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Maruti Suzuki and Renault drive India's auto rebound

Dealers rev engines as purchases jump from zero in April to 183,000 in July

A traffic jam on a highway after some restrictions are lifted during a nationwide lockdown in Mumbai in June.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- India's automobile market appeared to shake off the coronavirus last month, with nearly 183,000 new vehicles sold three months after dealers were desperate to sell any cars due to the nationwide lockdown.

July's sales of new passenger vehicles stood at 182,779 units, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, down just 4% from a year earlier. The numbers are based on deliveries to dealerships.

The count for the single month is roughly on par with the 180,000-plus vehicles delivered between April and June, which represented an 80% crash from a year earlier.

Domestic leader Maruti Suzuki reported zero sales in April due to the lockdown. But Maruti Suzuki, majority-owned by Suzuki Motor, sold roughly 98,000 vehicles last month, up 1% from a year earlier.

MG saw sales shoot up by 40%. The British automaker, which is owned by China's SAIC Motor, only entered the Indian market last year. Renault posted a 75% gain.

Not every player has climbed out of the hole, however. Second-ranked Hyundai Motor, of South Korea, slipped 2% in July while Japanese automakers Toyota Motor and Honda Motor both saw monthly sales plummet by nearly 50%.

The Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, which released the data Tuesday, normally compiles monthly numbers for passenger and commercial vehicles, as well as for two- and three-wheelers. But the group stopped including commercial vehicles in its releases since June after India's Tata Motors ceased publicizing its monthly sales numbers. Tata's domestic share in commercial vehicles exceeded 40%.

Although vehicle sales numbers are improving, it is too early to tell if the recovery is sustainable due to the soured Indian economy.

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