The Indian Car Market is the Next Big Thing
Two thousand six. That was the year when the world first gave a damn about the Beijing Auto Show as a serious venue to check out cars. That’s because, for the first time, the Chinese allowed freedom in their designs and showed that they could make products that would one day be able to compete on an international stage. But behind the glitzy sheet metal largely remained decades-old technology and shoddy build quality. Add to that the more recent high tariffs on imported vehicles that China enacted at the end of 2011, and the country’s luster has begun to dull despite its huge importance, sales-wise. That doesn’t appear to be the case at New Delhi’s 11th Auto Expo, though, which is quickly becoming the next big venue for automakers. This year, BMW introduced the Mini brand to India, and other automakers have begun launching other vehicles we consider mainstream like the Hyundai Sonata and Elantra and Toyota Camry as India’s auto market emerges. [caption id="attachment_72811" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="The Ford EcoSport concept previews Ford's upcoming small crossover for the Indian market."][/caption] What’s more interesting, however, is that India is becoming a place to debut all-new concepts and production vehicles. Of note, Ford has chosen the Auto Expo to debut its EcoSport concept, a compact SUV that previews Ford’s new 1.0-liter EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It’s based on the current-generation Ford Fiesta, which is sold in India alongside previous-generation versions at lower price points. Hyundai and Suzuki have also brought vehicles to New Delhi with the Hyundai Hexa Space compact van concept and the Suzuki XA Alpha concept, a small SUV that would likely compete against Ford’s EcoSport. In India, Suzuki dominates the auto market with its Maruti Suzuki brand, controlling more than 40 percent of the passenger car market. Most cars are smaller and much more spartan than what we’ve become accustomed to because of the developing nature of India’s economy. The $2500 Tata Nano and the even cheaper Bajaj RE60, which debuted at this year’s Auto Expo, have been representative of the types of cheap transportation that is gradually replacing rickshaws and mopeds in the world’s second-most populated country. But India is also going upward and outward. In 2008, Tata Motors purchased Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford, providing the maker of small cars with two very upscale brands and a host of high-tech parts. However, Tata isn’t the only mover in India’s premium automakers. At Auto Expo 2012, a home-grown make introduced the DC Avanti, the country’s first completely Indian-designed sports car. [caption id="attachment_72809" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The DC Avanti is the first completely Indian-designed sports car."][/caption] Powered by a Ford-sourced 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the first Avanti sports cars will put out 261 horsepower. A later V-6 version will make as much as 394 horsepower, providing the 3500-pound, mid-engine sports car some serious performance potential. DC Design plans to sell 200 per year before reaching a maximum production output of 2000 units. It lends credence to the notion that while China is closing its doors to foreign automakers, forcing them to partner with Chinese makes to be able to sell cars there, India’s brush stroke of free market capitalism is much broader. It’s inviting automakers to its country to develop new products to compete, and, in turn, it will help the home companies create better products. That, in turn, will help the automakers—perhaps even Indian companies like DC, Tata, and Mahindra—make better cars for us and the rest of the world.
It wasn't a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination for the automotive industry in 2011.