| Mean machine
New Delhi, Feb. 11: US-based automobile giant General Motors plans to launch the Isuzu Panther multi-purpose vehicle, pitting it against the highly successful Toyota Qualis by the middle of this year.
Though GM is tight-lipped on the issue, sources said an older version of the Panther will be launched, priced at about Rs 7-8 lakh. However, the price calculations could come down drastically as this year’s budget is expected to reduce excise and customs duties. Prices will also come down with increased localisation content.
The latest version of the Panther will not be launched here. Instead, a slightly dated model which has proved to be a hit in South East Asia will be brought in as it can be priced more competitively.
The Panther is likely to have a 1686-cc, 16-valve diesel engine, manual transmission, air-conditioning, stereo AM/FM radio and tape, power steering, and seating for six persons.
The vehicle is currently being road-tested in India and will initially be imported in a semi-knocked down form from the Isuzu facility in Thailand for assembly here. The company has also been road-testing the Daewoo Nubira, a D segment car on Indian roads but this may come later.
Meanwhile, GM is in talks with Maruti to explore the possibility of sourcing some of the components from Maruti vendors. GM has a 49 per cent stake in Isuzu and virtually controls it.
GM will, however, launch the Panther under the Chevrolet label which it will be touting as the ‘people car’ brand or the ‘value for money’ label. The Opel badge will remain its premier label.
This is a conscious decision taken by the company despite the normal association in India of big cars like the Empala with the Chevrolet brand. “From inception, Chevrolet cars and truck launched with an eye on the idea that every American family should have a vehicle ... we will indegenise that,” GM officials said.
The company is likely to manufacture about 30,000 units in the first year. Qualis managed to sell about 20,000 units in the first half of the year and this will serve as a benchmark figure for the production calculations.
General Motors is known for its strategy of using various models of its affiliates to make inroads in various parts of the world. It has earlier used Isuzu Panther models to great success against successful vehicles like the Kijang. Qualis itself is considered to be a dated version of the Kijang.
Marketed since 1990, the Panther has been jointly developed by Isuzu, a GM affiliate, and Pantja Motors of Indonesia. Currently, General Motors India manufactures the German-engineered Opel Astra, Corsa and Swing models at a plant in Gujarat.