INDIA: DRIVEN TO COMPETE

Indian auto mainstay braces for onslaught of foreign competition

11/30/2008
BY STEVE EDER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
How cars fare on rugged roads is a major concern in India, says Kanwaldeep Singh of Maruti Suzuki.
How cars fare on rugged roads is a major concern in India, says Kanwaldeep Singh of Maruti Suzuki.

NEW DELHI -- More than a decade after Ford, General Motors, and Hyundai started selling cars in India, Indian motorists are still getting familiar with those brands.

The mainstay car company of choice for many Indian drivers has been and continues to be Maruti Suzuki, the nation's largest car-builder.


"They blindly trust this brand because they have seen it around for 25 years," said Kanwaldeep Singh, Maruti's general manager of corporate service. "That, of course, can change."

READ MORE: Driven To Compete: India's auto industry

With the influx of automakers selling cars here, Maruti is banking that its long-tenured nurturing and understanding of Indian consumers will continue to give it a leg up on the competition.

Mr. Singh said during an interview at Maruti's offices in New Delhi that Indian drivers -- like car buyers across the world - are concerned with competitive pricing, comfort, resale value, service, and design.

Indian consumers, he said, are especially concerned with how the car they buy will fare on India's rugged roads and whether it will maximize fuel efficiency, with special concern on the latter. "They are obsessed with fuel efficiency," Mr. Singh said. "A guy will spend a million rupees on a vehicle, yet he'll still be concerned with how many kilometers he can get from a liter of gas."

Maruti -- which Suzuki, based in Japan, took over as the majority owner in 2003 -- is bracing in other ways for the onslaught of competition that comes with foreign automakers expanding and entering the market. To prepare, Maruti has stepped up its research and development, with plans to increase its staff from 270 in 2006 to 1,000 by 2010.