Ford showed off its most eagerly awaited product for India in years, the small Figo first unveiled last September, at the biannual Delhi Auto Expo at the weekend. The model underlines the Indian auto industry's expertise in making, selling and exporting small cars and a trend to get new models to the fast-growing market faster than before, a local paper noted.

Rival Maruti Suzuki, the country's top automaker, unveiled the concept version of its A-star (Alto for export), now its hot product in Europe, at the 2007 Delhi show, the Hindustan Times noted. That year's show also saw the launch of the low-cost Tata Nano, now on sale despite initial production difficulties caused by a last-minute plant shift.

India is already well established as a small car production and export hub, with volume led by Maruti and the local Hyundai unit.

Volkswagen Group unit Skoda Auto India is also working on a small car that it has said it would launch in India before most other countries, the paper said.

More small cars will be launched either from India, or the Indian launch will be close to the global launch, the report added.

"Gone are the days when we would wistfully flip through foreign magazines and wait interminably for that cool car that was already being driven in the US or as close as Thailand," the Hindustan Times said.

"Our new Figo shows how serious we are about India," Ford CEO Alan Mulally said at the launch in New Delhi. "It reflects our commitment to compete with great products in all segments of this market."

In contrast to Ford's US operations, where the country's sales charts are dominated by the perennial F-series pickup truck (365,416 units year to date according to WardsAuto.com) and the large-by-India-standards Fusion is the brand's top selling car line (161,819 YTD), small cars are big business in India.

The so-called A2 segment alone includes most small hatchbacks. In September 2008, India produced 96,485 of these. In September 2009, it produced 1,29,410, growth of 34.12%. In the same period, the top 10 pickup trucks in the US showed an opposite trend. In September 2008, they sold 151,263 units. In 2009, the figure was 96,005, a drop of 36%, the Hindustan Times noted, citing Autodata.

People who build brand images for cars, the ad agencies, feel that the trend of launching cars in India is gaining traction. "Where would you typically launch a product? In its largest market! And India is a really large market for small cars," Ayan Chakraborty, executive vice-president of the local Saatchi & Saatchi unit said.

Nissan Motor has been open about its India plans with a new, low-cost platform targeted at the small car market. However, Nissan Motors India CEO Kiminobu Tokuyama told the paper it would be a few years before global car models are regularly launched from India.

"Our new small car will probably be launched from Thailand. But its India launch will be not too far behind," he added.

Luxury carmakers, too, feel India launches of global cars are subject to market conditions. "Our city car, the A1, is not slated for India at this moment. We are evaluating the market. However, the Q7 SUV was launched with a facelift in India around the same time as in other markets," said Audi India MD Benoit Tiers.

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