Company working on common platform derived from Nissan van; planning to launch 7-8 seater vehicle in 2 years.
Burgeoning demand for spacious people movers in India has led Ashok Leyland, a medium and heavy truck builder, to plan on developing a utility vehicle to take on the likes of Toyota Innova, India's largest selling multi-seater personal vehicle.
The Chennai-based company is targeting a medium-powered, seven to eight-seater vehicle.
V Sumantran, executive vice chairman, Hinduja Automotive, said, "The demand for the Innova has defined the overall demand for such vehicles in India.
"The way people travel has completely changed in India in the past few years. There used to be a Tata Sumo, which got replaced by Toyota's top-selling Qualis, which eventually made way for the Innova.
"Today, there is a waiting period for the Innova, which sells close to 5,000 units every month."
Launched in 2005, the Toyota Innova (price starts at Rs 864,000, ex-showroom, Mumbai) has consistently maintained superior demand compared to the competition, despite carrying a premium price tag.
Handicapped by production constraints, Toyota Kirloskar Motors, the Indian subsidiary of Toyota Motors, sold 4,765 units of the Innova last month, a growth of 126 per cent over 2,108 units sold in the same month last year.
With a multi-utility vehicle, Leyland would foray into the passenger vehicle segment for the first time.
It began making commercial vehicles such as trucks and buses decades earlier. Leyland and Nissan have a collaboration.
The company is working on the common platform derived from Nissan's NV 200 van, sold in several international markets presently.
While Nissan may be ready to showcase its India version of the van at the coming international Auto Expo at New Delhi in January, Leyland says it will take more than a year for the launch.
"We will have a common platform but they would be expressed differently, with different styling, different content and different positioning.
"We will target more towards commercial users, while Nissan will target more of personal users.
"If we take the Innova, for example, a lot of people use it for family transport and some others as a tourist car and as taxis," Sumantran added.
While he did not disclose the price positioning, sources say it will be priced below the Innova, where Mahindra's Xylo exists.
Leyland hopes the reworked platform of the NV 200 will be ready in the next 12-15 months.
"There will be some time between the launches of the two companies (Leyland and Nissan). So, we are looking at a couple of years for launch, for us," said the Leyland executive.
With the size of Indian families and tendency to travel in groups, the mass people mover segment is gaining popularity among car makers.
Chevrolet is gearing up to launch a refurbished version of the Tavera, with a new engine. Maruti Suzuki will introduce a version of the R-III concept.
The joint venture of GM and SAIC will launch an affordable van called Sunshine, and Pune-based Force Motors will launch a van, based on a Mercedes-Benz platform.