December is that month of the year when activities in automotive companies cool down considerably especially in marketing and promotion of new products. It is also the period of drawing and redrawing targets for the coming year.
But this is not the usual December.
Companies are breaking their backs at work instead of readying for a leisure holiday. More on this in the latter part of the copy, but first here is a complete look at what made headlines in the auto space this week.
Mercedes to launch EV in India in 2020
In 2020, two German luxury carmakers -- Mercedes and Audi -- will enter the electric vehicle (EV) market with an India launch each as the push for greener mobility gathers steam in the luxury segment.
Mercedes-Benz India, the country’s largest luxury car maker, will test the waters with a limited launch of a battery-powered vehicle in 2020. The maker of E Class and S Class has a number of zero-emission EV in its global line-up, but due to lack of EV infrastructure development in India, the entry will be restricted to just one model.
Jaguar XE launched at Rs 45 lakh
Tata Motors-owned Jaguar, the British luxury car brand, has rolled out the facelifted XE sedan at Rs 44.98 lakh (ex-showroom). Petrol and diesel variants are priced similarly with the top-end costing Rs 46.32 lakh.
The XE competes with the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C Class. The new Jaguar will come with two engine options and four variants. The older generation, BS-IV XE, was priced at just under Rs 41 lakh.
MG Motor to launch budget and long-range EVs
MG Motor, one of the newest entrants in the passenger vehicle space in India, will have a range of EVs starting below Rs 10 lakh going up to premium extended drive range options.
The company said that parent SAIC has a range of product options overseas and it would be easy to bring them to India later. Slated for a commercial launch in January, the ZS EV will be MG's first fully electric product in India and only the second electric SUV in India after the Hyundai Kona.
Maruti recalls 63,493 units for rectification
Maruti Suzuki India on December 6 said it is recalling 63,493 units of petrol smart hybrid (SHVS) variants of Ciaz, Ertiga and XL6 models to rectify faulty motor-generator unit (MGU).
A possible defect may have occurred in the MGU during manufacturing by an overseas global part supplier, it added. The vehicles were manufactured between January 1, 2019, to November 21, 2019.
Bajaj launches Husqvarna in India
Bajaj Auto on December 6 introduced the Husqvarna premium motorcycle brand in India with the unveiling of the all-new Vitpilen 250 and Svartpilen 250 models.
The launch is part of Bajaj’s Probiking Business Unit that handles the company's premium motorcycle vertical. The Svartpilen and Vitpilen will start retailing from February 2020 onwards. KTM showrooms will be upgraded to sell both KTM and Husqvarna high-performance motorcycles, Bajaj Auto said.
Carmakers keep December unusually hot
Traditionally for carmakers, pre-launch, launch, marketing and promotion activities almost die out after the festive months of September, October and November.
Auto companies vigorously ask their dealers to get rid of the older stock to make way for the new models in New Year and accordingly production is fine-tuned at the factories to a lower level. Senior management and mid-level executives prepare to put their feet up and enjoy a few days of holiday, especially around Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
But this year’s December is a solid break away from the earlier ones. Marred by one of the worst downturns ever to hit the industry companies are desperately trying to improve or defend whatever is left after the wipeout. Also given the fact that new entrants from China and Korea are gobbling up market share, incumbents are feeling the heat.
With the government showing no intent in arresting or reversing the fall companies are forced to act independently.
Executives are thus working overtime, pre-launches activities for models not to be hitting showrooms before February have begun and press conferences are happening almost every day in some part of the country. Vehicle experience drives for reviewers, influencers and bloggers are arranged with minimal gap between two events.
While new model launches were a rarity in December the month has already seen two launches (Mercedes-Benz GLC and Jaguar XE) and six unveilings so far (MG ZS EV, Tata Altroz, Husqvarna and KTM bikes, Triumph Rocket III). Two more unveilings (Tata Nexon EV and Porsche Cayenne Coupe) and two experiential drives are yet to happen.
Despite the slowdown biting hard into their margins companies are forced to spare no costs when it comes to product promotion.
For instance, Tata Motors invited a pack of 60 (reviewers, influencers and bloggers) for the experiential drive of the upcoming Altroz in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. Originally scheduled to hit showrooms in mid-2019 the delayed, premium hatchback Altroz will now go on sale in early 2020.
Tata Motors has seen the steepest fall in volumes among the large volume players during April-October with sales free-falling 41 percent, more than double compared to the industry. As per data supplied by the Society of India Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) the car segment contracted by 20 percent during the same period.
The tendency to conserve cash is naturally higher during trying times. As per a report in Autocar India, Tata Motors will skip the Geneva Motor Show in 2020. This will be the first time ever since its debut in 1998 that Tata Motors will not participate at the annual event. The Mumbai-based company will instead take part in the Indian Auto Expo in February 2020.