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BW Businessworld

The Predatory Instinct

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One of the most spellbinding sights in the world is of the incredibly majestic and powerful Cheetah taking after its prey in a blur of speed and silk. Most times, it wins, but sometimes, it doesn't. Potential ‘prey', such as the crafty deer, know that if you can give the cheetah a good runaround without getting caught, the feline beauty will stop in its tracks. Because it doesn't have the gas, the stamina to sustain its breathtaking run.

For Toyota, the world's biggest car maker, stamina equates with the ability to produce cars at breakneck speed to meet skyrocketing demand for its products in India. And it has been left panting in its bid to snare its prey (read market share). In the turbo-boosted automobile market growth of last fiscal, the company was among the few that used its installed capacity to the hilt. Yet, demand for its Etios sedan — a huge hit since its launch in December 2010 — was so high that the waiting period for an Etios stretched up to 04 months. Given its stamina (current capacity), Toyota looks destined to pant for a while. That's because in 2010-11, Toyota India's ‘hilt' was just 83,812 cars; comparatively, Maruti Suzuki produced 1.27 million cars, Hyundai, 594,601 and Tata Motors 363,250 cars.

Unlike the Cheetah, though, Toyota can increase its stamina. And that is just what the company announced at the launch of its most ambitious product, the premium hatchback Etios Liva. At the launch, Sandeep Singh, deputy managing director for marketing at Toyota India, said the company will increase the capacity of its first plant — which manufactures Innova, Corolla Altis and Fortuner, all winners — from 80,000 to 90,000 in the third quarter of 2011. And the capacity of its second plant — dedicated to the Etios and the Liva — will be upped from 70,000 to 120,000 units by the second quarter of 2012.

Will a combined capacity of 210,000 help the Cheetah fell its prey? Hardly. According to Singh, Toyota hopes to sell 30,000 Livas this fiscal. Given the initial response — 1,500 bookings in the first two days of launch — it already looks too little. Plus the small fact that Liva will square up against the most formidable competition in the Indian automobile market — Maruti Suzuki's Swift and Ritz, Hyundai's i10 and i20, Ford's Figo, General Motors' Beat, Volkswagen's Polo, Nissan's Micra and Tata Motors' Indica. Last fiscal, Maruti sold 8,08,552 cars in this segment, Hyundai 3,23,538 cars, Tata Motors 97,845, and Ford 78,116 cars, according to a report by Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers.

Liva will also have to overcome another handicap; there is no diesel offering. Toyota's logic is surprising. During the launch, Singh said that Toyota's research indicated consumers in this segment drive 2,000 km per month on average, a distance that does not require diesel cars. The logic may be sound, but the fact is that around half the cars sold in this segment are diesel. And its share is rising, given the increasing disparity in the prices of diesel and petrol. It's not that Toyota doesn't have the wherewithal. "We are technically ready with Liva's diesel engine," said Singh at the launch. "But we will analyse the market first and then bring in a diesel variant."

Liva, of course, has several factors in its favour, too. The price tag — Rs 3.99-5.99 lakh — is hugely competitive. The ‘Toyota' tag has immense brand value, and will certainly draw in the first lot of customers at least. The company will hope the success of Etios will rub off on its smaller cousin. Then, despite the market growth slowing to 11 per cent in April-May 2011, Toyota sustained high growth at 42.3 per cent. That is even before the Liva has hit the road.

This cheetah needs far more gas to sustain its run that it has bargained for so far.