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Bijoy Kumar Y | December 13, 2003

There are some cars no dealer is going to tell you about, let alone any automaker. These automobiles may be on our roads in 2004 -- though no carmaker will like to tell us about them, it's second nature for us to eavesdrop. So please don't send hate mail if some of these cars don't materialise or if some specs change. 

Maruti-Suzuki is certain to take the ageing Esteem off the production line and bring on the recently facelifted Liana.

Now this is one car that can take the likes of the new Honda City head-on and even win.

Not many will like the way it looks, but then not many new City customers have bought it for its looks alone! Expect aggressive pricing and even better fuel-efficiency when it arrives.

It is also important for Suzuki to bring on the magnificent Ignis  hatchback, and we get this feeling that the only thing they are waiting for is some serious competition to establish the market.

The Ignis is larger than the Wagon-R, smaller than most sedans and will be extremely popular in our metros -- where its compact-yet-big virtues will be really appreciated.

Hyundai is surprisingly late with their C+ segment contender -- the new Elantra. We hear it will come before the much-publicised Getz.

The Getz is a very important car for Hyundai anywhere in the world and it will take on the Suzuki Ignis if and when it arrives.

Hyundai did study the options of opening up the minivan market here with the Kia brand but has shelved the idea for the time being. In the meanwhile, an all-new Sonata and Accent might debut later this year in South Korea and the United States, though we don't exactly know when the Indian arm will bring it on.

Hyundai may choose not to bring on the Euro-facelift version of the Accent to India if they go in for a late-2004 launch of an all-new machine to rival the new City.

Tata Motors might play a surprise card by announcing an extremely basic version of their Indica to capture the A-segment dominated by Maruti-Suzuki -- expect a less than Rs 300,000 price for this model.

The Tata Safari and the Sumo are due for a facelift and you may see them in January at the Auto Expo.

The estate version of the Indigo is all ready but the lukewarm response received by estate cars in India and the busy nature of the Pune plant might delay its introduction.

General Motors India is now straddling a two-brand strategy and we may get to see at least one product launch next year. But in fact, next week they will be introducing a economical 1.6 Optra, a value-for-money 1600cc version, to take on the new City.

The Isuzu Panther programme has been delayed somewhat, but by April 2004, it may hit the road as the Chevrolet Tavera.

With this upmarket people-mover, GMI will enter a  segment dominated by Toyota, Mahindra and Tata.

As for the Daewoo Matiz reincarnate, we may have to wait till 2005 -- the new Chevrolet Spark programme is still in its infancy.

Also being talked about is a proper D-segment car in the Chevrolet Epica nee Daewoo Magnus -- if GMI can price it around Rs 12-13 lakh, the current crop of Accords and Camrys will have to run for cover.

Fiat India will start the year with the Maestro Diesel, which essentially is the Siena with the 1.9 diesel engine we first saw in the Palio.

The Palio Facelift which has happened in Brazil already might find its way to India by the end of 2004.

Honda has already tasted success with the new City, new Accord and the imported CR-V. If the trend continues, Honda might venture into an altogether new territory -- of minivans like the Stream, which they clinicked extensively in India.

But what will be more interesting is whether the Honda Fit/Jazz hatchback would enter the market -- Honda may be averse to the idea just because its three-box derivative (the new City) is doing extremely well and they wouldn't want to give the market a cheaper option.

But if they decide to do so, the Fit/Jazz is a car that can do volumes far exceeding what Honda has done hitherto in India.

Toyota will almost certainly launch the new Qualis in 2004 in anticipation of trendier competitors who are lining up. As for the Corolla programme, expect a 1.6 engine that will take on the cut-price Chevrolet Optra 1.6. With the 'Corollas for courses' strategy, the Vios -- the developing market car -- may not find a role to play in 2004 in India.

But one never knows, the success of the new City might change the way Toyota thinks. A booming economy and widespread infrastructure programmes mean Toyota pick-up trucks can't be all that far behind.

The Hi-Lux-- a rugged body-on-chassis pick-up with a comfortable cabin -- is being tested now and might get launched by late 2004.

An all-new Octavia is due any time in Europe, and that would almost certainly come to India too, once Skoda establishes its CKD plant at Aurangabad (currently they have an SKD assembly unit).

The Fabia would have been a brilliant car to lead a B+ segment assault but now we may get an extensively facelifted model, that too in 2005.

The Superb luxury sedan will hit the roads by March 2004 -- like the Octavia, the Superb is brilliant value for money and will be one of the best built cars in the Indian market.

Ford India will finally have its larger than life SUV, Endeavour on the road and variants like a pick-up are expected too.

While the Ikon will have to soldier on, Ford is expected to start building a third car next year -- the Fusion MPV, though not a hot-seller in Europe, it might give Ford a niche market if they choose to launch it here.

Forget the brilliant Focus sedan though -- it does not have enough leg room at the back and the car is already four years into production globally.

A host of car makers are also targeting the CBU (Completely Built Unit) route to enter the Indian market.

We have already seen road shows by the likes of Bentley, but there are more significant players looking for slightly higher volumes than the ten cars a year that Bentley hopes to sell.

Nissan has been eyeing the Indian market for some time now and we hear that their homologation programme for the X-Trail SUV is now reaching its final stage.

This machine is roughly in the same league as the Honda CR-V and expect it to be priced in the Rs 16 lakh league.

Where there is Mercedes-Benz, BMW can't be far behind, right?

The giant from Munich has identified the base model 3-series sedans and the new 5-series for homologation in India. That means you will be able to buy these cars for less than half the price that you pay today.

Finally, it may cost close to Rs 3 crore (Rs 30 million), but Mercedes-Benz is already laying down the red carpet for the Maybach in India.

The company will also have custom-made trailer trucks that would pick up cars from anywhere in the country for service (to be done in Pune) and driven back to the door-steps of the owner.

From Maruti 800 to Maybach 62, from Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 3 crore, there's going to be quite a choice next year.

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