At the 15th edition of the AutoExpo that kick-started on Wednesday, the mood was sombre and the decibels levels from new launches was lower, compared to the past years. It reflected the prolonged slowdown that has gripped India’s automobile market for the last one and half years.
To some extent, the absence of various manufacturers from the show was compensated by the Chinese companies, including MG Motors, Great Wall Motors, and FAW, which unveiled their future line-up for the Indian market.
A banner outside the venue at Greater Noida’s Global Expo Mart proudly proclaimed that India is the largest two-wheeler manufacturer in the world.
However, none of the country’s major two-wheeler producer participated in what is the region’s automobile show.
Such contradictions loomed heavy on the auto show as gloom of a prolonged slowdown and fear of a viral outbreak loomed large over India’s largest auto show.
“Star of the decade has been muted due to high transition cost and low demand. However, I am convinced this decade will take us to new heights,” Kenichi Ayukawa, managing director and chief executive officer of India’s largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki, summed up the mood. Maruti had the day’s first presentation.
The number of participating automakers has fallen from 50 in 2018 to 30 this year. The count of exhibitors, including technology companies, has come down from 119 to 112. And showstopper luxury and supercar brands, including Toyota, Jeep, Lamborghini, Porsche, and Volvo will be missing.
Similarly, the commercial vehicle makers also gave the show a miss — a prolonged economic slowdown has dented their fortunes and near chances of any recovery.
Globally, auto shows are losing sheen as high cost of participation deters automakers from big participation; they instead have their own periodic launches. However, Ayukawa of Maruti said that a country like India, where car ownership is still low, such shows help to stimulate the market. “In India, such shows are important, as there is a large young population that needs to be attracted to buy a car,” he said.
Guenter Butschek, CEO and MD, Tata Motors, and N Chandrasekaran, group chairman Tata Sons, unveileds the HBX Show car Photos: Sanjay K Sharma
The theme for this year’s show was electric mobility as most of the launches were focused towards that, led by Chinese auto majors.
After the successful debut by China-owned British automaker MG Motors’ Hector sport utility vehicle (SUV). China’s largest SUV and pick-up maker Great Wall Motors showcased its Haval crossovers and a few of its electric brands. Its compatriots First Automobile Works or Haima, Changan, and BYD will also display their line-ups.
Even as the displays by Chinese companies took centre stage, home-grown makers Tata Motors and Mahindra & Mahindra turned up the decibel levels by showcasing a raft of new models, primarily their electric vehicle (EV) portfolio. Tata Motors showcased Sierra EV Concept, while Mahindra launched the eKUV100.
“At this Auto Expo, we are showing products which showcase our responsibility and emphasis on sustainability and cleanliness,” said Group Chairman N Chandrasekaran, adding that four more EVs will be launched in two years.
“The displays by the new players Kia, MG, and Great Wall were quite striking,” said Jnaneswar Sen, partner at consulting firm, Maven Partners.
The real test will be after the show opens to the general public. According to Sen, ex-official at Honda Cars India, people in India still aspire to own cars and a show like this adds to the excitement.
The EV rush comes as India has been slow to push battery-powered transport and still lacks infrastructure like charging stations. The government, however, is looking to boost adoption by taxing EVs at a lower rate. It also launched the second phase of a scheme to increase the share of EVs in shared mobility to curb pollution in a nation that has cities with the world’s dirtiest air.
Meanwhile, India’s largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki signalled it is still not convinced in the EV story.