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Toyota leads rush into India

autos Updated: Jan 06, 2010 17:33 IST
Samar Halarnkar

The world’s largest car-maker, beleaguered Toyota Motor Corp, revealed its latest small car in India, one of an unprecedented 10 global launches on Tuesday of 50 unveilings expected at the 10th Delhi Auto Expo.

After an eventful night when photos of the Etios — as the plain-looking new concept car is called — leaked and spread like wildfire over the Internet, from Russia to Brazil, Toyota India Managing Director Hiroshi Nagakawa exulted: “The time has come! A world first! India first!”

About 2,000 engineers in India and Japan worked four years on the Etios, derived from the word ethos, and expected to be priced under Rs 5 lakh.

An hour later in the same ramshackle hall, ignoring a pigeon that soiled an exhibit, arch rival Honda's Executive Vice President Koichi Kondo unveiled another small car (codenamed 2CV), “designed exclusively for Indian consumers”.

The same morning, market leader Maruti-Suzuki pulled their ace, a seven-seat family car. It is Maruti’s first car designed in India, independent of Suzuki Japan.

Global auto executives, analysts and journalists, many with suitcases, drove straight in from the airport for the Expo’s blockbuster first day, stepping warily past the third-world mounds of trash, stray dogs and speeding vehicles outside the exhibition halls.

Here’s why they came: India is among the world’s fastest growing auto markets, next only to China. Sales are set to grow to 1.45 million cars this year and double by 2015.

Toyota, which made 9 million automobiles in 2008, posted its first loss in 59 years in 2009. General Motors, the world's second-largest carmaker declared bankruptcy last year.

Now both, like Suzuki, Honda and Hyundai, are partly looking for future growth. GM hopes to sell 1 lakh cars in India this year, driven by the Beat, while Etios, as Toyota Vice Chairman Kazuo Okamoto said, will have “a major role” to play in revival.

About 2 million people are expected to visit the Delhi Auto Expo, which is more than visitors at similar events worldwide.