Jan. 5 - Fuel sippers line up alongside muscular SUVs at India's biennial Auto Expo. Arnold Gay reports.
NOTE: THIS EDIT CONTAINS CONVERTED 4 BY 3 MATERIAL Global automakers unveiled efficiency alongside muscle at the Auto Expo in India, one of the few places left in the world where car sales still hold great potential. Green and fuel-sipping are key themes, as seen in Bajaj Auto's first venture into 4 wheelers, with the low carbon-emitting RE60. Bajaj's MD Rajiv Bajaj says the market for a vehicle like this extends beyond India. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MANAGING DIRECTOR OF BAJAJ AUTO LIMITED, RAJIV BAJAJ, SAYING: "We are the world's largest three-wheeler maker. So, we are looking at all those people, at all those markets. Not just the two lakh or three lakh or five million vehicles opportunity here. And we are saying to ourselves whether it's in Europe, whether it's in Africa, whether it's in India or whether indeed in Sri Lanka, we think there should be a big opportunity for something that's affordable, that's very green, that's very fuel efficient." But there will be no shortage of the ever-popular Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) either. Jaguar Land Rover is skipping the Detroit Auto Show just to be here, and the U.S carmaker Ford is showing off its EcoSport, a compact SUV that's the second of eight vehicles Ford intends to launch in India. Car sales in India grew 30 percent in the last fiscal year that ended in March 2011, but have since slumped amid high interest rates and a weak rupee. Growth is expected to be flat this year. Still, Ford India's Michael Boneham is betting on a rebound. SOUNDBITE) (English) PRESIDENT AND MANAGING DIRECTOR FORD INDIA, MICHAEL BONEHAM, SAYING: "70 percent of all our growth is going to come out of the Asia-Pacific region, India and China are obviously the two major players there. From India's perspective we see our growing, the industry growing from about 3.2 million in 2011 to about 9 million in 2020, that's the passenger and commercial vehicle segment. We are confident about that, got some short term issues at the moment with high interest rate and rupee devaluation and all those things, but we will get through that and we will move forward." Car makers will present around 50 new models to hundreds of delegates and half a million visitors at the week-long Auto Expo. With India's economy likely to grow at around 7 percent this fiscal year, and given rising salaries and a rapidly-growing middle class, it's not hard to see why India remains one of the world's most exciting markets for automakers today. Arnold Gay, Reuters