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Indian auto makers show strong sales in January

Indian vehicle sales rose in January due to robust demand, company data showed Monday, pointing to a strengthening economy that international carmakers are pushing to access.

Japanese-controlled Maruti Suzuki India and South Korea’s Hyundai Motor announced higher sales of cars.


An automobile factory

Maruti Suzuki India, the country’s top passenger car maker, said sales rose 33.3 percent to a record 95,649 vehicles in January, from a year earlier, aided by strong domestic and overseas sales.

“This is the highest-ever number of cars sold in a month,” a spokesman for Maruti Suzuki said, beating a previous record of 87,809 vehicles sold in November 2009.

Its passenger car sales rose 21.2 percent to 80,952 units. Maruti sold 14,562 cars overseas, a three-fold jump in demand over last year, a statement to the Mumbai stock exchange on Monday showed.

Hyundai Motor India announced monthly sales of 52,635 vehicles in January, up 41.6 percent from a year earlier.

“We expect the momentum to continue with the help of the stimulus packages from the government,” said Arvind Saxena, director with Hyundai Motors India.

Hyundai’s domestic sales rose to a 12-year high of 29,601, data showed.

Last week, India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India, in its policy review, kept interest rates on hold but drained excess liquidity from the banking system to try to tame inflation without hurting economic recovery. Analysts predict the central bank will only gradually tighten monetary policy in 2010 especially as growth is expected to be constrained by the planned withdrawal of government fiscal stimulus measures.

“An overall recovery for the economy is aiding this sector,” said Vaishali Jajoo, an auto analyst with local brokerage Angel Broking.

“Benign interest rates are also aiding demand,” she told AFP.

Auto stocks were up at the Mumbai stock exchange, reacting to the data.

Maruti rose 0.43 percent to 1,396.1 while Mahindra and Mahindra rose 1.31 percent to 1,032.8.

Tata Motors, the country’s largest vehicle maker, rose 0.38 percent to 697 rupees, ahead of its monthly sales data expected later in the day.


Toyota prepares to roll out pedal repairs

Toyota readied an announcement Monday on repairs for millions of vehicles affected by a safety recall due to faulty accelerator pedals, as its executives went into damage-control mode.

Toyota is halting US production this week of eight models to produce newly designed accelerator pedals. At the same time it is finalising a fix for vehicles already on the road affected by the massive recall.

The issue has been a public-relations nightmare for the Japanese giant, whose executives were set to launch a charm offensive Monday to try to limit the damage to the vaunted reputation of the world’s largest automaker.

Toyota’s US arm was due to issue a statement at 1130 GMT on a fix for the vehicles, a company spokesman said. Jim Lentz, president of Toyota’s US sales arm, was to give a video message and hold a teleconference with media. And Lentz was due to appear on NBC’s “Today Show” in the United States, Dow Jones reported. Toyota pulled up to 1.8 million vehicles in Europe on Friday, the latest in a series of recalls that have affected almost eight million Toyota cars worldwide — more than its entire 2009 global sales of 7.8 million vehicles.

The company said that in rare cases, the pedal mechanism could become worn and harder to depress, or get stuck in a partially depressed position.

Toyota engineers have been putting the finishing touches to a repair to insert a “spacer” in the pedal mechanism, in order to increase the tension in a spring and reduce the risk of the pedal staying down.

Toyota, which overtook General Motors in 2008 as the top-selling automaker, has been beset by a series of safety issues that critics say raise questions about whether it sacrificed its legendary quality to become number one. Toyota published an advertisement in US newspapers Sunday explaining that the company has stopped production of the eight models for a week because of the sticking pedal.

“Why have we taken this unprecedented action? Because it’s the right thing to do for our customers,” the advertisement said. “We believe we are close to announcing an effective remedy.”

Toyota’s president Akio Toyoda kept a low profile last week as the company founded by his grandfather more than 70 years ago battled to contain the fallout from the accelerator pedal problems.

The Toyota family scion gave a brief apology to a Japanese television crew on Saturday for the massive recalls.

“We’re extremely sorry to have made customers feel uneasy,” he told public broadcaster NHK on the sidelines of the Davos forum in Switzerland, in his first public remarks on the recall since it went global. The 53-year-old grandson of the automaker’s founder — named a year ago to steer the Japanese automaker through the global economic downturn — faces perhaps his biggest challenge yet handling the safety recall.

His silence on the issue last week has raised eyebrows in Japan, where the only statement issued by Toyota’s headquarters since the recall went global related to a tree-planting project in the Philippines.

Toyota’s shares suffered another drop Monday, declining 1.1 percent to 3,450 yen. The stock plunged about 14 percent last week.


Ford’s China production resumes after gas pedal review

Ford’s joint venture partner in China has said it has resumed production of light buses after a review of gas pedals from the same supplier blamed for Toyota’s worldwide recall did not reveal any problems.

“Our precautionary review has determined the pedal assembly part sourced from CTS Automotive is unique and is not affected by the recent recall of other auto manufacturers,” Jiangling Motors said in a statement released Sunday.

Production of the Transit Classic diesel, a commercial vehicle distributed only in China, was suspended last week over worries that the vehicles could have the same accelerator problems as cars made by rival Toyota Motor.

Toyota announced the recall of millions of vehicles in the United States and Europe that were equipped with the faulty accelerator pedals sourced from CTS.

Accelerators made by CTS can become worn and harder to depress, or get stuck in a partially depressed position, Toyota said.

Ford Motors stressed that no other Ford vehicles had been made with CTS gas pedals, and production of all other Ford vehicles worldwide would continue as scheduled.


India’s Tata Motors swings into third quarter profit

India’s top vehicle company Tata Motors said Friday its domestic operations swung to a third-quarter profit from a loss a year earlier as demand for cars rose, aided by new launches.

The company, which makes cars and trucks, reported a net profit of four billion rupees (86 million dollars) for the three months to December, compared with a net loss of 2.63 billion rupees a year earlier.

The earnings did not include data for British luxury icons Jaguar and Land Rover, which Tata Motors bought from ailing Ford Motor Co for 2.3 billion dollars in March 2008.

The performance was slightly below market expectations. Analysts had expected a profit of close to 4.3 billion rupees.

Revenues jumped nearly 90 percent to 89.29 billion rupees for the quarter, a company statement said.

“Introduction of new products and strong sustained growth in the existing portfolio, along with government stimulus has driven domestic demand revival,” the company said in a statement.

India’s large automakers have seen a revival in sales in recent months on improved consumer demand, government stimulus packages and fresh launches.

Tata Motors sold 165,413 vehicles including overseas sales in the quarter, a jump of 67.5 percent from the same period a year earlier.

The company’s shares fell 2.92 percent or 20.9 rupees to 694.35 on the Mumbai stock exchange, ahead of the release of its earnings.

The company, which introduced the world’s cheapest car, the Tata Nano, on the roads in July last year, said it sold 17,357 Nano cars up to December, with plans to ramp up further.

The jelly-bean shaped Nano is being produced at present from existing plants after the company was forced out of its planned factory in eastern India over a land dispute in 2008.

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