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India on way, to becoming world-class manufacturing hub

India's engineering prowess will turn it into a manufacturing powerhouse, infers a study by a top US business school.

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India is on its way to becoming a world-class manufacturer thanks to a rapidly changing business environment, according to a new study by a noted US business school and a firm of consultants.

Poor infrastructure, bureaucratic red tape and restrictive labour laws have kept India's manufacturing sector at the back, while its services have turned red hot, say The Boston Consulting Group and Knowledge@Wharton.

But beneath the surface, things are changing rapidly, and India could become a manufacturing powerhouse within five to 10 years, says their report released in Boston on Thursday.

Founded in 1963, The Boston Consulting Group with 61 offices in 36 countries claims to help companies in all industries and markets achieve competitive advantage. Knowledge@Wharton is an online resource on knowledge generated at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Driven by the emergence of a vast domestic market and relatively low-cost workers with advanced technical skills, more and more multinationals are setting up manufacturing operations in India, notes the report, entitled "What's Next for India: Beyond the Back Office."

Ford, Hyundai and Suzuki all export cars from India in significant numbers. LG, Motorola and Nokia all either make handsets in India or have plans to start, with a sizeable share of production being exported. ABB, Schneider, Honeywell and Siemens have set up plants to manufacture electrical and electronic products for domestic and export markets.

"Over the past five or six years, many firms have restructured their manufacturing operations and implemented world-class practices," says Arindam Bhattacharya, a partner in BCG's New Delhi office.

"Slowly but surely, they have started building a globally competitive manufacturing base in industries like pharmaceuticals, auto components, cars and motorcycles." Also optimistic is Wharton professor of management Saikat Chaudhuri.

"Every major campany has India on its radar screen," he says in the report. "It's just a matter of timing."

As the success of firms such as auto parts maker Bharat Forge shows, India's competitiveness lies in relatively high-end manufacturing. "Indian universities graduate 400,000 engineers a year, second only to China," notes Harold L Sirkin, a senior partner in BCG's Chicago office and leader of the firm's global operations practice.

"It's only a matter of time until India converts its engineering prowess into manufacturing capabilities."