The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Auto bosses call on Bengal

Calcutta, Dec. 23: If Tata is here, can Toyota be far behind'

A day after Sajjan Jindal-owned JSW Steel purged some of the foulness of the Singur agitation by firming up its decision to set up a Rs 10,000-crore plant in Bengal, Toyota has come to town to open a regional office.

If that’s not feel-good enough for the investor, here’s some more: the honours were done today by none other than Toyota Kirloskar Motor Pvt Ltd MD Atsushi Toyoshima himself, not a very usual occurrence.

Although it’s early days yet to suggest that another small-car plant of Tata’s Singur type could be happening in chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s backyard, Toyota is believed to be in talks with several states for a new plant it wants to set up.

At a news conference today, Toyoshima wouldn’t let on which states Toyota was tapping or whether the plant would ultimately be set up in Bangalore, where the auto major has its headquarters. All he would say was that a plant in Bengal was a possibility.

A Toyota official, however, hinted that something big could be stirring as MDs were not generally known to fly down for such things as opening regional offices.

“It shows the growing importance of the east, and especially Bengal, which has become a market that no auto company can afford to ignore any more. The growth in the region is expected to be driven by Bengal,” he said.

Toyoshima is not the only MD of a global auto major who has come knocking. A couple of months ago, Hyundai Motor India MD H.S. Lheem was in the city for a car launch.

“We plan to make these visits into a more regular affair,” a Hyundai source said.

Before that, in September, Maruti Udyog Limited MD Jagdish Khattar had showed up. The occasion was Maruti’s tie-up with Magma Leasing Ltd for car financing across price segments.

“Our MD came to Calcutta after a long time,” a Maruti spokesperson said.

The chain of such trips was, however, set off by General Motors India president and MD Rajeev Chaba — of course, after Tata and Singur — who flew down to Calcutta in May.

Like Toyota today, he had then said his company’s target was to mop up 10 per cent of the market share by 2010.

But he was tight-lipped on which states he was looking at. “We have around 300 acres at Halol in Gujarat, of which we are using maybe only 20 acres,” he had said.

An industry expert was upbeat on Bengal’s prospects. “Bengal, it seems, has made a comeback as far as auto companies are concerned… this should fructify into something more positive if auto history is made in the state by Tata Motors.”

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