Maruti weighing car assembly in Sri Lanka as import duties soar

Maruti Suzuki is planning to set up a car assembly plant in Sri Lanka with a local partner, marking its first step outside the country. The move was prompted by the Sri Lankan government's recent attempt to promote local manufacturing with tighter import norms and higher customs duty. Maruti wants to consolidate its considerable market share in the island nation with a local plant.

Sri Lanka ranks among the top five export destinations for Maruti. In 2011-12, Maruti's sales there accounted for over half of the country's new car market — it sold about 15,000 units in the country, while total new car sales stood at 29,000 units. The total car market size in the island nation for the same year was 59,000 units, of which 30,000 were refurbished cars.

In April, Sri Lanka raised car import duties from 120% to as much as 200%. In November, it increased the 'minimum assessable value' for cars to 7.5 lakh Sri Lankan rupees (SLR), from SLR 4.5 lakh — meaning even if the Maruti Alto's landed cost is SLR 5 lakh, the 200% duty will be calculated instead on SLR 7.5 lakh. The move has eroded Maruti's cost-competitiveness and is poised to lead to a fall in exports to Sri Lanka this fiscal.

"We are assessing the need of setting up a completely-knocked down (CKD) plant in Sri Lanka since increased duty rates will affect our sales there this fiscal," a company official involved in the planning process told FE.

Another Maruti official said that a R20-25 crore investment for a 30,000-unit Sri Lankan assembly plant has come up for discussion at the company's board. The issue, however, is the high level of localisation (40%) required under Sri Lanka's assembly norms, which are tough to meet because of low volumes.

"Even Osamu Suzuki, chairman of the parent Suzuki Motor Corp, has given his blessings to this plan. There is not much investment needed because of low mechanisation — it will basically be a sophisticated garage with a flexi-line for car assembly," the official said.

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