This is going to be a busy calendar for three top Asian automakers' small car plans for India. And even while the industry is concerned about issues relating to interest rates and material costs, Toyota, Honda and Hyundai are planning to go flat out in 2011 in an arena where Maruti Suzuki reigns supreme.

By end-March, Toyota will have launched the Etios Liva hatchback which is expected to be priced aggressively under Rs 4-lakh for the base version. Honda, likewise, is planning to pull out all stops for the Brio which was originally planned for an October debut but will hit the roads at least a month earlier. The last will be Hyundai with its sub Rs-lakh HA which has been touted as the ‘real challenger' to the Tata Nano.

Volumes game

The imminent tug-of-war is intriguing in more ways than one. It will, possibly, be for the first time that Toyota and Honda would be competing in the volumes game. From the time they began their India innings a decade ago, the two Japanese companies have steered clear of each other.

While Toyota focused on the utility-vehicle segment with the Qualis (and now the Innova), Honda made its intent known in the premium car slot with the City. Observers say the Corolla-Civic duel would actually be nothing compared to what is in store with the Liva and Brio.

Honda, in particular, needs a break badly especially after the lacklustre response to the Jazz premium hatchback. Its City continues to be the flagship brand but the Brio would catapult it to the next level because of its potential to generate numbers.

In contrast, Toyota would be justified in thinking it has had a stronger headstart thanks to the response to the Etios sedan which has received over 20,000 bookings. “This feel-good factor will percolate down to the Liva,” an industry veteran said. The Brio follows four months later and Honda is expected to be on overdrive with its branding and marketing efforts.

Force to reckon with

Hyundai's 800cc HA would be the last to debut but the Korean automaker is a force to reckon with in the compact car segment. Its i10 is doing brisk business while the larger i20 has shown the Honda Jazz how smart pricing can make a big difference. The HA is expected to take on the Maruti Alto which is the largest selling model in India.

“Hyundai will leave no stone unturned to ensure that the HA takes off with a bang. And given that its international business is on the wane, there is more reason to pay greater attention to the domestic market,” sources say.

It will be interesting to see how these new cars alter the leadership stakes in the compact car segment. A section of the industry believes that Asian carmakers understand the needs of Indian buyers a lot better and, to that extent, the Japanese and Koreans could have a good thing going.