Fill it, shut it, forget it: the amazing race begins

Updated: Dec 31 2006, 05:30am hrs
February 2007 Or April While company officials are under a shroud of silence, the buzz around the Renault-Logan is hotting up. Auto analysts say the mid-sized sedan at least, the entry level one will be priced just right (around Rs 5 lakh or just under) to take on the competition (read Indigo, Honda City, Ford Fiesta, Chevrolet Aveo). Welcome to 2007. With at least 15 new launches on the cards, its going to be quite a ride, for both buyers and sellers.

We will have new cars, variants from BMW, Honda, Volkswagen, General Motors, Hyundai, Fiat and more. Take, for instance, Volkswagen AG. Though the company is investing Rs 2,400 crore in a plant near Pune which will make up to 1,10,000 vehicles annually when it goes into production in 2009, it will roll out its first model next year. To be assembled at group company Skoda Autos Aurangabad plant, VW will introduce the Passat in India.

The luxury sedan will take on the Honda Accord and Skoda Laura and Superb models. According to analysts, Korean carmaker Hyundai is doing a Qualis to the Santro phasing it out for a brand new hatchback with a brand new design in the same category. Its probably already running in other markets, and Hyundai will bring it to India under a new name, says an analyst. Then, General Motors will relaunch the Matiz (remember the popular Daewoo small hatchback) as Chevy Spark towards the end of next year or early 2008. In other markets its being sold as the Chevy Matiz but since the Matiz had to be phased out of India because of Daewoos troubles, GM is rechristening the car, says another analyst.

With the Indian auto industry growing at a healthy 16%, and car penetration still 7 per 1,000, its no surprise that all the major carmakers of the world are trying to get a share of the market. GM is said to be toying with introducing its luxury marque Cadillac and the Hummer brands too in India.

Theres a lot of excitement around the Fiat factory too in its second stint following a JV with Tata Motors. The company is gearing up to launch the Fiat Grande Punto, which analysts in the West are saying looks like the bigger Maserati, and the Fiat Linea (in the premium B and C segments and could be priced in the Rs 10-lakh category), a new-look Palio and Adventure. The first rollouts are expected in early 2007 because trial runs are on at Ranjangaon.

Hindustan Motors is also expected to finally bring the Outlander one of Japans favourite SUVs to India. It also plans to import the Mitsubishi i, the small hatchback which has created quite a stir in the market. Among the other Japanese carmakers, Hondas announced that it will launch a small car in India, while Toyota is likely to introduce a sedan. In the high-end segment, German carmaker BMW is going to assemble the 3 series and 5 series models at its Chennai plant for the India launch. Ford is also likely to introduce at least two models of Volvo cars in India next year.

Volkswagens luxury car division Audi will also use Skodas facility to assemble the Audi A6 for the Indian market by autumn of 2007. In 2007 autumn, Audi is set to start assembling Audi A6 for the Indian market in Aurangabad, the Volkswagen group company said in a statement, adding that it would take the completely knocked-down (CKD) route. In the first full year of production by 2008, the company expects to assemble over 300 units of its luxury sedan A6 and sell about 3,000 units by 2010. Even super-luxury brands like Rolls-Royce are putting their money on an emerging market like India. Consider this: Rolls new showroom in Mumbai (opened in May) have already sold 14 Rolls-Royces this year. It will open a new showroom in Delhi in 2007.

There are many variants too on the anvil, like Maruti-Suzukis diesel variant of the Swift. Hyundai is expected to launch a diesel variant of the Getz. Maruti-Suzuki is also working on a new mid-sized sedan and will phase out the Baleno. With there being way too many launches planned in 2007, expect a pricing war, warns an analyst.

Foreign car majors, especially players like Fiat, will have to keep in mind that prices will have to scaled down to a point people can afford.