Everybody and their aunties from public relations companies have jumped onto the bandwagon of loud songs and dances by famous and not-so-famous singers, cricketers and actors, extolling the virtues of cars they actually do not drive
Everybody already knows that all new and not-so-new cars and bikes and trucks and and of course, buses, and leather seat covers, launched this year have all been awarded a slew of prizes and awards. Amid this, Toyota Etios may well have been awarded the top prize for maximum money spent on squiring the motoring media around on jaunts to check out anything related to Nagoya. (I had visited the lovely Japanese port as a seafarer in 1975 and won a lot in a casino there.)
Everybody also knows that the Tata Nano is bombing. That is a pity. Tata Motors could try to rebuild it, with a removable front like in the BMW Isseta, so that potential buyers could get some more cargo space. As of now, one of the biggest reasons for its misfortunes is the rather small cargo space. The fact remains that if the Nano was supposed to give two-wheeler users an option, it should have been capable of carrying an LPG cylinder. Or running on one maybe - though that's illegal.
In addition, everybody and their aunties from public relations companies have jumped onto the bandwagon of loud songs and dances by famous and not-so-famous singers, cricketers and actors, extolling the virtues of cars they actually do not drive. Suniel Shetty's declamation on his Hummer, at the re-launch of the new improved Ford Endeavour in the summer, was the high point of the year as far as I am concerned. It was even funnier than the one where the lady from the PR agency for one automobile company started asking many of the motoring media present some questions about the other automobile company account they also held.
So when the editors at Moneylife - who are very strict but nice people and let me write what I want to and also have a wonderful sense of humour all the same-asked me to run a '2010 in Indian motoring' kind of article, I said to myself, 'This is your chance!' No word limit either. So here's my 2010, from the word go...and predictions for 2011 too!
# The pricing of fuel has reached a point where nobody knows what it really is anymore. Least of all the people who are paying. It is all about "check the zero" please, and after that never mind, they can charge us whatever they want per litre. The year 2010, as far as fuel prices are concerned, was when some more de-regulation was brought into an already badly-run oil retailing sector. Badly-run because there is still no control on quality, and no proper explanation on what these "branded" premium fuels are all about actually.
Prediction: In 2011, we may reach a point where fuel prices are provided to us in rupees per millilitres, and the sellers won't know the price, either.
# At least a dozen "costliest cars in the world" were released in India in 2010. The reality is that there is still no clear winner on which is the costliest car in the world. But it doesn't matter to the buying plebeians. They have to buy the costliest car in the world, every two months, even if all they use it is for their drivers to cruise for street-side ladies of easy repute late at night. In addition, nobody is really sure if the cars are actually new or not-as was discovered in one case by a person who bought an expensive new toy. Though that was, in all fairness, one of those "costliest motorcycles in the world". Names have been withheld in the national interest and it may impact the mango trade to the US.
Prediction: In 2011, special bank vaults may yet be built for costliest cars, and used as F1 tracks.
# The Formula One circus is coming to India. After all, it's not every day that we can see cars doing the rounds on our roads, going round and round, like what goes round and round and vanishes with a woosh every morning. One Commonwealth Games scam was not bad enough, now we will end up paying for another circus, and see the roads barricaded for days. In addition, is it not true that much of the costs will be defrayed by simply making the "volunteer" officials pay for the privilege? And remember, you heard that here first.
Prediction: In 2011, Formula One will slowly be withdrawn from some other countries, that's why they are called "developed".
# The big thing for 2010 was the soft launch of a six-year warranty for select customers of a certain brand of car, at select locations. In any case, four- and five-year warranties are almost becoming the norm, even the Tata Nano made it to the cut-off here. However, copywriters figured out new ways to add even finer print to the terms and conditions of these warranties-so like menus in Chinese restaurants with red lanterns, we may now need special glasses to figure out what to do if, for example, the engine falls out of the car and we discover that this is not covered.
Prediction: In 2011, automobile manufacturers will still not be able to agree on and provide us with one standard on warranties, as well as indicator and wiper stalks-some will be right-hand drive and others will be left-hand drive.
# Early in 2010, slightly earlier actually, the big thing was LED running lights, fore and aft. People were willing to pay mega bucks to buy cars which had them (read Audi). As the year wore on, like a tired lady of the night flashing a Gucci bag in Paris, LED running lights started making an appearance as after-market fitments on all sorts of cars. Now you can see them on cycle-rickshaws too, the LED lights, that is.
Prediction: In 2011, owners of expensive luxury cars will need some more bling, and they may achieve this by ensuring that their cars have NRI or American drivers, thanks to the recession there.
# Automobile moment of 2010 (international) had to be the display of enthusiasm and reverence for the monarchy by certain segments of the British population, obstructing the progress of the long-standing Crown Prince (of whatever is left of the British Empire), in a Rolls Royce on a street that is otherwise packed with visiting tourists from India. Their security escorts were driving, what else, Jaguar cars made by Tata Motors. And riding Japanese motorcycles.
Prediction: In 2011, the Britishers will probably not be averse to the idea of picking up a few bullet-proof Hindustan Motors Ambassadors from India, even the initials fit. And ride Bullets, too.
# Automobile moment of 2010 (domestic) was likely the sight of thousands of cars from India being exported on pure car carriers headed for all parts of the world. Unfortunately, this does not get much media publicity. The reason for this is that most of the manufacturers still shy away from letting customers abroad know that their car was made in India. Like with India and infotech in the early years.
Prediction: In 2011 this will be reversed, and the badge of honour as far as car manufacturing is concerned will shift towards India, just as it did in the case of infotech.
Other than a whole lot of old technology, internal combustion engine-powered machines, nothing of much new importance actually happened in the motoring world in India. But then, as always, I guess we in India are waiting for the early costs to come down, and once they do, we shall make non-conventional cars better and cheaper than the rest of the world.
Reva NxT, here we come.
As far as the worst of motoring in 2010 is concerned, it had to be about the trend to place instrument clusters in the middle of the dashboard. Not only does it look odd, but it was and is positively unsafe, especially in typical Indian driving conditions
where the centre of the dashboard is used more as a location to place a religious symbol designed to bring good luck and not tell us about engine temperature and speed.
So, the final prediction for 2011, we may just see a "head up" display of the instrument cluster on the front windscreen itself, as is now not uncommon on aircraft. After that, we could really fly on our crowded roads, at low speeds. Because the way things are going, opulence and gadgets will be more important on Indian roads, and not speed and power.
After JSW’s takeover of Ispat, Sajjan Jindal is the largest steel producer, beating even SAIL, a remarkable achievement. On the other hand, Lakshmi N Mittal’s struggle to get a proper foothold in India has become even more difficult
The takeover of Ispat Industries by the Sajjan Jindal-controlled JSW group has fundamentally altered the equations in the steel industry in India. For one, Sajjan Jindal has achieved the unthinkable. He has emerged as the largest steel producer in India (after his Vijaynagar expansion is complete in 2011), beating Steel Authority, something that even Tatas have not been able to achieve. At the same time, the dream of Lakshmi Mittal, estranged brother of Vinod and Pramod Mittal (the promoters of Ispat Industries) to control a large steel business in his motherland has become a bit more difficult.
For the last few years, ArcelorMittal has been trying to gain an entry into India primarily by setting up a greenfield venture. It tried to set up a project in Jharkhand but this made no headway and eventually it shifted the project to Karnataka, where things are not going smoothly either. The acquisition of land itself was supposed to be completed this year, but this is not likely to happen soon.
What happens to Lakshmi Mittal's Indian foothold, Uttam Galva? This too would be a problem now. In September last year, ArcelorMittal managed to get a foothold in India by buying a stake in Uttam Galva, which makes galvanized steel. However, it was too small a move for a giant like ArcelorMittal and there was much speculation whether Uttam Galva was the stepping stone for Lakshmi Mittal, even as he continues to pursue the greenfield ventures. Now, with Ispat Industries having changed hands, Lakshmi Mittal's stepping stone has now turned shaky.
That's because Uttam Galva sources its material from Ispat Industries' hot-rolled coil plant. However, sourcing the raw material from Ispat is going to be a problem, now that JSW has entered Ispat. Not only will JSW stop selling raw material to Uttam Galva for competitive reasons, but it may also go for forward integration to use up the raw materials for value-added products.
All this leaves ArcelorMittal exactly where it was a few years ago-with virtually no significant operations in India. In fact, ArcelorMittal was the frontrunner in the race to acquire Ispat Industries even a week or two ago. However, so intense is the dislike Vinod and Pramod Mittal have for Lakshmi Mittal, they ensured that he would not gain control over Ispat under any circumstances. It is this rivalry that Sajjan Jindal managed to exploit and enter Ispat.
What about LN Mittal's greenfield plan? The fact is that over the last 20 years not a single greenfield, large-scale steel project has come up in India except for Bhushan Steel in Orissa. It is extraordinarily hard to set up a steel project in India primarily because of the large number of licenses and linkages that are needed to secure land, iron ore and coal. It is precisely the problems of securing resources that led a frustrated Lakshmi Mittal to move from Jharkhand to Karnataka, where too his company has made little headway.
It remains to be seen how other players in the steel industry react, but with no greenfield projects likely to come up and no other major plants up for sale, it is going to be an uphill battle for Lakshmi Mittal, one of the world's richest industrialists, to gain a proper foothold in his country of origin. In all this, Sajjan Jindal has stolen a march over many other steel magnates. He now controls the largest steel capacity, larger than even the Steel Authority of India (SAIL).
Don’t expect an investigation by the regulator, much less any indictment, but insider trading in Ispat counter was telltale
The shares of Ispat Industries climbed over 10% on Monday—well before the deal between JSW and Ispat was announced. But Monday was the last stage of the rally, propelled by massive insider buying. For days together the counter of Ispat Industries was abuzz with huge volumes and sharp rise in prices. Did people close to the deal, have definite information that something conclusive was afoot? It would seem so from the stock price movement.
Look at the facts. On 9th December, the Ispat stock was languishing at Rs17.80. The next day, the scrip shot up to Rs18.80 a rise of 5.3% on large volumes. On 13th December it jumped up again by 4.81%. The following day, when the broader market was struggling, Ispat was up further by 5.3%. On 15th December, a large number of stocks dipped, but Ispat stayed up. On 16th December, the Ispat stock shot up again by 4.5%.
Yesterday, it was sharply up since the morning as the buzz went around of a possible takeover by JSW. But, up until yesterday, there was absolutely no news and so no reason for such consistent, forceful buying in the stock on ever-larger volumes, for six consecutive days. In short, there was much insider trading.
As we have pointed out regularly in the ‘Unquoted’ section of Moneylife magazine, there is rampant manipulation going on in small Indian stocks. What is amazing, however, is how virtually every large takeover is also accompanied by massive price movements some days before the deal. Clearly, those in the market have little to fear about being caught. At least, not yet.