India's Maruti fights falling market share with new model

NEW DELHI — India's top car manufacturer Maruti Suzuki launched its first utility vehicle on Thursday, breaking into one of the country's fastest-growing automobile segments as it battles to recover lost market share.

The Japanese-controlled firm, which has seen its share of the Indian market decline to below 40 percent for the first time in its history, said the new vehicle would be important to helping drive future sales growth.

The company, majority-owned by Japan's Suzuki Motor Corp, competitively priced its new seven-seater vehicle, the Ertiga, at 589,000 rupees ($11,430) for the basic model.

"Utility vehicles are a promising segment and we have been largely absent from it," Maruti Suzuki India chief executive Shinzo Nakanishi told reporters at the Ertiga's launch in New Delhi.

"The Ertiga is a major step forward for Maruti Suzuki" that will suit "many urban families," Nakanishi said.
Maruti said the Ertiga holds big potential for Maruti Suzuki with sales in the multi-purpose vehicle segment growing by around 20 percent a year.

The launch of the model comes after the company's passenger vehicle market share slumped to 38 percent during the last fiscal year from a peak a few years ago of over 50 percent.

The launch of the Ertiga comes as global auto makers such as General Motors and Ford also plan to introduce new vehicles in India's utility vehicle segment that accounts for around 10 percent of the Indian automobile market.

Increasingly affluent Indian car buyers have been scaling up in the past few years from the still dominant small car market to sedans and utility vehicles.

Maruti, India's biggest carmaker by sales, said the vehicle was designed primarily for the Indian market but that it also expects to sell the car in other South East Asian markets.

During the last financial year to March 31, Maruti's sales fell nearly 11 percent to 1.13 million units, hit by a crippling labour dispute at one of its plants in the northern Indian state of Haryana and a weakening economy.

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