With passenger car sales crossing the million mark last year, India is finally a part of everyone's global plans. A number of global platforms are now being designed with the Indian market in mind and companies across the globe are excited about the prospects.

Perhaps the most eagerly awaited car at present is the Tata 'One Lakh' (INR100,000) car, a vehicle that will have a target price of EUR1,800 when it will be launched towards the end of 2008.

Some details of the car are already available. Like the VW Up! Concept unveiled at the Frankfurt show last week, the Tata car will have a rear-mounted engine and seating for four. Power will be from either a 600cc petrol engine or a 700cc, twin-cylinder diesel.

To keep logistics costs down, Tata plans to eventually manufacture the vehicle at four plants across the country. Target sales for the small car are 1m units per annum, nearly the same as India's current vehicle output.

But it's not just the small car that is keeping Tata's engineering division busy nowadays. The replacement for the Indica hatchback is long overdue and will roll out in 2008. Also on its way in 2008 is the replacement platform for the Safari SUV.

With Tata's ambitious plans of total domination in terms of sales numbers, car market leader Maruti Udyog (just renamed Maruti Suzuki India) is not going to rest on its laurels, nor its current product line-up. What may hit Maruti hard are new safety laws due to apply in India from 2008.

This may result in a few Maruti vehicles - the 800 (based an a mid-'80s Suzuki Alto design), Esteem (an updated version of Suzuki's late-'80s Swift sedan) and Omni (Maruti's updated derivative of the 1980s-designed Suzuki Carry microvan) - going off the road due to their inability to meet the new regulations.

This is a collective setback of about 8,000 units a year and the company will be looking at offsetting more than that with new/upgraded products - Maruti also offers completely up-to-date 'global' Suzuki designs such as the strong-selling Swift hatchback line and SX4 small SUV.

So, the Omni microvan will be replaced in terms of pricing by the existing Versa van, which benefits due to the new small car regulations. In the pipeline is the just-redesigned Suzuki Splash (aka Opel/Vauxhall Agila) launched at Frankfurt - which may be rechristened as the Wagon-R in the Indian market, replacing the older design currently on sale here.

Also under development is a three-box version of the Swift hatchback, codenamed YN4. The Swift sedan - this body style being much more popular here than in most European markets - will be offered with a petrol as well as diesel engine.

The diesel engine may be a spiced-up version of the acclaimed Fiat 1.3-litre Multijet unit (also used in some GM Europe models) which Suzuki manufactures under licence in India.

The YN4 will replace the existing Esteem sedan (the company has already started phasing out this old model) and is likely to be launched at the New Delhi Auto Expo in January 2008.

The most important model currently under development at Maruti is the YC5, a small car that is designed more for global consumption than local. Maruti plans to export 150,000 of them every year with both left- and right-hand drive.

In Europe, Volkswagen has just unveiled the Up! concept, a rear-engine, rear-wheel drive small car that is being readied for markets like India. With engine options of 2-3 cylinders, petrol /diesel options, 500-1000cc, boasting of a frugal nature, the Up! scores well on most counts. It's also quite good looking, something which is important in a market like India.

The Up! will be produced in India from the end of 2009 and will be the fourth VW model sold here. The German automaker has just introduced the large (by Indian standards) Passat here and will introduce the Jetta and Polo lines from 2008.

But the Up! which will be the volume player as VW is targeting 100,000 units a year. The company's 'green field' start-up facility in Pune will begin building cars in 2009.

Volkswagen's stable-mate Skoda is expected to launch the redesigned Fabia here in 2008. Also expected is a Skoda version of the upcoming VW small car.

Another company with a small car under development is General Motors. After expanding its current assembly plant based in Halol, Gujarat, GM is establishing a green field facility in Pune for its high volume GM Daewoo-designed Chevrolet Spark model (aka the Matiz in some markets).

The new small car will be based on the Chevrolet Beat concept displayed at this year's Detroit show. Apart from this, the Captiva SUV and the new Aveo hatchback are also expected to be launched in the near future.

For a country that was plagued with excess capacity five years ago, India is doing quite well with new plants being announced every month.

Honda, which has managed to create a very powerful 'premium brand' image with its range centred on the popular Civic (regarded as a 'luxury sedan' here), is setting up another plant in the Delhi area. This will be the base for a foray into the small car sector with the redesigned Jazz (Fit), expected in 2008.

Honda also plans to give its current City ZX (a sedan derivative of the current Jazz/Fit that is also built and sold in Asia) a mild facelift and extra features including airbags and anti-lock brakes to fend off competition from recent introductions such as Suzuki's SX4 sedan.

The new US-specification Accord (a larger model line with available V6 engines than the Accord Euro designed primarlily for Europe) will be introduced in 2009.

Toyota, meanwhile, is eyeing a 10% share of the Indian passenger car market by 2010. The drive to sell about 200,000 units a year will be spearheaded by a small car currently under development.

From the sketchy details so far available, the model is expected to be an all new low cost car for emerging markets priced from about EUR7,000. Toyota plans to set up a new plant adjacent to its existing plant in Bidadi, near Bangalore, to build this car.

Following the success of its Scorpio SUV, which Mahindra developed at an enviable low investment, the company is now developing the Ingenio, an all-new multi utility vehicle (MUV) aimed at the people-mover (minivan/MPV) sector here.

As part of its joint venture with Renault, a new plant is being set up in Chennai which, from 2009, will roll out Mahindra/Renault/Nissan-badged cars. Needless to say, with the plant located in the port city of Chennai, not all of the cars built will end up on Indian roads - they'll join various Suzuki and Hyundai models on the Indian auto industry's export list.

An estate version of the Logan cannot be ruled out, either.

Speaking of Hyundai, its Indian unit will introduce the PA small car in 2008, slotting it in between the existing Santro Xing and Getz Prime models and will offer diesel and petrol variants.

With India being Hyundai's small car hub, just-auto expects the company's Chennai plant to cater for at least some of the global demand for the PA. It already exports the Santro Xing (Atos) and Getz Prime models under a variety of brands and model names.

Deepesh Rathore

[Tata is not the only entry-level vehicle maker working on a new 'twin'. Fiat, whose Multijet diesel Maruti builds in India under licence, is developing a new two-cylinder engine (dubbed the SGE900cc Turbo) equipped with a new 'Multiair' system, claimed to lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, in line with future Euro 5 and Euro 6 emissions standards, and is claiming performance on a par with that of a larger engine. It will be in production vehicles from 2009 - ed]