2020: A look back at the automotive industry

Despite it being an uneventful year all around and fraught with uncertainty, a lot seems to have transpired in the world of automobiles. Read on...

Updated - December 30, 2020 03:35 pm IST

Published - December 30, 2020 02:38 pm IST

From high-profile launches and alliances to a complete production shutdown due to COVID-19, 2020 was a year of extremes for the automotive industry. Here’s a look at the highlights:

Cars

Auto Expo 2020

While news of the COVID-19 outbreak spreading to other countries had already made headlines by then, Auto Expo 2020 went ahead as planned. Brands such as Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai, Tata, Mahindra, Kia, Renault and Mercedes-Benz were out in full force, as were Volkswagen and Skoda who made their return to the event after a hiatus. The show also featured sprawling stalls from MG and Great Wall Motor (GWM) displaying a range of models. That said, notable names such as Honda, Toyota, BMW, Audi and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles chose to skip the 2020 edition.

COVID-19 – From cars to PPE and back

By the following month, the COVID-19 outbreak had been declared a pandemic, and by the end of March, India went into full lockdown, meaning production facilities ground to a complete halt. For the first time ever, manufacturers across the board reported 0 sales in the month of April as the entire country stayed indoors.

But as it always does, the automotive industry found a way out. Manufacturers donated generously in the fight against the pandemic, and many even assisted in the production of much-needed personal protective equipment and ventilators. Once the lockdown was lifted, the industry was quick to get back on its feet.

BS6 emission norms set in

The switch to BS6 was no small feat, with most carmakers successfully making the transition well in time to meet the April 1 deadline. The transition to the more stringent norms saw a number of diesel engines get axed, the most notable of which was Fiat’s long serving 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel, often referred to as the ‘national’ diesel engine. Additionally, big names such as Maruti Suzuki, Volkswagen and Renault quit the diesel segment altogether.

BS6 norms also resulted in the proliferation of the small turbo-petrol engine, with brands such as Hyundai, Kia, Mahindra, Tata, Volkswagen, Skoda and Nissan offering it with a number of their models.

Lexus, Mercedes-AMG begin local assembly

2020 saw Lexus and Mercedes-AMG begin local assembly of some of their products in India. Lexus rolled out the locally assembled ES sedan early in the year, while Mercedes started local assembly of the AMG GLC 43 Coupe – the first AMG to be ‘made’ in India – closer to the end of the year. It’s safe to expect other models from Lexus and Mercedes-AMG to also be assembled in India in the future.

Hanging in the balance

Border skirmishes between the armed forces of India and China damaged relations between the two nations, and as a direct result, Great Wall Motor’s India plans, too. The carmaker – which was set to acquire General Motors’ Talegaon plant and launch its first model in 2021 – now finds its plans hanging in the balance as all investments from Chinese companies have been put on hold. The company had previously signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Maharashtra government, promising to invest over Rs 7,600 crore in the country in a phased manner. Prevailing anti-China sentiments have also compelled other Chinese carmakers aspiring to set up shop in India to adopt a wait-and-watch strategy.

What we lost in 2020

This year also necessitated a fair few goodbyes. After six successful editions, Cartier pulled the plug on the Concours d'Elegance in India due to budget constraints and changing market priorities.

The BS6 emission norms saw models such as the Toyota Corolla, Etios range, Honda BR-V and Renault Captur bow out, and Tata shuttered its performance-oriented JTP division, marking the end for the short-lived Tiago JTP and Tigor JTP.

The automotive world also lost some eminent personalities, including racing legend Sir Stirling Moss and renowned Porsche engineer Hans Mezger – the creator of the 911's signature flat-six engine. The Indian auto industry, meanwhile, received a shock with the untimely demise of BMW India head Rudratej Singh.

The highs of 2020

While it’s fair to say 2020 was a deflating year in many ways, it also brought some highs worth remembering. Market recovery was aided by several big-ticket launches, including the second-gen Hyundai Creta, Kia Sonet, fifth-gen Honda City, new Hyundai i20 and the second-gen Mahindra Thar. The year also witnessed the launch of three all-electric vehicles – the Tata Nexon EV, MG ZS EV and the Mercedes-Benz EQC – with more to follow in 2021.

Another highlight in the year was the opening of the 9.02km-long Atal tunnel – the world’s longest tunnel above 10,000ft – in Himachal Pradesh, and a successful test of the Virgin Hyperloop high-speed transport pod with passengers on board.

Bikes

New platforms

There were plenty of exciting motorcycles launched this year, but 2020 also saw the birth of new and highly anticipated platforms. Things began with the KTM 390 Adventure, which recently spawned the smaller 250 Adventure. Then, in late September, Honda revealed its much awaited Royal Enfield rival, the new CB350; this platform will undoubtedly birth more variants.

However, arguably the biggest debut was of Royal Enfield’s new 350cc platform. Underpinning the Meteor 350, the new platform will also be used in the company’s future models like the next-gen Classic 350, making this a make-or-break moment for the company.

New alliances forged

In January, Bajaj and Triumph formalised an alliance under which they will co-develop a range of mid-capacity motorcycles ranging from 200-700cc. Bajaj will also take over Triumph’s distribution activities in India at a later date.

In April, TVS acquired the iconic, but troubled British company, Norton and a month later Ola Electric bought out a Netherlands-based EV start-up Etergo. Ola is set to invest Rs 2,400 crore in an EV manufacturing plant in Chennai to produce electric two-wheelers for the Indian market.

Last but not the least was Hero’s deal with Harley-Davidson to take over its India operations. Hero will take over the Harley sales and service network and will also co-develop future mid-capacity motorcycles with the latter.

Launch - Bajaj Chetak EV.- Kuldeep Chaudhari/Autocar India

Launch - Bajaj Chetak EV.- Kuldeep Chaudhari/Autocar India

Big names roll out EVs

2020 saw Bajaj and TVS enter the electric scooter segment with the launch of the Chetak and the iQube, respectively. Both have been designed and developed in-house, but unfortunately sales of both have limited availability so far. Furthermore COVID-19 has created production issues for the Bajaj.

Meanwhile, Ather Energy gained momentum this year with the launch of the impressive 450X. The company also commenced expanding its network with the aim of selling its products in 27 cities by Q1 2021.

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