2012 : A forgettable year for Motown
Seldom is it that a year that begins with such promise and hype ends as one that is forgettable and beset with regrets. 2012 was one such example. It began with a bang with the biennial New Delhi Auto Expo, the show piece event for the domestic industry. And it ends almost with a whimper.
The insipid festive season and stubbornly sluggish sales making everybody pray for the new year. As the year draws to a close, it is worthwhile to look at some of the highs and lows.
SUVs, SUVs and more SUVs
The scramble for diesel car among consumers had to manifest itself in a shift towards bigger cars. But what led to a exponential surge in demand for SUVs was the entry of affordable compact vehicles like Renault Duster and Maruti Ertiga. Easily the two biggest success stories of this year, it brightened the prospects of an upstart of a company and revived the fortunes of another. Even in a sluggish demand scenario, the appetite for SUVs remains high. The segment has grown by over 60% this year, a stratospheric number when compared to the industry’s by and large Hindu rate of growth this year. And the story is likely to continue in 2013 and beyond. Coming up next are Ford EcoSport, Maruti XA Alpha and Hyundai Hexa Space.
It is quite uncommon to script in a company as one of the year’s highs but such was Audi’s aura this year. The German firm defied laws of gravity and laughed off suggestions of sluggish demand for luxury cars in India with a near 60% jump in sales. In the process it overtook Mercedes to become the second largest luxury car maker in India and is now at a sniffing distance away from leader– BMW. They have had their share of criticisms though. Rivals have berated Audi for steep discounting and below the belt marketing gimmicks. High brow technicians and engineers scowl at their supposed lack of ingenuity. How, for example, does the 2.0 litre Volkswagen turbo diesel engine finds itself in such a wide variety of cars like an Audi Q3, Q5, A4, A6, Skoda Yeti, Laura, Superb, Volkswagen Jetta and Passat. “Buy a Yeti and you will get a Q3 for half the price,” a rival once remarked. “So much for Vorsprung durch technik.” (Progress through technology)
In the market place though, what sells is a success. And what is successful, is right. In 2012, Audi was so right.
To be fair to it, the Swift has always been a high each year ever since it was launched in the summer of 2005. Many say, it is a success that keeps Maruti afloat in India. And hence, Suzuki globally. That may be an exaggeration but to say that the Swift is a legend in India would not be a stretch. But why it figures in this list is for one unforeseen reason.
In May, it became only the third model in the post liberalised era to become the largest selling passenger car in India overtaking a much lesser priced stablemate–Alto. A revised version of the latter in the second half of this year and labour unrest at the factory where the car is made during the middle of the year, restricted Swift’s march, but May showed what just could maybe the future–Swift as the largest selling car in the country.
New Delhi Auto Expo
Some may say it was always, a disaster waiting to happen. Some others would argue, it has always been a disaster. But this year’s event, which was the 11th edition of the franchise, was such a colossal failure that even the staunchest optimist would cringe. The mayhem that ensued on the second day of the event, a day when only media was allowed, forced M&M Chairman Anand Mahindra to comment that the melee resembled a Kumbh Mela. From bored office executives to kids bunking schools and colleges, everybody turned up to have a look at the cars and the short skirts. How did they manage it…the effervescent Indian jugaad. It forced a bemused fellow journalist from UK to say “You guys may have learnt how to make world class cars, you still dont know how to host a world class event.” Coming straight after the error ridden Commonwealth Games of 2011, it did not really puff up my chest. To avoid a repeat, the Expo now finds a new home in 2014, in faraway Greater Noida. The crowds may give it a miss now but the organisers refuse to desert the show. The problem, like Kalmadi, stays where it was.
Maruti Labour unrest
The ugly side of a militant labour strife returned at the ill fated Manesar factory of Maruti on July 18 evening. Two hours of mayhem at the factory’s shopfloor when workers ransacked the premises left senior HR manager Awanish Kumar Dev dead and at least 100 others injured. The factory had to be shut for a month as the killers–mostly members of the new union formed at the factory–went on a hiding. They were all caught eventually but Maruti’s proud record of having the best industrial labour relations in the industry was besmirched forever. Over 500 workers were sacked and cases are being heard against 150 arrested by the police for direct involvement in the violence on that day. This was the first ever instance when somebody had died due to violence at the shop floor in a company as big as Maruti. Without doubt, a tragedy unlike any other. Five months down the line Manesar, that produces blockbuster models like Swift and Dzire, remains at an edge. An arrogant company and impatient workforce has overnight turned a factory into an active volcano.