Top India carmaker launches new hatchback model

Top Indian carmaker Maruti Suzuki on Wednesday launched a new version of its best-selling Swift premium hatchback as it seeks to reinvigorate its sales in Asia's third-biggest automobile market.

The new Swift, an elongated, wider version of the popular older model which has sold over 600,000 units since it hit Indian roads six years ago, will sell for a base price of 422,000 rupees ($9,294).

"The new Swift will create new benchmarks with its improved fuel efficiency, stylish and sportier looks and high performance," Maruti Suzuki India managing director Shinzo Nakanishi said in a statement.

The Japanese-owned carmaker, which sells around half the cars in India, reported earlier in the month its sales had fallen by 25.3 percent in July from a year earlier - the company's sharpest ever monthly fall.

It cut production in August due to the demand slowdown triggered mainly by higher interest rates and fuel prices.

But Maruti said on Wednesday that output should return to normal levels in September, helped by India's religious festival season which is seen as an auspicious time to buy.

Car sales in India - seen as an indicator of the country's economic health - have been slowing after breakneck growth for nearly two years with buyers delaying purchases due to higher borrowing costs and rising fuel prices.

The downturn has come as global manufacturers such as Ford, Renault-Nissan and General Motors have been turning to India and China to help offset saturated markets in the West.

The Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers projects passenger car sales growth this year of 10 to 12 percent but adds it may cut the figure. Maruti says it expects neither itself nor the industry to achieve double-digit growth.

India's car sales grew by a blistering 30 percent to 1.98 million units last year when borrowing costs were cheaper and an increasingly affluent middle class snapped up new models.

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