Music blared and white smoke swirled in the cavernous Tata Motors hall at the Auto Expo as an excited crowd milled near a stage displaying the company’s new hybrid car.
Most, though, were craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the carmaker’s new gas-guzzling Safari off-roader being launched on the other side of the hall. Few seemed to notice the sparkling green-technology vehicle behind them.
Billed as an event to showcase new environmentally friendly vehicles entering India’s auto market, about a dozen new hybrid, electric or alternative-fuel vehicles from global and domestic carmakers will debut at the bi-annual expo.
But for all the green glitz, most of these cars, trucks and buses are decades away from gracing India’s roads, executives say. Blame a cost-sensitive market, a lack of on-the-ground support infrastructure, and little or no government support.
"India is very far away from using this sort of technology," said Kou Kimura, chief executive and managing director of Nissan-Renault India.
"It’s expensive, and needs both government support and the necessary infrastructure to be possible."
Hybrid cars involve pricey technology that uses fuel engines and electric motors in tandem for greater efficiency. Electric vehicles need charging stations, and would require huge investments to equip a country as large of India.
France’s Peugeot SA unveiled its hybrid 3008 car on Thursday, while Volvo Buses showed off its hybrid bus in India. Mahindra & Mahindra launched its range of Reva Electric cars on Friday.
Wheeling out hybrid or electric vehicles to banks of flashing photographers and wide-eyed industry watchers is mainly a demonstration of a carmaker’s technological prowess, not an indication of any expectations for sales.
Petrol prices in India have risen by almost 50 per cent since January 2010, and carmakers in Asia’s third-largest economy have invested in more efficient vehicles. Many car advertisements around the Expo highlighted fuel savings.
Bajaj Auto, a leading Indian motorcycle maker, unveiled its first four-wheeled vehicle on Tuesday, in a news conference dominated by statistics trumpeting its industry-leading fuel efficiency. Tata, alongside its new diesel-hybrid Indigo Manza, also launched a hybrid bus, and unveiled a version of its ultra-low-cost Nano model that runs on compressed natural gas (CNG). CNG was made the mandatory fuel for all public transport vehicles, including taxis, in India’s capital city in 2004. The move has been widely praised and cited as the major reason behind a recent improvement in the city’s air quality.