General Motors and Ford plan a series of launches in volume segments and to improve their reach and service to make a dent in the Indian car market where leader Maruti Suzuki and runner-up Hyundai Motors are slipping.

"Our aim is to increase market share to a double digit figure and this will depend on the new portfolio mix and market conditions," Lowell Paddock, president and MD at General Motors India, told the Economic Times. The company plans to launch the Sail mini hatchback in October, to be followed by Sail compact sedan and the Enjoy multi-purpose vehicle. With these launches, GM will have a presence in all segments of the passenger car market.

GM has invested over US$1bn in India while Ford has brought double that amount as it looks at markets such as India and China to propel its global growth.

"India is an important market; with the kind of money we are investing, it's at the centre of the radar," Michael Boneham, president and managing director at Ford India, told the paper. Ford will roll out its sub-four metre SUV EcoSport early next year, to be followed by six other cars by 2015.

Market watchers told the Economic Times these measures would help the two Detroit giants stabilise their position but they would not break into the top three league in the foreseeable future. GM and Ford currently rank sixth and seventh, respectively, in the Indian passenger vehicles market.

"Ford and GM have not been able to connect with the Indian customer...people do not view them as aspirational brands," Hormazd Sorabjee, editor at Autocar India, said. He said new launches and improvement in distribution and sales network will help the two improve market share. "However, they will never get into the top league as they do not have entry level models that give volumes."

Both GM and Ford lost market share in India in the first five months of the current fiscal year after making gains last year. While the top two players, Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai Motors, slipped in the market during this period, the gainers included Toyota, Mahindra & Mahindra, Honda and Tata Motors.

Maruti Suzuki's market share slipped to 36.6% during April-August 2012 from 40.3% a year earlier as major labour unrest, which led to the death of a manager, brought the firm's Manesar plants to a standstill.

Both GM and Ford now look to speed up.

GM's Paddock told the Economic Times products from its Chinese joint venture with SAIC would help the company significantly improve market share in India.

GM's sales increased from 69,000 cars in 2009 to 110,000 cars in 2010 and 111,000 lakh cars in 2011.

The company has been localising products to price them aggressively and widening its distribution and service network to tier II and tier III cities such as Hissar, Una, Nawashehar, Rohtak and Amritsar.

Ford too is busy expanding its reach and rolling out vehicles custom-made for the market. After the launch of the Figo in 2010, Ford India tripled its volumes, both in domestic sales and exports.

The company expects its EcoSport, which is less than four metres in length and thus eligible for lower excise duty, to emulate the Figo's success.

Boneham said learnings from the Figo helped in localisation and lower cost of ownership of the EcoSport which will be launched early in 2013.

He said, however: "We don't chase market share. We want products that are relevant in the consumer's mind."

Ford India officials said earlier it never launched cars focused for the Indian market. The Figo, and now EcoSport, have changed that.

Ford plans to more than double sales and service outlets to over 500 by 2015, up from around 230 now. "Indian consumers will travel any length to purchase a vehicle but will not go very far to service a vehicle," Boneham said.

VG Ramakrishnan, senior director, automotive, at Frost & Sullivan, told the Economic Times that while the Figo helped Ford get its consumer right, GM is yet to connect well with Indian consumers despite introducing the Chevrolet Beat.

"Although GM has invested in a power train and manufacturing facility in Talegon and it has the distribution network, small cars, diesel and petrol cars and cars with alternate fuel, a key element missing is that the product never connected with the customer," Ramakrishnan said.

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