Indian Automobile Sector

During the early ’60s & ’70s, automobiles came largely in twos. In scooters, you had a Lambretta or a Vespa. In motorcycles, you had a Bullet or a Java. In cars, you had to choose between an Ambassador and a Fiat. In trucks, it was either an Ashok Leyland or a Tata. In tractors, it was between a Swaraj and a Mahindra.

This situation reflected the India of yester years. Economic reforms and deregulation have transformed that scene. The automobile industry has written a new inspirational tale. It is a tale of exciting multiplicity, unparalleled growth, and amusing consumer experience – all within a few years. This is a tribute to leaders and managers in the industry and, equally, to policy planners. India has already become one of the fastest-growing automobile markets in the world. The automobile industry has the opportunity to go beyond this remarkable achievement. It is standing on the doorsteps of a quantum leap.


The Indian automobile industry is going through a technological change. Each firm changes its processes and technologies to maintain its competitive advantage and provide customers with optimized products and services. From two-wheelers, trucks, and tractors to multi-utility, commercial, and luxury vehicles, the Indian automobile industry has achieved splendidly in recent years. “The opportunity is staring in your face. It comes only once. If you miss it, you will not get it again.”

On the canvas of the Indian economy, the auto industry maintains a high-flying place. Due to its deep frontward and rearward linkages with several key segments of the economy, the automobile industry has a strong multiplier effect. It is capable of being the driver of economic growth. A sound transportation system is essential to the country’s rapid economic and industrial development. The well-developed Indian automotive industry skillfully fulfills this catalytic role by producing a wide variety of vehicles: passenger cars, light, medium, and heavy commercial vehicles, multi-utility vehicles such as jeeps, scooters, motorcycles, mopeds, three-wheelers, tractors, etc.

The automotive sector is one of the core industries of the Indian economy, whose prospects reflect the country’s economic resiliency. Over the years, continuous economic liberalization by India’s Government has made India one of the prime business destinations for many global automotive players. The automotive sector in India is growing at around 18 percent per annum.

“The auto industry is just a multiplier, a driver for employment, investment, technology”. The Indian automotive industry started its new journey in 1991 by delicensing the sector and opening up for 100 percent FDI through the automatic route. Since then, almost all the global majors have set up their facilities in India, taking the production of vehicles from 2 million in 1991 to 9.7 million in 2006 (nearly 7 percent of global automobile production and 2.4 percent of four-wheeler production).

The cumulative annual growth rate of automotive industry production from 2000-2001 to 2005-2006 was 17 percent. The cumulative annual growth rate of exports from 2000-01 to 2005-06 was 32.92 percent. The production of the automotive industry is expected to achieve a growth rate of over 20 percent in 2006-07 and about 15 percent in 2007-08. Exports during the same period are expected to grow over 20 percent.

The automobile sector has contributed to India’s shining economic performance in recent years. With the Indian middle class earning a higher per capita income, more people are ready to own private vehicles, including cars and two-wheelers. Product movements and operated services have boosted the sales of medium and large commercial vehicles for passenger and goods transport. Stump Blog.

The automotive components sector has witnessed growth along with fresh vehicle sales growth. The domestic auto components consumption has crossed rupees 9000 crores and an export of one-half size of this figure.

Eye-Catching FDI Destination – INDIA!

India is at the peak of the Foreign Direct Investment wave. FDI flows into India trebled from $6 billion in 2004-05 to $19 billion in 2006-07 and are expected to quadruple to $25 billion in 2007-08. By AT Kearney’s FDI Confidence Index 2006, India is the second most attractive FDI destination after China, pushing the US to the third position. It is commonly believed that India will catch up with China soon. With rising wages and high land prices in the eastern regions, China may lose its edge as a low-cost manufacturing hub. This may also happen as China attempts to cool the economy and its protectionism measures that are eclipsing the Middle Kingdom’s attractiveness. India seems to be the natural choice.

India is an up-and-coming significant manufacturer, especially of electrical and electronic equipment, automobiles, and auto parts. During 2000-2005, of the total FDI inflow, electrical and electronic (including computer software) and car accounted for 13.7 percent and 8.4 percent, respectively.

In the services sectors, the lead players are the US, Singapore, and the UK. During 2000-2005, the total investment from these three countries accounted for about 40 percent of the FDI in the services sector. In automobiles, the key player is Japan. During 2000-2005, Japan accounted for about 41 percent of the total automobile FDI, surpassing all its competitors by a big margin. India’s vast domestic market and the large pool of technically skilled workforce were the magnetism for foreign investors. Hitherto, known for knowledge-based industries, India is also emerging as a powerhouse of conventional manufacturing. The manufacturing sector in the Index for Industrial Production has grown at an annual rate of over 9 percent over the last three years. Korean auto-makers think India is a better destination than China. Though China provides a bigger market for automobiles, India offers a potential for higher growth. Manufacturing and service-led development and increasing consumerization make India one of the most important destinations for FDI.

Automotive Mission Plan 2016

The bumper-to-bumper traffic of global automobile biggies on the passage to India has finally made the Government sit up and take notice. To drive greater investments into the sector, the Ministry of Heavy Industries has put together a 10-year mission plan to make India a global hub for the automotive industry.

“The ten-year mission plan will also set the roadmap for budgetary fiscal incentives”. The Government of India is drawing up an Automotive Mission Plan 2016 to make India a global automotive hub. The idea is to draw an innovative plan of action with the full participation of the stakeholders and implement it in mission mode to meet the challenges coming in the way of the industry’s growth. Through this Automotive Mission Plan, the Government also wants to provide a level playing field to the players in the sector and lay a predictable future direction of growth to enable the manufacturers to make a more informed investment decision.

Major players in the automobile sector are:

  • o Tata
  • o Mahindra
  • o Ashok Leyland
  • o Bajaj
  • o Hero Honda
  • o Daimler Chrysler
  • o Suzuki
  • o Ford
  • o Fiat
  • o Hyundai
  • o General Motors
  • o Volvo
  • o Yamaha
  • o Mazda

Foreign Companies in the Indian auto sector

Until the mid-1990s, the automobile industry in India consisted of just a handful of local companies with small capacities and obsolete technologies. Nevertheless, after the sector was opened to foreign direct investment in 1996, some of the global majors moved in, and by 2002, Hyundai, Honda, Toyota, General Motors, Ford, and Mitsubishi had established their manufacturing bases.

Over the past four to five years, the country has seen the launch of several domestic and foreign passenger car, multi-utility vehicle (MUV), commercial vehicle, and two-wheelers models and robust growth in the production of all kinds of vehicles. Moreover, due to its low-cost, high-quality manufacturing, India has emerged as a significant outsourcing hub for auto components and engineering design, rivaling Thailand. German automaker Volkswagen AG is looking to enter India, too.

India is expected to be the small car hub for Japanese major Toyota. A hot hatch like the Swift or Getz car is likely to be exported to markets like Brazil and other Asian countries. This global car is crucial for Toyota, which is looking to improve its sales in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) markets.

Two multinational car majors — Suzuki Motor Corporation of Japan and Hyundai Motor Company of Korea — have indicated that their manufacturing facilities will be a global source for small cars. The spurt in in-house product development skills and the uniquely high concentration of small vehicles will influence the country’s ability to become a sourcing hub for sub-compact cars.

A heartening feature of the changing automobile scene in India over the past five years is domestic manufacturers’ newfound success and confidence. They are no longer afraid of competition from the international auto majors.

For instance, today, Tata Motor’s Indigo leads the popular customer category. At the same time, its Indica is neck-to-neck with Hyundai’s Santro in the race for the top slot in the B category. Meanwhile, M&M’s Scorpio has beaten back the challenge from Toyota’s Qualis to lead the SUV segment. Similarly, a few Indian winners have emerged in the motorbike market — the 150 and 180 cc Pulsar from Bajaj and 110 ccs Victor from the TVS stable. The 93 cc Bike from Bajaj and the 110 cc Freedom bike from LML have also emerged as winners.

Indian players have learned from past mistakes and developed the skills to build cheaper automobiles using ‘appropriate’ technologies. TVS, for instance, paid an overseas source $100,000 to fine-tune home-grown engines rather than $1.5 million to import the entire machine. Similarly, M&M adapted available systems and off-the-shelf components from global suppliers to keep costs down and go for aggressive pricing. True, Indian players still lack in the scale of operation. While economies of scale no doubt play an important role in the auto sector, a few Indian manufacturers relied on innovation rather than scale of operation for competitive advantage. For instance, Sundram Fasteners directly supplied radiator caps to General Motors purely on the strength of innovation in product quality. The domestic tooling industry bagged the order for the Toyota Kirloskar transmission plant in the face of stiff competition from multinational corporations. The cost of the entire job turned out to be only a fraction of the original estimate.

As the automobile industry has matured over the past decade, the auto components industry has grown rapidly. It is fast achieving global competitiveness both in terms of cost and quality. Industry observers believe that while the automobile market will grow at a measured rate, the components industry is poised for take-off, for it is among the handful of industries where India has a distinct competitive advantage. International automobile majors, such as Hyundai, Ford, Toyota, and GM, which set up their bases in India in the 1990s, persuaded some of their overseas component suppliers to set up manufacturing facilities in India.

Consequently, the cumulative output of the auto components industry rose rapidly to Rs 30,640 crore at the end of 2003-04 from just Rs 11,475 crore in 1996-97. Foreign companies such as Delphi, which followed General Motors in 1995, and Visteon, which followed Ford Motors in 1998, soon realized the substantial cost advantage of manufacturing components in India.

Finding the cost lower by about 30 percent, they began exploring the possibility of exporting back these low-cost, high-quality components to their global factories and, thus, reducing their overall costs. Not surprisingly, the industry’s exports registered a more than four-fold jump to Rs 4,800 crore in 2003-04 from just Rs 1,033 crore in 1996-97.

Automobile majors such as Maruti Udyog, Toyota, and Hyundai have now finalized their plans to invest in some of the critical auto components. According to the Automotive Component Manufacturers Association of India (ACMA) officials, auto component manufacturers are expected to invest about Rs 10,000 crore over the next five years at the rate of Rs 2,000 crore per annum.

Analysts say the auto component industry could emerge as the next success story after software, pharmaceuticals, BPO, and textiles. The size of the global auto component industry is estimated at $1 trillion and is set to grow further. Against this backdrop, McKinsey’s latest report has estimated that the sector could increase its exports to $25 billion by 2015 from $1.1 billion in 2004.

Threat to the Dream!

India’s expedition to become a global auto manufacturing hub could be seriously challenged by its inability to uphold its low-cost production base. A survey conducted by the research firm KMPMG reveals that Indian auto component manufacturers are increasingly becoming skeptical about sustaining the low-cost base as overheads, including labour costs and a complex tax regime, are constantly rising.

The survey said many executives believe that India’s cost advantage is grinding down fast as labor costs are constantly increasing and retaining employees is becoming more and more difficult. The increased presence of global automotive companies in the country was cited as one of the reasons for the high erosion rate.

Indian auto businesses will only flourish if they boost investments in automation. In the longer term, cost advantage will only be retained if Indian capital can be used to develop low-cost automation in manufacturing. This is the way to preserve our low cost.

Global auto majors are also cynical about India’s low-cost manufacturing base. India’s taxation remains a big disadvantage. This is not about tax rates. It is just about unnecessary complexity. However, some companies also believe there is scope for reducing business costs.

Despite this, there are opportunities to exploit lower costs across the board. Indeed, labor costs are increasing, but they are still five percent of the total operational costs. The labor costs can be further reduced if companies successfully bring down other prices, such as lowering power costs. A low-cost base can never last long. The company said the Indian industry has relied on a very labor-intensive model till now, but it would have to switch to a more capital-intensive model now.


Alcohol scholar. Bacon fan. Internetaholic. Beer geek. Thinker. Coffee advocate. Reader. Have a strong interest in consulting about teddy bears in Nigeria. Spent 2001-2004 promoting glue in Pensacola, FL. My current pet project is testing the market for salsa in Las Vegas, NV. In 2008 I was getting to know birdhouses worldwide. Spent 2002-2008 buying and selling easy-bake-ovens in Bethesda, MD. Spent 2002-2009 marketing country music in the financial sector.