NEW DELHI, India — From the inexpensive to the luxurious, from the compact to the large, from the locally made to the imported, the automobiles lined up for thousands of visitors to ogle.
The new year’s auto showing season has already taken off in the unlikeliest of locations: India. And if the New Delhi Auto Expo is any indication, the interest here is not so much about the visitor numbers or all the shiny new cars. It's about the recession-defying, double-digit growth rates of India’s auto market.
“The shows at Frankfurt, Detroit and Tokyo are passe, the future of car shows is in India and China,” said Rajnish Aggarwal, who runs a catering business in New Delhi.
Aggarwal, an auto fanatic who closely follows global launches and car specifications, said that the size and glitz at the event — with participants from 30 countries — suggested that the center of gravity of the global car market was shifting eastward.
Global automakers are taking on the Indian market, which offers a chance to crisis-ridden production centers, such as Detroit, to haul themselves out of a very serious downturn.
While the global economic recession caused a huge slide in car sales worldwide, “the overall growth rate in India has been 18 percent despite the downturn,” said Neeraj Garg, a director of Volkswagen Group Sales India.
India is expected to continue growing at double-digit rates in the next four to five years, said Garg, whose company is launching a small car, the Polo, in India. Volkswagen is not alone.
On display at the expo, where the sub-$3,000 "Made in India" Nano made waves exactly two years ago, cars ranged from those costing a few thousand dollars to ultra-luxurious machines costing a couple of hundred thousand dollars, when including India’s stiff import duties.
The country is expected to produce upward of 3.5 million cars in the next five years. That should help India vault to fourth place in the global car market, after China, the United States and Japan.
The country’s 1.3 billion population encompasses those eking out a living on a couple of dollars a day to the billionaires who think nothing of splurging on luxuries such as yachts, jet planes and top-end cars.
At the New Delhi Auto Expo, carmakers were obviously catering to these dissimilar segments.
The bottom end, which accounts for more than two-thirds of sales, is burgeoning. Honda Motor unveiled the so far unexcitingly-named New Small Concept, while General Motors displayed its small car Beat and Toyota the tiny Etios. Hyundai, Suzuki, Ford and Volkswagen are also slugging it out here.
At the other end of the spectrum luxury cars including Audi’s A7, Mercedes-Benz’s GL 350 CDI, BMW’s X1 and India’s own Tata Motors’ Jaguar XJ were all on display, targeting the growing sliver of Indian rich. Makers of high-end cars are expecting that wedge of the market to double in the coming years.
Meanwhile, for the Indian consumer who for decades had nothing to choose from apart from two or three clunky models, a surfeit of riches awaits.