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Honda upbeat on new Unicorn

SABYASACHI BISWAS | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on February 19, 2015

Going steady: HMSI CEO Keita Muramatsu at the launch of CB Unicorn 160 BIJOY GHOSH

Company believes the new 160 version has the right mix in place

Honda’s recently launched CB Unicorn 160 is more than just another offering from its India stable. This is because while the 150cc plus premium motorcycle segment is dominated by Bajaj Pulsar, other models are also trying to get a bigger slice of the pie. The exception here is Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India (HMSI).

Sharp fall

A recent study by Mind in Motion, the two-wheeler analytical firm based in Chennai, shows that brand Pulsar has maintained a 37 per cent share in the premium segment during Q3 of this fiscal (against the same period last year). Yamaha’s FZ (which includes both FZ-S and FZ-16), saw an increase from 13 per cent to 15 per cent while TVS Apache (160 and 180) grew by three percentage points. However, Honda’s Unicorn fell from 15 per cent to eight per cent. While the Pulsars, Apaches and FZs may benefit from having multiple variants (and different engine capacities) under the same umbrella brand, Suzuki’s Gixxer with just one variant has managed to clinch a market share of four per cent since its launch in September.

Honda, though, is not unduly concerned. Tomoaki Nagayama, Deputy Director of Sales and Marketing (South Region), says that though there is a fall in market share, the demand for the Unicorn continues to grow.

Unfazed

According to him, the company has a lot of back orders for the bike and the focus now is on boosting production capacity. Honda is confident that the appeal for the new Unicorn 160 will increase thanks to its edgy styling and new engine that balances mileage and performance. Keita Muramatsu, President and CEO of HMSI, reiterates that Honda Eco Technology has now been implemented in the new 163cc motor of the Unicorn. Asked why the company has steered clear of fuel-injected systems unlike rival Yamaha, he replies that the top priority is to give the urban commuter a premium motorcycle with good mileage. “With a carburetted engine, it is easier for us to develop such a machine, and also easier and economical for maintainence,” he says.

While most competitors use decals and some degree of body graphics, Honda has not included those in the styling of the Unicorn 160, which is aimed at the 25-35 year-old male rider. The body design too, is less muscular than other models. Muramatsu and Nagayama say this is done to create a balance between refreshed looks and striking the right chord with its targeted audience.

Sporty side

Interestingly, while Honda is the reigning champion at MotoGP (both rider and constructor), it has not used any of its racing heritage to market the Unicorn 160. Yamaha never fails to highlight its race DNA while pitching its FZ products. Both companies are, however, predictably gung-ho about their motorsports affiliations with their performance motorcycles in the same segment.

According to Nagayama, while a young rider who follows MotoGP would love to have a bike in his favourite team’s livery, the problem in India is that MotoGP still is not as popular as other sports. Even in motorsports, F1 scores comfortably. “Maybe we will get to the point where we will use our racing heritage in all our products once MotoGP gets enough attention in India,” he says.

Honda has had a history of taking the market by storm whenever it is at its peak. A case in point is the UK of the ‘60s where it quickly became the dominant player. There are similar examples in Asia where market dynamics are similar to India’s.

This is why the Unicorn still remains Honda’s most important offering in the burgeoning premium segment. 

Published on February 19, 2015
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