After a brief lull, Japanese carmaker Honda Motor Co Ltd is preparing for a big comeback into India’s passenger car segment.

On the anvil is the launch of three cars that will join the company’s existing portfolios by the end of 2014-15. One of them will be the much-anticipated Mobilio compact family van.

Talking to reporters from the Asian region on the sidelines of the Tokyo Motor Show, Honda Motor Co CEO Takanobu Ito and Yoshiyuki Matsumoto, President & CEO of Honda Motor India, said the company will launch the three cars in quick succession. The Mobilio, which will be most suitable for markets such as Indonesia, will also cater to the emerging utility vehicles segment in India, they said.

The Mobilio will take on the likes of the Maruti Ertiga, the Chevrolet Enjoy and the Nissan Evalia. The multi-purpose vehicle is based on the Brio platform and will likely be offered with both diesel and petrol engines.

The other two cars that would also be rolled out are the new City and the Jazz models. While the fourth generation City will be launched in two weeks, the new Jazz will probably make it to showrooms by early 2015.

Besides, the company will look to expand its R&D team in India, with the objective of building a completely made-for-India and made-in-India car.

"We are aware that the Indian market is a very large small car market. The next Brio series or the next Jazz could be the small cars that might be developed locally for the Indian market. We want to identify the specific needs of the Indian customers. We do plan to complete a full-fledged R&D facility there for the purpose of doing local research and model development activity," said Matsumoto, who is also the MD and representative of development, purchasing and production (Asia and Oceania).

Essentially, this means that Honda could launch a completely locally developed small car within three to five years.

A new version of the Jazz or the Brio that takes into account the price sensitivities and local preferences of Indian customers can be developed earlier than that.

Perhaps, Matsumoto's confident comment – "Please keep your expectations high" – stems from the strong performance recorded by the new Amaze sedan, which has enabled Honda to take on the Maruti juggernaut.

Driven by the Amaze, Honda has nearly doubled its market share in India from about 2.8 per cent to about 5 per cent. Honda is targeting sales of 1.2 million cars from the Asia-Oceania region by 2016-17, with India contributing almost 300,000 units.

Honda Cars India can easily look at doubling of its current production capacity with the option of assembling cars at its second plant in Tapukara, Rajasthan. Its first unit is located in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh, with an installed capacity of one lakh units a year.

muralidhar.s@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on November 21, 2013)
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