The year 2010 will be remembered as the year with the most new model and brand launches. The accompanying tables list out the actual models and brands I am referring to, but there are some among them that I believe have left not only an indelible mark, but also changed the industry in some way—forever.

Centre stage: (from extreme left) Ford Figo, Volkswagen Vento, Toyota Etios and BMW X1.

Also See Bikes and Cars Launched in 2010 (PDF)

VW’S grandstanding

In cars, the biggest impact this year has come from the Volkswagen brand stepping into volumes territory. The Polo hatch and Vento sedan have helped bring in new benchmarks of quality material and good build quality—at hitherto unrealized price points. But speaking of price points, the other big stand-out this year has been the Figo from Ford.

Also Read Siddharth Vinayak Patankar’s earlier articles

Go Figo!

Sure it’s not as swanky as the Polo and is based on the older platform Fiesta that is being phased out in Western Europe. But with the Figo, Ford has offered the market roominess, solidity, efficiency and acceptable quality at a very affordable price. It’s almost been like Ford adopted Tata’s tag line for its first Indica—more car per car. The result has been over 60,000 units sold so far, and Ford has had to introduce a second shift at its plant to bring down the waiting period on the Figo. They simply cannot make enough of them.

Big demand

That has been the other big trend this year. After a dull 2009 when industry sales were sluggish thanks to recessionary fears, 2010 has been a blockbuster. Since the industry will also close out the fiscal year in March, and not December, I won’t go into year-on-year growth. But suffice to say the year will end with the highest-ever sales tally for the Indian automobile industry. Month after month we have seen records being broken and sales targets being left way behind. What has been remarkable is that barring a handful of models, it’s been across-the-board growth in most segments.

More India-specific R&D

Right through the year, regular readers will remember my favourite theme—that of the Indian market suddenly becoming the darling of global auto. Suddenly R&D is being focused on India-specific models. India is considered central to global platform development, and in some cases also the preferred market to introduce global models first. The Toyota Etios, Nissan Micra, VW Vento and even the new BMW 5 series have been testimony to this.

X1 impact

Another car that will redefine the market dynamic in its space is the BMW X1 SUV launched just last week (23 December). It brings the premium SUV into the same pricing territory as others such as the Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Captiva and even the Toyota Fortuner to some extent. It may not boast four-wheel drive or huge proportions, but it’s a BMW—and that’s what consumers will care about. So by launching the X1 with a 22 lakh starting price, BMW has declared war. It will be another case of too many orders and too few cars though, I suspect—expect long waiting periods and price revisions by the competition too now.

Bikes galore!

Vroom: (from far left) Yamaha R1, Mahindra Stallio and a Harley-Davidson bike.

Hero without Honda

In fact what happens to Hero Honda from here on in the new year will be very interesting to watch. There is talk of the company getting into diesel bikes once its partnership with Honda is dissolved early in 2011. Given the scale of operations of this company and the number of individual investors it has, this will be a story you and I will read lots more about all year.

2011 preview

Also significant to watch out for in 2011 will be the Skoda sedan based on the Vento, Maruti Suzuki’s new generation Swift, Toyota’s Etios Liva, Renault’s Fluence and Koleos, the next-gen Passat and Jetta from VW and the introduction of both the Mini and Ssangyong brands to India. All this will happen by mid-2011.

Earlier than that though will be the arrival in India of locally produced bikes from BMW and Harley-Davidson. Maruti Suzuki’s Kizashi sedan will debut at the end of January, and Nissan will launch the Sunny sedan based on the Micra.

I wonder if it will be a case of too late for Honda, which will only bring its next new car to India in time for Diwali. The Honda Brio will join the burgeoning hatch space and aims to bring Honda back on track after it too had a very unexciting year.

So if 2010 was a blockbuster, expect 2011 to be even bigger—with not one but multiple item numbers thrown in! Get the picture? I certainly cannot wait.

Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is Editor (Auto), NDTV.

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