Ford appears to be pulling out of India, with the automaker confirming plans to end production there by next year. While a sizable automotive market — fifth just behind Japan, with about 2.5 million sales annually — the region never felt like a good fit for Blue Oval. Ford’s cash cows have long been upsized SUVs and pickup trucks, whereas India has an obvious penchant for small automobiles prioritizing value above all else. This left the automaker with a paltry market share estimated below two percent and likely explains why it’s no longer interested in manufacturing vehicles there.
In Thursday’s announcement, the company confessed to having accumulated operating losses of more than $2 billion over the last decade — hence the need for restructuring. But it won’t be cutting ties with India entirely, as it wants the region to handle Ford Business Solutions and help with customer support services via the relevant information centers.
Jaguar Land Rover unveiled its all-electric SUV to the Indian market this week, proving that it’s dead serious about expanding the I-Pace’s customer base. While parent company Tata Motors undoubtedly has a fondness for its home region, we cannot help but wonder if its a market worthy of pursuit considering the model’s starting price.
The manufacturer has the (90-kWh) I-Pace stickered at 105.91 lakh rupees, which translates to about $147,000 USD. Considering the unique way India writes out denominations and often transitions between crore and lakh as a way to avoid listing high-value items in the millions of rupees, we were initially convinced we’d messed up the conversion. The sum would not only eclipse the $70,000 MSRP Jaguar has affixed to the I-Pace in the United States, it makes it highly uncompetitive against the luxury EVs already on a market that’s not known for its wealthy consumer base. How could this be JLR and Tata’s preferred strategy?
On Friday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the automaker was planning to enter the Indian market in 2021. “Next year for sure,” Musk said in a Twitter response that included a photograph of a T-shirt indicating that “India Wants/Loves Tesla.”
The original poster is probably correct in that assumption, too. While Indian vehicle prices average around the U.S. equivalent of $7,400, many models can be had for far cheaper. Vehicle ownership is also extremely limited, with only around 25 in 1,000 people able to afford one. But Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari said the nation had a plan to ensure 15 percent of all new vehicle sales were electric by 2023.
That sounded insanely ambitious to our years when we first heard it in 2018, especially considering India’s original plan called for the same number by 2030 and seemed similarly unrealistic. Central planning rarely goes as mapped but it’s all the rage in most nations now that it can be tied to progressive looking environmental reforms.
India is famous for having some of the most lawless roadways on the planet. While the primary culprit is likely the country’s lax licensing requirements — showing a basic understanding of a vehicle’s controls and the ability to park is about all it takes — the bar has been set similarly low for what’s deemed acceptable outside the classroom. It’s not uncommon to see occupancy limits surpassed, often with excess passengers riding on the outside of a vehicle. Roads and automobiles are also often poorly maintained, encouraging accidents that jam up traffic.
Honking is a problem too, with India’s Central Pollution Control Board banning the practice in several cities for 2017. The group worked off data from 2011 that alleged Delhi’s busiest areas averaged 100-108 decibels of ambient background sound (with some spots going up to 125db). That’s enough to cause physical harm to someone subjected to the noise for just 15 minutes — and most of the sound is believed to stem from persistent honking.
The crossover craze isn’t limited to just North America.
Once in a while, we here at TTAC cast our gaze outward, beyond our shores. A quick cruise of global automotive news shows that Maruti Suzuki helped drive big growth in the multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) segment in India in 2019. Yep, people on the other side of the world like crossovers just as much as we do.
While much of the Indian automotive market saw contraction, with some segments in the double digits, MPVs saw a segment growth of 35 percent. The market share of these vehicles has risen from 5 percent to 8 percent. At its peak, the MPV’s market share was 10 percent.
Hyundai Motor Group India hopes to grow interest in the Kona Electric by having the subcompact crossover become the first EV to drive to Mount Everest’s base camp. While demand for the model has so far been relatively low, with deliveries averaging roughly 100 units per month in the U.S., it’s performed rather well globally (for an EV). Hyundai has one of the best ratios of plug-in sales in the industry — with about 5 percent of global sales going toward something rechargeable.
The figures vary month to month, but Hyundai has been able to consistently rely on at least 4,000 EV sales per month through 2019. In October, Hyundai said it shipped over 8,000 plug-in models, with continued growth anticipated through the end of this year.
Unfortunately, Indian auto sales aren’t particularly healthy. Volume is down over 30 percent vs last year and Hyundai promised $250 million to the nation to further the sales of electric and hybrid vehicles. EV sales are particularly bad, with estimates of all-electric passenger vehicles being no higher than 10,000 units (total) over the last five years. The brand likely figured a regionally focused publicity stunt might help boost interest in Asia while giving international markets a similar bump. After all, everyone in the world has heard of Everest and the dangerous ascent to its peak.
Last week we reported on the headway electric vehicles are making in the Netherlands, framing the situation as idyllic for EVs. Less picturesque for plug-in sales is India — a nation that has similarly attempted to encourage the proliferation of electric cars, but with unimpressive results. As it turns out, India makes a stellar counterpoint for worldwide electrification.
Based on the success EVs have seen over the last few years, you’d think the government was asking everyone to start eating hamburgers. Despite having a population of 1.34 billion people, with more of them becoming drivers every day, just 8,000 EVs have been sold in the nation over the last six years.
Eager to avoid further losses in the growth-primed Indian market, Ford has sealed a deal with an automaker that knows its way around the subcontinent: Mahindra & Mahindra.
Originally a partner when Ford cast its line back into India in the 1990s, the two automakers drifted apart, only to grow chummier when Ford’s global streamlining efforts took root. An alliance sprung up in 2017. Now, Mahindra will hold a controlling stake in the new JV, with Ford owning a 49-percent share of the business (while retaining full ownership of the Ford brand). Boosted market share and joint vehicle development tops the Blue Oval’s hopes, and you can bet that new SUVs are on the way.
Three SUVs, to be exact, including a new midsize model that’s all Mahindra underneath.
In this case, the locale is India — birthplace of the EcoSport and a developing, massively populous market with the potential to make automakers a ton of cash. And yet Ford’s efforts to seize a slice of this pie hasn’t born the fruit the Blue Oval initially hoped. Meanwhile, Ford is in the midst of a major global streamlining effort.
What to do?
Partner up. In this case, with a major Indian automaker — Mahindra & Mahindra, builder of SUVs and ATVs, including the adorable, Jeep-like Roxor.
We’ve spent the better part of 2019 describing how unwell the automotive markets of China, Europe and North America have become, which might accidentally lead some to believe that most other markets are performing better. While Brazil expects continued expansion and a presumably healthy 2019, its rosy outlook is unique.
Japan saw a modest decline in registrations (just 0.3 percent) through the first half of the year, while Russia recorded slippage of 2.4 percent. But figures from India were far worse. In fact, the country is looking at the biggest sales slump in almost twenty years. Early estimates suggest passenger vehicle registrations may have plunged as much as 30 percent in July, after falling 17.5 percent just a month earlier. Most annual outlooks forecast a double-digit decline in overall sales.
Foreign-market cars are always an interesting case study on these digital pages. The latest craft to catch our eye? The MG Hector, India’s newest family SUV.
When we said that brand, you may have thought we were going to say Britain’s newest family SUV. For that, you are easily forgiven. After all, the Morris Garages name is as quintessentially British as a kidney pie on a foggy morning. The brand was bought ages ago by Chinese interests, of course, and is now making inroads into the Indian market following a tough year of sales in its home country.
To amp things up, they’ve signed the devilishly debonair Benedict Cumberbatch to huck the Hector. About the length of the 2020 Ford Escape, this MG is packed with voice-activated and internet-connected technologies and priced at the equivalent of just $17,600.
Remind me again why cars like this won’t sell on our side of the pond?
By 2020, India is projected to become the world’s third-largest auto market, and it’s a market Ford Motor Company wants to dominate. The past year revealed China can’t be counted on to fill financial sails forever.
With this in mind, Ford is reportedly planning a slew of new small crossovers, and could soon put a billion dollars behind the effort.
While our Ace of Base series delights in revealing just how bargain basement a mainstream vehicle can get, none of those rides hold a candle to the spartan purgatory that was the Tata Nano.
Billed as the world’s cheapest car upon its release in 2008, the Indian-market four-door was tailor-made to lure that country’s growing market of would-be vehicle owners off motorcycles and into a car with two cylinders, 37 horsepower, and a rear hatch that didn’t open.
Not unexpectedly, the vehicle quickly developed a stigma.
China got a headstart in the “countries with over a billion people who suddenly love owning a car” race, but India’s trying its best to catch up.
With a growing pool of consumers ready and willing to hand over cash for a car, Ford Motor Company knows partnering with a local company that knows the lay of the land is a speedier and cheaper route to profits, so last year it formed an alliance with Mahindra Group. You know Mahindra — the company currently building a retro Jeep-shaped ATV for nostalgic Americans.
This week, the two companies further consummated their bond by signing off on the joint development of SUVs.
Every year, nearly 40,000 people lose their lives on American roadways. Tragic as that may be, it’s small potatoes when you consider India hovers around 150,000 annual fatalities. While you could attribute the difference to the 1.32 billion people living in the country, the truth is that car ownership in India is far less common than in the United States.
Here, there are about 255 million functioning vehicles, leaving the majority of the population with access to some form of four-wheeled transportation. However, in India, the number is closer to 55.7 million — which only gives 42 people out of every 1,000 access to an automobile.
Confronted with a situation that can only be described as catastrophic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking to impose harsher penalties for traffic violations and requiring automakers to add safety features to cars sold within the region. While that’s a fine start, it doesn’t address the core issue: a nationwide lack of discipline behind the wheel.