IE: How do you rate the automobile sector’s growth in today’s scenario?
P Balendran: The automobile sector in general has been severely impacted by high interest rates, high fuel prices and poor economic sentiment during 2012. The already sluggish demand for passenger cars, has not been picking up at all as a result of the high car ownership costs for customers. We do not expect the industry demand scenario to improve significantly in 2013 unless there is a noticeable cut in interest rates, a stable fuel-pricing policy and key stimulus measures taken by the government in the Union budget 2013-14.
IE: What has been your company’s performance through the year?
PB: We have continued to provide the excitement for our customers in the marketplace with the latest line of Chevrolet products. We have launched five cars in the year including new Tavera, new Cruze, new Captiva, new Spark and the all new SAIL U-VA premium hatchback which has in fact grabbed coveted industry awards too.
IE: Please elucidate on the threats and opportunities in the current scenario.
PB: We are cautiously optimistic about growth in the automobile sector in the short to medium term. In terms of opportunity, there is great market potential as the car penetration is low at 7 per 1000 people owning a car compared to more mature markets such as U.S. with about 800/1000 and Germany at about 550/1000. Even in China, car penetration is much higher than India at about 60 per 1000 citizens. In terms of threats, there are concerns with the dilly-dolly in fuel pricing by the government as well as levy of additional cess on utility vehicles. There any additional tax levied on utility vehicles, it will severely impact growth of the already flat auto industry.
IE: What is the latest innovation that has come up in the sector that was not present ten years ago?
PB: Diesel engines that are used on various car models today are much more efficient than the ones used in yesteryears. Diesel engines of today are more environment-friendly in terms of emissions, produce less noise and, more importantly, modern diesel cars are easy to drive and navigate. GM, has been at the helm of innovations in engines and currently manufactures the most fuel-efficient diesel car in India, GM India has once again redefined the driving characteristics of diesel cars in India.
IE: How much of R&D is being employed in the sector now?
PB: GM India’s Technical Centre in Bangalore has been actively involved in devising subtle changes to various car models from our global portfolio and adapting them to the needs of the Indian customers. As recently seen with the SAIL U-VA and Sail sedan, engineers at the Technical Centre in Bangalore were instrumental in raising the ground clearance of the two models and adding various India-centric features. The Technical Centre at Bangalore (GMTCI) is one of four such facilities in Asia for the company.
IE: What will be a major technology that would revolutionise the sector?
PB: Mobility in the Indian automobile sector is expected to become more environment-friendly with the government implementing automobile policies to promote and incentivise the use of hybrid and electric vehicles. We, at GM India, are fully prepared to be at the forefront of this revolution with our technologically advanced portfolio of alternate-fuel models.