Country's robust automobile manufacturing base is now churning out cars and bikes for diverse geographies from Latin America, Africa to East Asia and Australia. In fiscal 2016, India exported more cars across the world than China. On the one hand, it does not mean much. In the overall list of top car exporters, India still ranks a poor 20th. Even among emerging economies in Asia, it is behind Thailand. Yet, overtaking China has its own importance. It is the world's largest automotive market and also the largest producer. The growth of China's economy in the last two decades has been led by its rise as an export giant - first in textiles and then in steel followed by computer hardware. It is difficult to find a smartphone or a computer today that does not have even one component that is made in China. It is a different story in automobiles though. A car or a truck is much more complex and consists of far greater number of sophisticated components than a sundry electronic gadget. East Asian economies like Japan and South Korea have grown in the past solely on the back of their prowess in making cars that can be exported globally. The rise of Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Suzuki, Hyundai and Kia is testimony to that. The consequent development of thousands of home-grown components suppliers is another plus, cresting sustainable sources of employment. India's rise as an export hub for small cars, two wheelers and components over and above China is a significant trend. Close to 20 per cent, or one in every five passenger vehicles made in the country today is shipped overseas to markets as diverse as Latin America, East Europe, Africa, Australia, Middle East and South East Asia. In the last five years, vehicle exports have grown by an average 8.5 per cent, not a mean feat considering the global market for automobiles itself has stagnated in this period. Similarly, the export of two wheelers and commercial vehicles have also grown at an average 3.8 per cent. A global hub for small cars In 2012, when French carmaker Renault was mulling its options for the lead market where a new affordable small car can be developed for emerging markets with low per capita incomes, India was an obvious choice. The country was already one of the largest producers of small cars in the world and provided not just a ready-made supply chain of vendors but also a market that is the best breeding ground for any mini car. “I have been a big admirer of India′s frugal engineering,” says Carlos Ghosn, chairman, Renault Nissan alliance that developed the Kwid compact car for India. “A car like Kwid cannot be made in France or Japan. India is a big test market for us. We have used the expertise in France, the engineering prowess of India and some know how from Japan. If the Kwid succeeds here with big numbers, we will be certain that it will be successful in whichever global market we launch it in. Right now we start here and going forward markets like South America, Middle East and Africa are all markets where Kwid will find buyers. If Kwid succeeds globally, it will highlight the strengths of Indian engineering.” “If you want to make a value for money product with frugal engineering, India is the place to do so,” he adds. “By 2016, 60 per cent of the automobile market will be in countries such as India, Brazil, China, Russia and Indonesia.” The success of the car in India - over 175,000 cars are on the road in less than two years - corroborates Ghosn's thinking. But the journey of India becoming a hub for mini car production in the world started much earlier in 2006. That year, the Indian government decided to introduce different rate of excise duties for small cars, defined as those that measured less than 4 metres in length and had engines smaller than 1.2 litre for petrol and 1.5 litre for diesel and others. That differential rate exists till date even after the introduction of the unified Goods and Services Tax in July 2017. The resultant price difference led to the proliferation of small car production in the country and creation of new segments like compact sedans and SUVs. Though the policy was aimed largely at the domestic market - the government wanted to incentivise smaller cars that cost, pollute and cause less congestion and are more fuel economical - it had an indirect spin off on export markets. The intensity of competition and growing domestic market led to massive investments in scale and India became a test market for affordable cars worldwide. If a car can be successfully made and sold in India, it would find a market in many other emerging markets. It is a policy that was first successfully used by Korean car major Hyundai Motor India. The company has been India's largest car exporter for well over a decade and its i10 small car is the most exported car from India ever. At the time of their launch, both the i10 and its bigger sibling i20 were exclusively made in the company's Chennai factory and exported even to developed markets in Europe, where safety and emission regulations are much stringent compared to India. “We have been the pioneer as far as exporting cars from India is concerned. Since the inception of the company we have demonstrated quality and standards that are at par with anywhere else in the world. The rest of the industry has woken up to the potential for exports from India only now,” says Rakesh Srivastava, senior vice president, sales and marketing, Hyundai Motor India Ltd. “Some of our cars like i10 and i20 were only made in India and exported from here all around the world till some time back.” Others such as Toyota, Renault-Nissan, Ford, General Motors, Volkswagen and Honda have quickly joined in. Toyota's Etios - the company's smallest and most affordable car till date - is exported from its Bengaluru factory to many markets. It has been a bestseller in South Africa. Nissan exports more units of the Micra hatchback and Sunny sedan from its Chennai factory than it sells in the domestic market. Consumers in Chile and other countries in Latin America are lapping it up. It is a similar scenario with Volkswagen Vento, Chevrolet Beat, Maruti Suzuki Ertiga and Ford EcoSport. Vento and Beat are big draws in Mexico, Ertiga in Indonesia and EcoSport in South Africa. It does not come as a surprise that while General Motors failed to cope with the intense competition and decided to shut down its operations for the domestic market in India, it would still continue to export cars from one of its factories. Motorcycle, tractor exports on upswing too It isn't that small cars are the only success story in the industry. The growth in exports of two wheelers has also been dramatic. Nearly 2.4 million units were exported in 2016-17 alone. And even though India is a market for frugal no-frills economical 100cc mobikes, production capability has reached levels where even high end sports bikes are being produced and exported from here. In 2012, Yamaha started manufacturing and exporting its R15 sportsbike that costs Rs 1.15 lakh ($115,000) to its home market Japan. This was the first time that an Indian subsidiary of a Japanese company was exporting to the parent's home country. While that is a statement of intent, the scale and volumes from exports invariably comes from bigger domestic players like Bajaj and Hero MotoCorp. The Pune-based company was among the first to start exporting its mo-bikes from India exploiting the restrictions for exports on arch rival and domestic market leader Hero MotoCorp courtesy its tie up with Honda Motor Corp till 2010. It exported over 1.2 million mo-bikes in 2016-17 and has market leadership position in many African markets like Nigeria and Uganda and Latin American markets like Colombia. Its dynamic managing director, Rajiv Bajaj, has also never been coy about revealing his global ambition. “The motorcycle market outside India is double that of the Indian market. That means if Bajaj sells 100 bikes in India, eventually we must sell 200 bikes outside India,” he says. “We are very clear we want to be a global player. And we are equally clear we want to be a specialist in motorcycles and not dabble with scooters unnecessarily. To be global you need to be a specialist. Every day I ask myself and my team whether we can be bigger than any other company in the world. The hunger is there. In any part of the world if you think of motorcycles, Bajaj should spring to your mind.” In recent years, export of scooters have also zoomed, an area where Bajaj does not play. The leader in this category in the domestic market - Honda Motorcycle and Scooters India - has been the main beneficiary. In FY 2017, HMSI exported over 280,000 two wheelers out of India - a third of them were scooters. Market leader Hero MotoCorp, now unfettered after the divorce with Honda has also quickly hatched a plan to spread its wings globally. Collaborating with various international technological partners like Erik Buell Racing, Engines Engineering and Austria's AVL are proof of its intent. It aims to export to 50 countries from the current 30 by 2020, when exports will contribute at least 10 per cent of its overall revenues. In 2016-17 it exported nearly 180,000 units from India. It is investing Rs 1,100 crore ($165mn) in a new factory in Halol in Gujarat, its fifth in India, which will be the hub of its exports out of the country and has also set sights on developed markets like US and Europe for which it is readying a new line up of products. “We will be selling in 50-plus countries by 2020. To top it all, I am talking of an annual turnover of Rs 60,000 crore,” said Pawan Munjal, chairman, managing director and CEO, Hero MotoCorp, in August 2013. “We are aiming for 10 per cent of our sales to come from export markets by 2017. My long-term vision is to make Hero a global leader not just in terms of sales volumes, but in every sense of the term-technology and innovation, product line-up, worldwide presence, global talent pool and global best practices.We have now expanded to 30 countries across Asia, Africa, and South and Central America, from just four markets in 2011 when we started our solo journey.” Indian engineering for overseas farms India's largest tractor maker Mahindra and Mahindra also exports a sizeable chunk of its production to multiple markets across the world. Already the largest tractor maker in the world in terms of volumes, Mahindra is an expert in low power small tractors that are in demand in emerging markets where landholdings are smaller in size. Of the more than 10,000 units it exports every year, a third goes to Africa where the company has small assembly facilities in Chad and Mali. The company's ambition in the continent is particularly intense. Last year, it set up a separate business unit to focus on the opportunities in Africa. It believes the Africa business unit has a potential to grow 10 times to $1 billion (Rs 6,500 crore) in seven years. The lure of Africa has attracted heavy commercial vehicle maker Ashok Leyland as well. The Hinduja Group flagship company recently announced a Rs 70 crore ($10mn) investment to set up an assembly plant for buses in Kenya. It already has a manufacturing facility in the UAE as a joint venture with local partner Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority, which has an annual capacity to produce 2,000 vehicles. Global majors in heavy duty commercial vehicles like Daimler AG and Volvo have also begun exploiting the export potential of their Indian operations. Daimler India Commercial vehicles, the Indian arm of world's largest CV maker, exports Mercedes Benz badged trucks and buses and Mitsubishi Fuso range of trucks to over two dozen countries across the world. There are also plans to export the Freightliner branded giant trucks to Mexico later this year. Similarly, Volvo plans to export its light duty UD trucks from its factory in Madhya Pradesh to Indonesia in the coming months. It may need a few more years, but it is no longer hard to imagine a time when an India made car, bike or truck can be found in any part of the world.