Just like it was for the rest of the planet, 2020 was a year of extremes for the automotive business, too. We witnessed things previously unimaginable – carmakers having to shut down production and instead make personal protective equipment and ventilators; passenger vehicle sales enduring a horrific fall and rising once again (with several four-wheeler manufacturers registering their best-ever numbers); the launch of India’s most affordable SUV in the form of the Nissan Magnite, and the country’s most expensive SUV in the form of the Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge.
Despite the pause enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic, this was still an action-packed year for the auto industry. Here’s a look at the highlights.
Auto Expo – No lull before the storm
While news of the COVID-19 outbreak spreading to other countries had already made headlines by then, the 2020 Auto Expo went ahead as planned. Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai, Tata Motors, Mahindra, Kia, Renault and Mercedes-Benz were out in full force as usual, and Volkswagen and Skoda made their return to the biennial motor show. That said, notable names such as Honda, Toyota, BMW, Audi and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles chose to give the 2020 edition a skip. However, this year’s show also featured MG and Great Wall Motor, both of which had sprawling stalls featuring a plethora of models.
COVID-19 – A dead end averted
Not long after the 2020 Auto Expo ended, it became clear the COVID-19 outbreak had snowballed into a pandemic, and global lockdowns were the only way to contain the spread of the virus. India went into full lockdown towards the end of March, and that meant production facilities that were previously running round the clock ground to a complete halt. If low sales in the month of March were a punch to the solar plexus, what followed in April was an uppercut from hell. For the first time ever, manufacturers reported 0 sales across the board as the country stayed indoors.
But as it always does, the automotive industry found a way out; a path to help avert this dead end. Not only did manufacturers donate generously in the fight against the pandemic, but also took steps to help out with the production of much-needed personal protective equipment and ventilators. As the country slowly emerged from the lockdown, production lines were buzzing with activity once again, and slowly but steadily, sales recovered in the second half of the year, in a fashion more impressive than most expected.
BS6 emission norms – Breathe easy
After a four-year-long sprint, carmakers were able to make the transition to BS6-compliant vehicles by the April 1 deadline. In such a short timeframe, manufacturers upgraded a number of their engines to meet the more stringent norms, which bring a significant reduction in tailpipe emissions (especially for diesel cars) but also drove vehicle prices higher, as upgrading a diesel engine to meet the new norms is a complex and expensive process.
As a direct consequence of the BS6 norms coming into effect, a number of diesel engines made an exit, most notable of which was the end of the road for Fiat’s 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel, often referred to as the ‘national’ diesel engine. Big names such as Maruti Suzuki, Volkswagen and Renault quit the diesel segment altogether, while Tata Motors, Hyundai, Kia and Mahindra chose to stay put and strengthened their diesel portfolio.
BS6 norms also resulted in the proliferation of the small turbo-petrol engine. Hyundai, Kia, Mahindra, Tata, Volkswagen, Skoda and Nissan already have small-capacity turbo-petrol engines on offer with their models, and Renault and MG will soon join them with their upcoming turbo-petrol SUVs.
Lexus and Mercedes-AMG – Luxury, made in India
After years of speculation, Toyota’s luxury vehicle arm Lexus announced early in 2020 that it was starting local assembly of its models at Toyota’s Bidadi plant. The company launched its first locally assembled product – the ES 300h – on January 31. Earlier available in a single variant priced at Rs 59.95 lakh, the CKD operation meant prices of the ES were lowered significantly, ranging from Rs 51.90 – 56.95 lakh, undercutting its established rivals.