Indian market’s heft steers brands away from solely left-hand drive cars.
It’s the world’s largest consumer of right-hand drive cars and the explosive growth of middle-class consumers means it will become a growing focus for global carmakers.
Until the emergence of India, it looked as if the needs of Australian drivers would be ignored in the focus on emerging left-hand drive countries including China, which is already the base for a growing number of ‘transplant’ factories and special models including a long-wheelbase BMW 3-Series.
“India is our saviour,” the new CEO of Nissan Australian, Richard Emery, tells Carsguide this week.
“We’re lucky. India will help a market like Australia. They have rubbish roads and their middle class needs are much like Australia.
“We need to consider India. They are right-hand drive like us.”
Emery’s view is shaped by cars like the latest Nissan Patrol, which was developed for wealthy left-hand drive buyers in the Middle East. So it arrived very late in Australia after a delayed right-hand drive program, costs more than $100,000, is extremely luxurious, and even has the automatic shift lever on the wrong side of the centre console.
He was at Mercedes-Benz before Nissan and admits he had been worried about the focus on countries with different needs to Australia.
“When a global car company has a new model in development, where job 1 was always previously left-hand drive, they’ll now be thinking about India,” he says.
"Now they are going to build world cars that are both right and left-hand drive. It changes their focus. It’s not an after-thought.
“I remember, back in my previous job, when they were talking about development of the new Mercedes S Class. China and India were part of their thinking.”
Emery worries about how things will change in Australia once Ford, Holden and Toyota end their local manufacturing operations, but says the emergence of India should dovetail with development of cars that are suitable for Australia and not just shipped from Asia, Europe or the USA as they would be sold locally.
“The Indian requirement for cars is more like Australia. In China they want long-wheelbase cars with no equipment.
"But Indians are looking for the same sorts of things as Australians.They will have cars the same as us."