Reflective of the flagging sentiment in the country’s auto sector, Auto Expo 2020 got off to a tepid start on Wednesday with the smallest number of new launches in over a decade and at least half a dozen key players giving the biennial event a miss. At least two leading automakers that participated at the event testified that they would not have bothered to display their vehicles had their representatives not been at the helm of industry lobby group and expo organiser SIAM.
The biennial event, billed as Asia’s biggest automotive expo in terms of footfalls, was also testament to the sobering realisation that the Centre’s electric mobility push is floundering — a marked difference from the visible enthusiasm for electric mobility solutions that was on display at the last edition of the expo two years ago.
Coming on the back of the industry recording its worst-ever sales decline in two decades last year, leading car makers including Toyota, Honda, Audi, Ford, BMW, Fiat, Jeep, Jaguar Land Rover, Lexus and Volvo decided to give the expo a miss. Apart from the sales slump and rising inventory, a running theme was that manufacturers were invested in preparing their lineup for a BSVI emission norms upgrade before the mandated April 2020 deadline.
Even the bulk of the launches were largely restricted to concepts. Add to that the overhang of the coronavirus, which clearly dented a Chinese late charge for India’s auto market, the setting for the 15th edition of the Auto Expo 2020 was decidedly low-key. The event kicked-off with the unveiling of market leader Maruti Suzuki’s unconventional Futuro-E electric concept — billed as an electric SUV-coupe that Kenichi Ayukawa, managing director of Maruti Suzuki, said has been “conceptualised and designed in India”. Company executives, however, were of the view that an EV push can work at the mass market level only if the acquisition cost comes down and the charging infrastructure at homes and workplaces achieves a degree of penetration.
Seoul-headquartered Kia Motors, South Korea’s second-largest automobile manufacturer and an affiliate of Hyundai Motors, launched the new Carnival MPV at a starting price of Rs 24.95 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi). Having tasted early success with its Seltos compact sports utility vehicle, the Carnival — Kia’s second offering in India — will be slotted above Toyota’s Innova Crysta and has a top-end limousine version priced at just under Rs 34 lakh. Kia also unveiled a concept sub-compact SUV, Sonet, which is pitched against Hyundai’s Venue, Suzuki’s Brezza and the Ford Ecosport. Utility maker Mahindra & Mahindra launched an electric version of its KUV compact car at a starting price of Rs 8.25 lakh (ex-showroom), making it India’s cheapest electric car on offer so far.
Tata Motors while launching Harrier 2020, also unveiled the pre-production version of its 7-seater SUV — Gravitas. For Renault, an AMT version of its Triber sub-compact multi-purpose vehicle, a model that is already on the roads and is already a volume driver for the French car maker, was its main showcase at the event on Day 1. In line with the growing demand for SUV’s and the runaway success of products like Kia Seltos and MG Hector, German car maker Volkswagen unveiled three SUVs for India — the compact T-Roc, the mid-sized Taigun and 7-seater Tiguan AllSpace.
China’s largest sport vehicle manufacturer Great Wall Motors unveiled its ‘Haval’ brand of sport utility vehicles and vehicle concept 2025 to mark its entry in the Indian market, even though the company was hamstrung by the absence of top executives from headquarters in Baoding in coronavirus-hit China. The company unveiled four SUVs at the event which includes Haval H9, Haval F7X, Haval F7 and Haval F5.
Great Wall will be the second vehicle manufacturer from China to enter the Indian market after SAIC Motor Corp owned MG Motor India. MG Motors, which too like Kia Motors has seen early success with its Hector mid-sized SUV, unveiled another utility vehicle Marvel X on the first day of the expo. It did not reveal the date for the launch or its prices.
On the EV push, the NDA government has shown lack-of-clarity, given that in 2017, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari announced that he intended for India to move to 100 per cent electric cars by 2030, before backtracking and whittling down this target 30 per cent. At present, EV market penetration is only 1 per cent of total vehicle sales in India, and of that, 95 per cent of sales are electric two-wheelers. CV Raman, senior executive director (Engg) at Maruti Suzuki, said that while the government push is encouraging, the acquisition cost is a key metric to making EVs a mass market product.
“From a customer point of view the average price of Indian vehicles (entire range) is Rs 5.5-6 lakh. Now, how much would one pay for an EV, would they pay double of that, would they want to go through the hassle of charging every day. There is a possibility that they may shift but one is not sure… But can the acquisition cost come down and can we put the charging infra at home and in the workplace? Electricity availability is not the issue, for carbon neutrality the question is whether it is coming from renewable energy source. If it isn’t, then EV carbon footprint would be more than a hybrid car”.
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