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Sales at India's riot-hit Maruti slide in August

NEW DELHI -- India's largest passenger carmaker, Maruti Suzuki, reported Saturday a more than 40 percent slide in sales last month from a year earlier, as output at a key plant shaken by deadly violence tumbled.

The fall in Maruti's sales came as other Indian automakers said sales rose in August year-on-year, mainly due to robust consumer demand for diesel models whose fuel is heavily subsidized by the government.

Maruti said sales dropped by 41 percent to 54,154 vehicles following a nearly monthlong lockout imposed after workers attacked managers at a plant in northern India, killing one and injuring close to 100 others.

Due to the lockout sales of some of Maruti's top-selling models such as the hatchback Swift and A-star models “were impacted,” the company said in a statement.

Maruti is key to the fortunes of Suzuki Motor Corp., Maruti's Japanese parent, contributing around one-third of its pre-tax profit.

Maruti fired some 500 workers who it alleged were involved in the July riot but is hopeful of getting its Manesar plant back to full capacity soon.

The company has been producing only around 150 cars a day at the plant which normally supplies 550,000 cars a year — 40 percent of Maruti's output.

It has said it hopes to restore full production “in a reasonably short period of time” but has given no date.

India's car sales are expected to grow 9-11 percent this year, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM).

While Western carmakers would envy the Indian car sector's projected sales, they are disappointing for India where at least 20 percent annual growth has been the norm.

High interest costs and expensive fuel have kept buyers away from showrooms, analysts say.

Tata Motors, India's biggest commercial vehicle maker by sales, reported a 12 percent jump in sales to 71,826 vehicles while sales of passenger vehicles climbed 33 percent to 22,311 units.

Ford's Indian arm said sales rose 16 percent to 10,352 vehicles while Toyota Motor Corp said its sales grew 20 percent to 13,995 units.

However, sales of Hyundai's India unit, the country's second-largest car manufacturer, dropped eight percent to 46,886 as exports slumped.

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