It is worth talking about GM India because for once, it showed cars at the Auto Expo that people like you and I could feel excited about. Internationally, riding on the misfortunes of Toyota, GM has claimed back its position as the number one in sales. The story of General Motors in the last couple of years has been one that is worthy of mention and that is even more true in the case of General Motors India. After the sub prime housing loan crisis hit the USA and the economy of the country went into a tail spin, it was thought the end of GM was in sight. But GM was bailed out by the Governments of USA and Canada and it has steadied itself enough to claw its way back to the top. In this process what helped GM was that it had taken control of the erstwhile Daewoo Motors of Korea which gave it access to cars that are relevant globally and not the ill handling gas guzzlers that GM America was famous for.
In India, GM under the smart leadership of Karl Slym forged strategies that not only facilitated its staying afloat but also thriving when in other parts of the world GM was going through a crisis. GM India sold half its stake to SAIC (Shanghai Auto and Industrial Corporation) of China and this equity infusion worked for GM India. SAIC is an old partner of GM and it also has in its portfolio vehicles that are inexpensive but based on the older platforms of Opel which in themselves are pretty good. This tie up SAIC was consistent with the direction that GM decided to take at the beginning of the new century when it phased out the expensive Opel brand and decided to concentrate on volumes by introducing the Chevrolet brand. Most Indians were familiar with Chevrolet thanks to the Impala model that was a Bollywood star in its own right. While the initial introductions under the Chevrolet brand such as the Optra, the Optra Magnum, the Optra SRV, the Aveo and the Aveo U-VA, were all Daewoo cars, Chevrolet later started bringing in their cars from the global platforms. The Optra range was based on the Daewoo Nubira platform,
while the Aveo U-VA was the old Daewoo Kalos. This car came out of the Italdesign studio and was the handiwork of Giorgetto Giugiaro.
The Aveo was a brand new platform and had nothing to do with the U-VA platform and it was something on which Daewoo was working on before being taken over by GM. Its design came from Pininfarina.
All these were competent cars but none of them had the ability to ignite passions. The Optra SRV came close but was let down by an anemic engine. It was a case of all show and very little go. But things started turning around for GM with the launch of the Cruze.
The car came with a potent diesel engine, looked like a million dollars and went like stink. It was by far the most contemporary car that GM introduced in India. Globally GM fighting to dig itself out of the economic morass that it was in also decided to replace the Spark. It took the undiluted Beat car that was shown in the movie Transformers and gave it the Spark moniker. In India, the name Beat was retained since the Spark had just started doing decent numbers for Chevrolet.
The old Spark, the one that is still sold in India is actually the last and final version of the Daewoo Matiz. The introduction of a diesel engine into the Beat has done wonders for its sale in India.
GM realised that its very competent Aveo U-VA was not selling as was the Aveo. Now when the time has come to replace them, GM has turned to SAIC. GM India is now very clear that it wants to compete with Maruti, Hyundai and Tata. It has decided to go for the volume segment and there it will be introducing new products from the SAIC stable. The first will be the Sail U-VA (U-VA is GM India speak for Yuva or youth) and this will be followed by the Sail sedan.
This means that the Aveo name will disappear for good. Internationally the Aveo has been replaced by the Sonic twins. The Sonic is actually taking the logic of the Beat forward but since GM India is keen on volumes it does not want to make the expensive Sonic cars, at least not yet.
GM has also decided to enter the space of MPVs, joining a horde of manufacturers that are gunning for the Toyota Innova. At the Expo, GM showed the Sail U-VA hatchback and the SAIC- Wuling based MPV. Rumour mill has it that GM has decided on calling the MPV, Enjoy and that prices will begin at Rs. 6 lakhs.
In addition the Tavera has been resurrected by introducing a 2.0litre Common Rail Diesel Engine from ICML, the makers of the Rhino MUV. This engine is branded G.One and the Tavera that is now BSIV compliant is called the Tavera Neo3. It has also been facelifted very mildly.
These are all indications that GM India is getting its act together. It has never been this exciting before. One hopes that this enthusiasm that one is seeing in GM will last and that the company will put out products that are relevant to contemporary India.