Mobilio out, WR-V in: Will Brand Honda bounce back
Despite being a stalwart brand among passenger cards, Honda has been losing market share in India over the last couple of years. It has some well-established products - City and Amaze – that have been selling at a steady pace. But competition from like Maruti, Hyundai and others is getting intense, model by model. Honda’s recent products - Mobilio and BR-V have registered weak sales, and in fact Mobilio has been phased out, less than 3 years after launch. This must be one of the shortest product lives in the history of Indian passenger vehicles.
In India, the 5 traditional shapes of vehicles have large sale volumes hatchbacks, sedans, compact sedans, SUVS and compact SUVS. Other shapes such as crossovers, MUVS and station wagons, have lesser customer appeal, the exception being the Toyota Innova, which has been selling like hot cakes since its launch. The weakness of the Mobilio and the BR-V could partly be explained from this trend. Now with Mobilio being phased out, Honda has exited the MUV category. Its WR-V is somewhere between a crossover and a SUV? Will its luck turn around this time? It all depends on how customers react to the positioning of the WR-V!
Having a presence in the traditional shapes is a good business move. A good example is VW, which did not have a presence in the compact sedan space. VW did not have any appropriate vehicle in its global portfolio... so it created one for India - the Ameo. VW is now selling around 2500 units of the Ameo - not a big number by industry standards, but a decent number by VW standards.
Honda now has offerings in 3 of the 5 popular shape based categories - it is still missing offerings in the SUV and compact SUV space, the latter being the hottest category since the entry of the Ford Ecosport. Hopefully we will see a proper SUV and compact SUV from Honda in the years ahead.
There are two well-known characteristics of Honda. The first is that it comes out with distinctive products. Every avatar of the City stands out for its sleekness and power, Jazz is supremely spacious and the Civic is sporty. No Honda product stands as ‘Jack of all and master of none.’ Honda is also known to be slow and decisive in coming out with new products. It is not a pioneer in any product category, and that weakness has caused it to forfeit market share to its nimble competitors primarily Maruti and Hyundai.
One thing that Honda is well known for is sporty exciting shapes. However, its last two launches - Mobilio and BR-V - were more utilitarian rather than sporty. In the process, Honda’s sales took a beating, and perhaps its image. Honda has rightly gone back to its roots to come up with the sleek yet aggressive looking WR-V. It is exciting, no second thoughts about it, and reflects the Honda design DNA.
Honda WR-V now faces direct challenges from stalwarts like the Vitara Brezza and Ecosport, and from the muchanticipated Tata Nexon.
The WR-V will sell in good numbers .... there is little doubt about it. The question is: will it set the charts on fire? We will know the answer in a couple of months when the customers vote with their wallets.