Zero Sales: Indian Carmakers Have a Month Like Never Before

India’s top carmakers couldn’t ship a single vehicle to dealers in April due to lockdown.

Zero Sales: Indian Carmakers Have a Month Like Never Before
File image of a Volkswagen AG Audi dealership in New Delhi. (Photographer: Graham Crouch/Bloomberg)

(Bloomberg) -- India’s top carmakers couldn’t ship a single vehicle to dealers in April as they shut production after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the world’s biggest stay-at-home restrictions to stop the coronavirus from spreading.

Maruti Suzuki India Ltd., which produces about half the cars on India’s roads, and Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd., the nation’s biggest SUV maker, recorded no sales in the domestic market last month. Hyundai Motors India Ltd. too couldn’t sell a single unit last month. Maruti sold more than 120,000 cars a month in the year ended March 31.

“There’s always a first time for everything,” said Maruti’s Chairman R.C. Bhargava in a phone interview. “I can’t say what will happen in May. Whether we will start production or not is not possible to forecast.”

The total lockdown is hurting local vehicle makers, who sold more than 2.8 million cars, SUVs and vans each month in the year ended March, more than peers in other countries. In China, while sales plunged in February, the peak of the pandemic in that nation, companies managed to sell 224,000 cars. Indian carmakers were struggling even before the lockdown. The pandemic and the ensuing stay-at-home orders on March 25 have since disrupted supply chains.

Outlook Bleak

With the economy set for a rare contraction, the outlook for the car manufacturers remains bleak. They are losing 23 billion rupees ($306 million) each day factories remain closed, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers. The lobby group has written to the government seeking help.

“Considering the fragile health of the automotive industry, as also its economic contribution, we are writing to request you to kindly allow the entire automotive value chain for opening up and re-commencing operations,” car and auto part makers said in a joint letter to the Ministry of Home Affairs on Friday.

The ministry extended the stay-at-home restrictions for most parts of the country for two weeks starting May 4.

Bhargava in a recent interview to Bloomberg had said he expects a car-sales boom after the lockdown is lifted as customers appear more motivated to buy than before the pandemic because they see personal vehicles as safer than public transport.

Although there were no sales in the local market last month, Maruti exported 632 units after a port in the western state of Gujarat resumed operations, while Mahindra sold 733 vehicles in international markets. Hyundai shipped 1341 units in April. These are wholesale numbers as Indian carmakers do not announce retail figures.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.