Riding high on the campaign trail

Written by Garima Pant | Updated: Apr 12 2009, 05:42am hrs
Its one party that will bring a smile to the recession-ridden faces of auto makers across the country. A process began with ambassadors and jeeps in 1999 to Toyota Qualis, Tata Sumo, Tata Mobile, Mahindras Scorpio, Bolero and Marshall in 2004 its the sport utility vehicles (SUVs) that touches an all-time high as politicians and their supporters hit the campaign trail. Visit any party office and you will see the SUVs lined up. They are a necessity, say various party workers.

According to statistics available with the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), the lobby for the auto industry and media reports, sales of such vehicles shoot up in the run-up to the elections. For instance in March 2004, when campaigning for elections had just started, the sales of SUVs jumped 30% to 15,915 units as compared to the sales in MArch 2003, with Maruti registering a four-fold increase in sales, a 42% jump for Toyota Kirloskar and 20% for Tata Motors.

Its not only time-tested vehicles like Maruti Gypsy and Tata Safari, but also some relatively newer models such as Mahindras Xylo and Scorpio, Toyotas Innova and Fords Endeavour that are being preferred. Sonia Gandhi and LK Advani prefer the Tata Safari. Mahindra and Mahindra, an SUV maker, registered 17% growth in February 2009 over the same month in 2008. March was their best-ever in a single month period at over 25%. Sales of SUVs from Tata Motors jumped up 43% in March over February.

While companies go ga-ga over the increase in their productivity, there are a few that prefer to stay away from this poll drama. Ashok Kumar, owner of a car rental agency in central Delhi agrees to an increase in the demand of the utility vehicles during the pre-polls. We get a lot of demand for SUVs but prefer to stay away from this election madness. People who hire them dont maintain the vehicles properly and even getting payments, on time or at all, is a doubtful affair, says Kumar.

Some politicians are also paying additional cost, sometimes as much as the price of their vehicles, for add-ons such as bullet-proofing, armour-plating, and even satellite television. Almost all the demand for bullet-proofing campaign vehicles is concentrated on SUVs. Bulletproofing an SUV could cost between Rs nine lakh (for a Safari) and around Rs 20 lakh (for a Land Cruiser Prado). Armouring a Mercedes or a BMW can cost up to half a crore of rupees, 10 times what it costs for an Ambassador!

And adding on to the campaign trail are armoured vehicles with politicians in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and southern states opting for them. No wonder the election is currently driving the Indian auto world.

Chopper hopper

According to industry estimates, most of the about 500 choppers and small aircrafts available in the country have been already booked and the demand this time around is more than double from the last Lok Sabha polls. Political parties are paying between Rs 40,000 to Rs 1.4 lakh for a single hour. This is spelling good news for the private helicopter charter business, which was down 25% till the elections were announced.