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Fender-to-fender in debut
- Carmakers step on the gas in race to put new models in showrooms

New Delhi, Jan. 1: Car buffs can feast their eyes with automobile makers planning a slew of launches next year. In the pipeline are some of the car industry’s hottest debutantes, set to roll out on the domestic roads over the next 12 months. From affordable hatchbacks to mid-size models, sports-utility vehicles and high-end luxury cars, the Indian automobile market will see it all.

The country’s largest carmaker, Maruti Udyog Ltd (MUL), plans to introduce a premium mid-size car, which will be positioned above the Baleno. MUL, which launched Swift a couple of months back, is also likely to see a diesel version, giving the Indica a tough competition. Officials said Maruti will also hit the local roads with a sports variant of the premium hatchback. MUL is also expected to showcase two new hatchbacks and an SUV, most likely the Escudo in the auto expo scheduled to be held next month. A variant of the Wagon R, known as Solio in some markets, will also be on the display.

Industry sources say MUL may phase out the Esteem, which has been around since 1994, and replace it with a new sedan. It is a car code named Model L ' which could be the possible replacement.

Arch-rival Hyundai is also set to roll out a premium mid-size model. The Verna, slated for a launch in the third quarter of calendar 2006, will be positioned between Accent and Elantra, giving Ford Fiesta a good competition.

Meanwhile, General Motors India is expected to roll out the Aveo in both hatch and notch versions, giving premium compact cars such as Swift and Getz a run for their volumes. In addition, a sports variant of the Chevy Optra will add to the existing line-up.

GM is all revved up to launch 2007 Solstice GXP, the performance version of the Solstice roadster, at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show on Wednesday. The Solstice GXP features a 47-per cent boost in horsepower with the all-new Ecotec 2.0-liter direct injection turbo engine.

Few manufacturers are really betting high on certain car categories in the coming two years.

Rajeev Chaba, president and managing director, GM India, said, “It’s the entry level notchback like the Ikon, Fiesta, the SUVs and premium hatchbacks like Swift and Getz which are promising in the immediate future.”

In the packed rush to grab the mid-size market share will be Honda Civic, due to make its debut in the middle of this year. To be priced in the Rs 9-10 lakh category, the car is slated to give competition to Toyota Corolla and Skoda Octavia.

Skoda also plans to launch two variants of Octavia on the VW A5 platform, adding more variety to the existing line up.

But the much-awaited Skoda Fabia will see the light of the day in late 2006.

In addition, domestic automobile companies including Mahindra & Mahindra and Tata Motors are planning facelifts of some of their existing models this year.

Enhancing its existing line-up, Toyota is likely to roll the Fortuner SUV on its IMV platform.

Slated to be positioned between Fusion and Mondeo, Ford will launch its sedan, Focus, in the crowded lower-D segment. The others in the line-up include the Audi A4 launch in January, followed by Q7 SUV between June and July.

Car sales across categories have been doing relatively well since the last two years.

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