On narrow rural roads, it's cheap small cars jostle for space with Mahindra's sturdy utility vehicles, tractors, motorbikes and bullock carts, with foreign models scarce. Spare parts, including fakes, are cheap and ubiquitous, and mechanics everywhere can fix a Maruti, keeping maintenance costs down.
Maruti's deep rural penetration has helped it defend its market share amid the industry's two-year downturn. That's despite the onslaught of new models launched by foreign rivals.
Next in line will be Nissan Motor relaunched low-end Datsun brand. At the Delhi auto show Datsun will showcase a hatchback to compete with Maruti's Alto 800, which starts at 280,000 rupees.
Areas with populations of less than 10,000 people account for 31 percent of Maruti's sales so far in the fiscal year that ends in March, said Mayank Pareek, Maruti's chief operating officer for marketing and sales, adding the company began a heavy push to target rural buyers five years ago.
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"Unlike urban markets, in the rural markets customers are very loyal. So you get a big first-mover advantage," he said.
General Motors has been selling cars in India since 1996. It has a market share of just 3.5 percent and 273 dealerships, increasing to 300 by the end of the next fiscal year. Most of the new outlets will be in smaller towns and rural areas, said P. Balendran, vice president at GM India.
"With higher growth expected in rural areas as compared with the metros, we expect the share of rural markets in our overall sales increasing in the future," he said.
One thing that is certain in the push by global car makers beyond India's big cities is more choice for the growing number of rural buyers. Until a few years ago, many rural buyers essentially had just one choice to make - the color of their Maruti 800, the hatchback predecessor to the Alto.
Krishnakant Shinde, a farmer in Gove, a village about 250 kilometers from Mumbai, says he was the first in his village to buy a Volkswagen when he upgraded last October to a Vento sedan from a Maruti Swift Dzire entry-level sedan.
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Volkswagen, which has market share of just 2.25 percent in India, said it doesn't plan new outlets in the country this year. But it opened a dealership in Satara, a regional hub about 15 kilometers from Shinde's home, about two years ago.
"Volkswagen the company wasn't new to me, but I didn't buy earlier as I was worried about spare parts and servicing," said Shinde, a sugar cane and dairy farmer.
"Now, since they have opened a showroom and service center in Satara, I decided to buy."