Except for the moderate growth in two-wheelers, the automobile industry in India has been on a slide for more than 21 months now. It has reached a point where it doesn’t matter what a company is selling: New, used, leased, attractively financed, buy now but pay next year. The customer just doesn’t have the confidence to put any money on the table. There’s an exception though. Ford’s ‘big’ Ecosport has been flying off the shelves. But sadly, the company doesn’t have room enough to produce. So the waiting period is more than 12 months. Anyway, the Auto Expo kicks off on February 3. Here’s what to expect:
Maruti Suzuki, India’s largest carmaker is launching the Celerio. A hatchback, the Celerio’s selling proposition is its EZ dive gearbox. In the words of a Maruti official, “This is like an automatic car which will give you the fuel efficiency of a manual.” Yup, that’s a Maruti—comfortable and efficient. Maruti is also going to launch a production version of its compact SUV that, as a concept, was known as the XA Alpha. That’s a box ticked to participate in the fastest growing segment. Lastly, Maruti will also put out a new SX4. Two things are against Maruti on this: One, not many people are into sedans these days. Two, the last generation SX4 was pretty forgettable compared to what was on offer from competition. To be fair, Maruti’s rural push strategy has worked out brilliantly for them. This year’s line-up underscores the point that the carmaker will go for volumes and is the best when it comes to identifying niches in the market where none exist.
Honda is the other company to watch out for this year. Thanks to their diesel workhorse, Honda has got its mojo back. Honda will put out the new Jazz. Perhaps at a price that doesn’t scare potential customers away. Also on display will be the new City. Add to this the Honda Mobilio multipurpose vehicle. Last, a concept small-SUV based on the Brio platform. To put it simply, Honda is clear that it wants to play the game in India.
Nissan Datsun will also make a big splash. With the TVCs already being aired, the marketing pitch has started. Almost five years in the making, Vincent Cobee, the global head of Datsun, will launch the Datsun Go and Go+. Read this as a hatchback and crossover, respectively. Datsun is Nissan’s big bet in India.
This is a big year for Tata Motors. In the last 24 months, the company has lost a lot of ground to its competitors. Expect Tata Motors to show its entire new range of vehicles, which will take over from the beleaguered Indica Vista and the Manza. These new range of vehicles must come through if Tata Motors has to get back in the volume game. Whether Tata Motors will put out the diesel Nano is still an open question. Karl Slym, the company’s MD who passed away in late January, will certainly be missed.
From Hyundai, expect the launch of the Grand i10 sedan. This car should create some buzz in the Honda Amaze, Maruti Dzire segment. Hyundai will also showcase the new Santa Fe and a freshly-styled Verna. Thanks to these launches, I am expecting a volume build-up strategy from the Korean car company.
At Toyota, there will be a new Corolla (much needed but that segment isn’t much to talk about in volumes) and the launch of the Etios Cross (with a different cladding). I’m expecting Toyota’s tough run of the last few years to continue in 2014.
Like previous years, eye candies at the Auto Expo will be concentrated at the luxury German contingent; Audi, Mercedes Benz and BMW. Audi will launch the A3, the cheapest four-door Audi in India. The car to watch out for from the BMW stable will be the i8 sportscar, the electric hybrid car that iterates that the world of sports cars, as we have known it, will change. From Mercedes Benz, there will be the CLA 45AMG.
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(This story appears in the 07 February, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)