Just a few years ago, the buzz word in the Indian auto world was cheap.
Sure, manufacturers had other, nicer, ways to say it (ultra-low-cost, value-driven, thrifty engineering) but the bottom line was this: In India, car manufacturers were all about making vehicles that cost as littleas possible.
As the Delhi Auto Exporevs into high gear this week, though, it’s clear that things have changed. Local and international car makers are rolling out small but brawny sport-utility vehicles and “luxury diesel” editions of sedans with extras like alloy wheels and leather seats.
The Auto Expo, which happens every two years, is expected to attract more than a million visitors this year, including first-time appearances by the Ford Motors chief executive Alan R. Mulally, and Patrick Blain, president of Organization Internationale des Constructeurs d’Automobiles, the global regulator body.
“The Indian market is maturing, and there is a segment of customer who wants something different, and who can afford it,” said Deepesh Rathore, managing director of India for IHS Automotive, a forecasting and consulting company. Auto sales in India grew about 10 percent in 2011, to about 3.6 million units, Mr. Rathore said, but that growth was tilted to the upper end of the market.
Offerings at the Auto Expo, which opens Thursday, reflect that tilt:
In 2009, Ford introduced the Figoin India, a four-door hatchback that retails now for about 400,000 Indian rupees ($7,568). On Wednesday in Delhi, Ford held a press conference to show off the next model of the EcoSport, a mini-S.U.V. that has been a best-seller in Brazil, and sold more than 700,000 vehicles in South America. While Ford did not announce the price, it retails in Brazil for about $25,000.
Tata Motors dominated the car show in 2008with the introduction of the long-awaited Nano, the tiny car with the $2,500 sticker price. The Nano was hailed as the “People’s Car,” but people haven’t rushed to buy it, and Tata has struggled with sluggish salesand production problems. At this week’s show, Tata is expected toshow off, among other things, a new edition of its Safari, a bulky S.U.V. with three rows of seats, featuring a wood-paneled dashboard and Bluetooth.
On Thursday, General Motors will introduce the Chevrolet Tavera NEO 3 in New Delhi. The large Tavera 2, already for sale in India, retails for about $13,245, with the sales pitch “Because you deserve more in life.”
Already in Delhi this week, Fiat announced a new “luxury diesel” model of the Linea, its four-door sedan, with chrome interiors and leather seats.
Big, heavy and expensive is in on the motorcycle front, too. Italy’s Ducati’s is inviting attendees to view something it calls the company’s “naked audacity,” at the India debut of the Monster 795, a 167-kilogram (368-pound) motorcycle with a 803-cubic-centimeter engine.