by Satish Dey, Guest Author
India is basking in the sunshine of its robust economic growth and the inevitable consumerism it has spurred by way of higher spending and improved lifestyles for its citizens. A car — the ubiquitous status symbol delineating the rich from the poor — is expectedly much in demand. The nation’s image as one afflicted with widespread poverty has taken a backseat after 1.3 million automobiles were manufactured in 2006. In my previous posts ‘Small Is Beautiful‘ followed by ‘Small Cars Make Big News‘, I hinted at small cars becoming the cynosure of automobile manufacturers. But is it really good news?
The year 2007 may see the launch of over 40 new models, many in the small car segment. The scenario is becoming all the more exciting with international giants Honda, Toyota, GM and Fiat eyeing small car markets and planning huge investments in India. Their combined committed investment in the Indian automotive sector is reported to be Rs 60,000 crores (more than $13 billion) over the next four years.
If this is not enough to celebrate, then Goldman Sach’s forecast that India will have the largest population of automobiles by the year 2050 definitely calls for uncorking some Champagne.
But wait! We should also take into account what is lurking in the darkness. Indian cities and towns are notorious for endemic traffic jams caused by narrow roads with fast-moving automobiles vying with slow-moving handcarts, three-wheelers and bicycles for right of way. The air and sound pollution far exceed prescribed safety limits. The number of road accidents in India is also high. So if more and more small cars are made, their highly competitive market may benefit consumers who will also have the luxury to choose from a wide range of models at affordable prices. But it will spell doom for the millions living in cities.
What’s more, car density will increase severalfolds from the current measly four cars per 1,000 people. The boom in the automotive sector will also generate jobs for a few thousand people. However, the flip side is too catastrophic to celebrate India’s boom of small cars.
Let the government first ensure that there will not be environmental damage and that and more cars are not going to bring more problems. Air pollution. Sound Pollution. Energy crisis. Traffic Jams.
Need I say more?