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Hopes on wheels

AutoExpo, India’s and Asia’s largest automobile show held once in two years, returns in January 2012. The 11th edition of the Delhi AutoExpo —January 7-11, 2011 — is being held against the backdrop of a roller coaster year for the auto industry, when sliding sales are hurting bottomlines.

india Updated: Dec 04, 2011 22:32 IST
Manu P. Toms & Rachit Vats
Manu P. Toms & Rachit Vats

AutoExpo, India’s and Asia’s largest automobile show held once in two years, returns in January 2012. The 11th edition of the Delhi AutoExpo —January 7-11, 2011 — is being held against the backdrop of a roller coaster year for the auto industry, when sliding sales are hurting bottomlines. From over 30% growth in the first quarter of 2011, car sales have declined 9% in the July-September quarter. Two wheeler and truck sales, in top speed till a few months back, have started tapering down.

The credit squeeze induced by the Reserve Bank of India’s 13 consecutive hikes in interest rate this fiscal, and a steep rise in the owning cost due to petrol price hikes — up by Rs 18 per litre since the government freed petrol pricing more than a year ago — have dampened the buying sentiments. While escalated raw material prices considerably eroded margins, labour strikes led to huge production losses, especially for top carmaker Maruti Suzuki. Auto majors such as Maruti Suzuki, Tata Motors and Mahindra reported declines in their second quarter net profits. Honda and Toyota, which have large plans for Indian market, are reeling under natural calamities that hit their production base.

And yet the upcoming AutoExpo has automobile brands and their companies talking about new launches and showcases, almost as if they are expecting this major event to trigger a revival in their industry. With 60-plus new launches and an expected visitor turnout of 20 lakh, many in the industry think AutoExpo will be a springboard for a new beginning.

“The AutoExpo has been a harbinger of revival whenever there is a downtrend as it generates huge excitement. After India International Trade Fair, AutoExpo attracts the most number of visitors,” said Vishnu Mathur, director general, Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers.

Manufacturers are betting big on many game changing cars, bikes and vans that are going to debut at the Expo. Speculations are rife that a diesel version of Tata Nano, Mahindra Reva’s first four-seater electric car and Bajaj’s first four-wheel passenger carrier will be launched at the AutoExpo.

Maruti Suzuki said that it will do the global unveiling of the country’s first compact MPV, the Ertiga. Giving company will be a concept compact SUV. Maruti’s parent company Suzuki is looking forward to this mega show as it thinks India will be one of the top three global markets by the next AutoExpo. The 2012 AutoExpo will see Maruti’s expansion into the utility vehicle space, a departure from its fixation with small cars.

“In order to maintain volume leadership, we are looking at having a significant presence in all segments. During the AutoExpo, we’ll foray into the multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) and the sports utility vehicle (SUV) spaces,” said Shashank Srivastava, chief general manager, Maruti Suzuki.

Rival Hyundai too is looking beyond the crowded small car segment. Hyundai will showcase Veloster (a crossover utility vehicle) and a compact SUV concept. “In a challenging market, we have been able to grow volumes and market share on the strength of our new launches, Verna and Eon. Our immediate outlook on the market is not too bright as interest rates and fuel prices are unlikely to soften in the forseeable future,” said Arvind Saxena, director marketing & sales, Hyundai Motors India.

Tata Motors, engaged in an intense effort to push car sales, will have some surprise launches, possibly in the sedan segment, besides headline-grabbing innovations in the Nano platform. Eying greater inroads into the luxury car segment, the Tata-owned Jaguar Land Rover is padding up for a big show.

For German luxury carmaker Audi, which is locked in head-to-head competition with BMW and Mercedes Benz, the event is an opportunity to showcase its technological prowess. It will display its Audi A3 e-tron concept at the show.

“The AutoExpo provides us with an opportunity not only to connect with our customers, but also with a wider audience who aspire to own a brand like ours. The Expo will help in generating the right buzz in the market,” said Michael Perschke , head, Audi India. Audi will unveil the Audi S6 and a few other surprises.

BMW’s small car brand Mini will foray into India using the AutoExpo platform. Similarly, for French carmaker Peugeot Citroen and British bikemaker Triumph, the upcoming show will be a launch pad.

According to Ashish Joshi, MD, Triumph Motorcycles India, the AutoExpo 2012 will help his brand connect with not just end consumers but potential dealers too. “We hope to reach out to the relevant target groups. We will showcase our complete product range and brand ethos at the Expo,” he said.

There are those in the industry who do not see the AutoExpo as a customer-centric event. “It is more of trade event for manufacturers to showcase their capability. The excitement around AutoExpo is a metro phenomenon, which may not have much to do with the sentiment of demand,” says Rajesh Jejuriker, CEO, Mahindra & Mahindra.
A majority in motown, however, beg to differ. Commenting on the Expo at a time when the automobile industry is facing a host of challenges, Abdul Majeed, partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers, said “We may not see the same bullishness we saw a few months back.

However, people are going to be excited — I don’t think there will be much negativity.”

First Published: Dec 04, 2011 21:52 IST