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BW Businessworld

No Plans For Brio Re-Entry: Honda India

The Indian arm of the Japanese car maker is very clear that it will not bring back 'Honda Brio', its compact car that it discontinued over a year ago, in a BS-VI avatar

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2020 Honda City

Honda Cars India (HCIL) maintains that its volumes driver sedan, Honda Amaze, will remain the entry-level product and it does not intend to re-introduce the now discontinued hatchback, Honda Brio. Also, the Japanese car maker will continue with its plan to launch its first hybrid electric car in India in 2021 despite the disruptions caused by the pandemic. It expects the recovery to kick in somewhere in the first half /early 2021. HCIL recently announced the launch of the fifth generation, City, a mid-size sedan, in the price range of Rs 10.89 lakh to Rs 14.64 lakh.

Speaking with BW Businessworld, Rajesh Goel, Senior VP and Director, Marketing & Sales, HCIL said: “Auto industry is a slightly long lead time industry so larger decisions which are mid and long-term ones coming out of the Covid, are getting debated across global populations. So, whether the hatchback (segment) is going to develop or take off or not is something we need to debate and watch out for. As far as I am concerned, our entry car is going to remain the Amaze." 

Earlier in the month, HCIL had reported a 86.44 per cent decline in domestic sales at 1,398 units in June 2020, as against 10,314 units in June 2019. The carmaker’s exports in June 2020 also stood at 142 units. 

Goel had said, "Amidst the COVID19 crisis, June was significant for us as we resumed our production partially from mid of the month while exercising utmost caution and highest safety protocols in our plants.” “Ever since production resumed, the company's priority is to quickly roll out the awaited models, including all new City, new WR-V, Civic BS-VI diesel and new Jazz,” Goel added. "Three of these models will be launched in the next two weeks, and accordingly we will progressively ramp up our volumes to cater to the market effectively," he further noted. 

It may be recalled that the Brio, which was essentially a sub-Rs. 5 lakh premium compact car, was manufactured at its Greater Noida facility and was pitted against Hyundai i10, Chevy Beat, Etios Liva, Maruti A-Star (most of them phased out) around that time. Available only in a petrol avatar, it was developed by the Japanese carmaker earmarking India as its lead market. However, with its sales consistently nose-diving over the years, the model was eventually eliminated from the HCIL’s portfolio by April 2019. 

When asked about the expansion of its SUV portfolio by re-launching B-RV (phased out in 2019) or introducing H-RV from its global portfolio, Goel said, “The SUV market has a very peculiar nature in India that every carmaker that is launching an SUV in a niche kind of a size. So, there are multiple SUVs not in a similar size or dimension. Therefore, you need to do a detailed research to be able to have an SUV (in India).” 

However, Goel affirmed that its EV plans for India remain on track and will start with the Hybrid vehicles in the starting phase. Two years ago, HCIL President Gaku Nakanishi had mentioned that the company will start its electrification journey in 2021 starting with Hybrids in the mainstream models. “We believe hybrids are a good bridge of the first step towards EVs more so now. Why I say more so now because times are difficult and investments have to be very cautious. In any case, the industry will look at committing investments for EVs with respect to motors and batteries. And the customer doesn’t have the anxiety of charging. So, in that sense, we remain committed to that. Our journey will start with hybrids and eventually we will take it on to electrics.” 

Post Lockdown Strategy
In June, HCIL partially resumed operations at Tapukara and Greater Noida manufacturing facilities after having production suspended due to coronavirus-induced lockdown. The company said it gradually started production of powertrains at Tapukara (Rajasthan) facility from June 8, which was followed by car production at both Tapukara and Greater Noida (Uttar Pradesh) facilities from June 15.

Shedding light on the impact of Covid on its manufacturing process, Goel said, “We have been very careful in terms of balancing the risks and the business and business opportunities. We started with 25 per cent production of pre-Covid level on a daily basis and in July we have reached 60 per cent level. We hope to reach 100 per cent production of Pre-covid level by September. We are working on two shifts and are working with 15-20 per cent manpower. This year the business plan has taken a huge hit. The industry saw a de-growth last year and we are expecting the same this year."

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