By Kaustubh Shinde
If you have been keenly observing the auto market in India, you will notice that every now and then, an auto manufacturer gets its wrong. Almost all companies have got some product under their belly that they are not very proud of. Even the son of the soil, Maruti Suzuki has burnt their hands with the Grand Vitara and Versa.
Not Honda! Honda has got all their products right in India. And it is not even that they were strictly playing by the rules. I mean come on. How did Honda manage to sell thousands of 8 lakh rupee hatchbacks (Honda Jazz)? The answer lies in the question: ‘Honda.’
Brand ‘Honda’ stands tall as much in the first hand market as it does in the second hand market. And trust me, Honda has seen its fare share of 'cars up in flames’ and ‘factory recalls’. But still the image of Big ‘H’ has never been charred and has manage to mop up as many J D Power ‘Quality’ awards as it can.
Oh don’t think it is just effective PR on part of the company. Part of the credit also goes to the product. Let face it - Why is the Civic (which is a nearly 5 year old car) going strong against its rivals that are barely a year or two old. Honda products have a distinct panache about them and they tend to last more than the universe.
This brings up to our ‘question of the day’: Can Honda get it right with the Brio? Brio - the concept small car that was unveiled at the Thailand motor show which would be Honda’s entry in the so called ‘Indian Middle Class’ market. Yes, we know that the Brio is nearly half a year away from coming to India. But we ask this question now because global rival Toyota has entered the party first. The Etios clocked a massive initial round of booking of 8000+ cars in just 15 days. Come New Year, the Liva will do nothing but pile the pressure more.
And don’t forget Maruti Suzuki is readying is new Swift as we speak. GM is all set to attain success with the Aveo/Sail hatch and diesel power. And if that wasn’t enough, new car companies like Proton are also entering the fray. Amidst all this fierce competition will the little Brio (which is so late to the party) be able to grab its share of success.
We really can’t say much about the product as no one in the world has tested it. The first impressions do look promising. And if we are honest, the interior does look a much better place than the Liva. Considering the engine would be a 1.2L Jazz engine, no complaints there as well. The company also plans to increase its dealerships and factory capacity to make sure that distribution channels are not an issue. But by the time the Brio comes to India, the hatch back market would have more products than any other segment.
Clearly, what we need is brand ‘Honda’ work for its own good. History tells us Honda customers don’t leave the brand often; Once a Honda owner, always a Honda owner. The Brio would be a major step in the company’s history as it will shed its ‘aspirational’ badge and will become more mass market. The Honda company officials maintain that although they are going mass market, they have no plans to compromise on its brand experience. It will be an up-market experience for the mass market.
Will that USP work for Honda and bring it back amongst the numbers? Going by what Honda has offered in India and the word we received from the Thai Motor Show, the word "Quality Revolution" suits the Brio better than the Etios if it comes out just like the concept. Let's be honest - there's not much of "Quality" or "Q World" in the Etios' cabin. It's from a marketing team behind the Etios wearing optimism on its mind.
Let’s hope Honda gets it right or the Brio will be Honda’s first shame-child in India.