Honda Brio, and the industry is again looking to get out of a rut. If the last year is anything to go by, it will be new launches that will drive sales in the new year too.

Audi Q3: Compact, yet premium - expect this car by May or June

As a motorhead, I will still tell you the segment I believe will end up stealing the show in New Delhi next month. It will again be India-specific vehicles, and that is why I am getting excited about them. The segment will be a people mover in the utility vehicles space, but the focus once again will be on staying compact.

Maruti Suzuki India will launch the production version of its RIII concept (shown at the last expo) as the Ertiga MUV. The car will compete with everything from the cheaper variants of Toyota’s Innova to the Mahindra Xylo. But my attention will stay firmly on the compact SUV concept Maruti is basing on the same platform as the Ertiga. For me, it will be the car to watch out for from Maruti Suzuki. This vehicle is expected to roll out as competition to the Mahindra XUV500, and even the Skoda Yeti when it launches in the second half of 2012 or early 2013.

A few months before the Maruti Suzuki SUV comes to the market, we will also get a compact SUV from the Blue Oval. Ford too is launching a concept that’s based on the same platform as its newer Fiesta sedan, at the expo. The production version is tipped to launch as an India-specific EcoSport model by mid-2012. The global compact SUV in Ford’s stable—the Kuga—was initially tipped to come to India, but its positioning as more premium was a downer. In India, Ford wants to go after volumes in the very aspirational SUV space, so expect prices to be aggressive—closer to the Mahindra XUV500 (Rs 11 lakh), or even a shade cheaper.

Maruti Suzuki RIII: The MUV is expected to take on all competition

Quite an enviable portfolio in a market where many would buy an SUV if they found something that appealed more than a sedan, or could afford one!

In fact, many will now watch closely, as Audi will also show off its compact, yet premium SUV—the Q3, which is likely to shake up the market, with prices staying under 30 lakh for a 4x4 SUV. This model, which will be assembled at the Volkswagen group facility in Aurangabad, is expected to be launched by May or June.

Toyota will take the covers off its refreshed Innova and very popular SUV—the Fortuner. Renault-Nissan is expected to display people-mover concepts based on the Nissan Micra platform.

So I started out by saying there would be no formal theme at this year’s expo, but I will end by saying, watch out for the SUVs! Others like Force Motors, Volkswagen and BMW are also watching the space closely, given the success of cars like the BMW X1 in 2011.

Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is Editor (Auto), NDTV.

Write to Siddharth at roadrunner@livemint.com