India's largest car maker, Maruti Suzuki India, has begun a project to completely design and make a new car locally with production beginning in 2010.

Maruti has until now adapted Japanese Suzuki designs such as the Alto and Swift for local production, domestic sale and export.

It will hire 1,000 engineers for a planned new global design centre. The company is investing US$360m in the project and plans to sell 200,000 cars by 2010, up from 54,000 last year.

Sales rose 5.8% in the first half of this financial year, much slower than the pace of 19.3% a year earlier.

The company wants to cut costs by INR100 for each of about 20,000 components used in its cars, spokesman Takuma Mizuyoshi said.

"If the company's design plans work out, it would be ready for a full model change, designed and manufactured by Indian talent, and convert its Indian operations into Suzuki's global design centre for small cars. We have already doubled the number of engineers to 600," added Mizuyoshi.

Currently, Indian engineers are collaborating with engineers at Suzuki's headquarters in Japan. The Indian R&D team was also involved in the development of the Indian-built Swift, Dzire (Swift sedan) and SX4 models though they were all originally designed in Japan.

The team developed the compact A- Star concept car, unveiled in Delhi recently, and production starts next month.

Suzuki owns 54 % of Maruti Suzuki.

Kevin Jacobs