INDIA: DRIVEN TO COMPETE

Increasing number of vehicles made in India shipped elsewhere

Auto executives say U.S. isn’t a target for exports — for now

12/1/2008
BY STEVE EDER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Gurpal Singh has expanded his auto parts firm, Coolwels, into a transcontinental company.
Gurpal Singh has expanded his auto parts firm, Coolwels, into a transcontinental company.

CHENNAI, India — Most automakers in India say their initial focus is on supplying cars for the nation's rapidly growing middle class and building their brand among consumers.

For the most part, they haven't shown the same enthusiasm about using India as a portal for exporting cars across the world. Still, Indian automotive exports have quadrupled since 2002, with more than 1.2 million India-made vehicles being shipped out of the country, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers. Of those, about 218,000 were passenger cars.

Hyundai is emerging as one of India's biggest automotive exporters, building cars in Chennai and sending 67 percent of them across the world.

"We have a good balance between domestic sales and also exports, quite different from the other auto manufacturers," said H.S. Lheem, Hyundai India's managing director.

H.S. Lheem says Hyundai has designated its India operations as a small car and export hub for the Asia-Pacific region.
H.S. Lheem says Hyundai has designated its India operations as a small car and export hub for the Asia-Pacific region.

Mr. Lheem said Hyundai has designated its India operations as one of its small car and export hubs in the Asia-Pacific region. The company recently increased its production capacity to 600,000 cars per year.

"We have enough capacity to produce vehicles for the domestic market and exports," Mr. Lheem said.

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

Even in the down global economy, India's auto exports have continued to expand. From April to October of this year, they grew by 29 percent, with passenger vehicles gaining 59 percent, the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers reported.

Karl Slym of GM India says there s too much happening there to worry about exporting large numbers of cars.
Karl Slym of GM India says there s too much happening there to worry about exporting large numbers of cars.

None of the auto executives interviewed by The Blade said their companies are building cars in India with a goal of selling them in the United States, at least not for now. Even with India's inexpensive labor, they say the cost of moving cars made in India to the United States and Europe is too high - and the demand in India is too great.

General Motors and Ford - the two U.S. automakers with sizable investments in India - say they are focused on building cars that will be sold in India or nearby markets.


"Our view would be that the U.S. is not part of the plan for the vehicles made here," said Michael Boneham, the president and managing director of Ford India. "We are focusing on growth in India and in and around the Asia and Pacific region."

Karl Slym, the president and managing director of General Motors India, said there's too much happening in India to worry about exporting significant numbers of cars now.

"The growth in India is so enormous at this moment in time that we aren't able to keep up," Mr. Slym said. "We don't export many vehicles because we are trying to keep up with the growth that we've seen here."

In 10 years, auto parts exporting has grown tenfold, the Automotive Component Manufacturers Association of India said.

Among the companies that have benefited is Coolwels Group of Industries, which has a long history of supplying auto parts to Indian automobile manufacturers. Coolwels, based in Gurgaon near Delhi, through four subsidiaries, makes a range of products including steering wheels, pressure die-cast components, and electrical switches.

Gurpal Singh, the managing director of Coolwels, has expanded his company from its humble roots to a transcontinental company with a list of clients that includes India's Big Three, Ford India, GM India, and Hyundai.

Coolwels' roots are in the steering-wheel business, where its subsidiary, Premium Steerings, manufactures about 2,500 steering wheels per day. Tata Motors will use steering wheels made by Mr. Singh's company in the Nano.

"The Nano is going to be a very big volume so it is the latest flash in the market," Mr. Singh said.

Mr. Singh said he is hopeful that the relationships he is building with Ford India will open opportunities in the future to export to Ford in the United States.

But exporting to America has proved difficult because of the need to meet federal standards for on-road vehicles.

"Their specifications are very tough, and any failure anywhere will have a severe punishment," Mr. Singh said. "So we are not in those cars and trucks."

Also, unlike its international competitors, Coolwels doesn't yet have a partner in the airbag industry, a deficiency Mr. Singh said is becoming problematic.

"Multinational companies are converging onto the Indian market, so they have certain technologies like airbags, so they are getting preference over us," Mr. Singh said.

Contact Steve Eder at:

seder@theblade.com

or 419-304-1680.