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We Want To Remain A Premium Brand: Yoichiro Ueno

Yoichiro Ueno, President and CEO of Honda Cars India discusses Honda’s plan for the domestic market, brand positioning and the role of domestic R&D centre

Honda Cars India (HCIL), the Indian arm of the Japanese auto giant Honda Motor on Thursday (March 16) launched one its most anticipated car, the Honda WR-V. Starting at a price of Rs 7.75 lakh, HCIL is looking to boost its presence in the fast growing cross-over and compact SUV segment and remain a premium brand. BW Businessworld caught up with Yoichiro Ueno, President and CEO of Honda Cars India to discuss Honda’s plan for the domestic market, brand positioning and the role of domestic R&D centre. Excerpts

How has been the response for WR-V? Is Honda’s product portfolio in India complete with this new car?

Response for WR-V is overwhelming. Till now we have received over a thousand bookings and going forward the number will surely increase. You can say that our product portfolio is complete but there are few segments where we don’t have significance presence and we would like it that way. Going forward we don’t want to focus on the entry level and hatchback segment.

What is your current manufacturing capacity for WR-V? Will this car be exported to other countries?

In the starting month we are looking to manufacture around 3,000-4,000 units but it may increase depending on the demand the car receives in market. No, we are not exporting this car from India to any country apart from Nepal. For exports, we have our South America plant.

The segment where WR-V will operate is highly competitive. How confident are you about your car?
This is a new car and it can bring incremental sales for us. We are not too ambitious because it is a new type of vehicle. It takes time to create a new segment. It is a compact SUV and a cross over vehicle. This segment is very fast growing. That’s why there are many cars in the segment and we have to compete with them. We believe whenever a new car is introduced in a growing segment, the market for that segment expands.

Going forward, what will be brand positioning of HCIL?
Most of the people ask this question about the brand positioning of Honda. We want to remain a premium brand. We are reading the market to launch more premium cars and once the time is right we will do it so. We have received lots of queries about the Civic Model. Now we are reading the market. But the main problem is: can we achieve the price which is acceptable in India?

How is the new Honda City doing in terms of sales?

The 2017 Honda City facelift was launched just about a month ago and the car has received over 14,000 bookings. Over 40 per cent of the bookings for the Honda City have come for the top-of-the-line ZX variant and that's quite surprising too considering the ZX variant costs over Rs 13.50 lakh.

Any fresh investment in the pipeline?

Overall we have invested Rs 8,000 crore in India and in the last 3 years we have investment Rs 3,000 crore. Right now we are in the process of acquiring land in Gujarat but the process is getting delayed as we are buying land from private players and not government. We will say more on this later.

Role Indian R&D centre will play in Honda’s?
Initially Indian R&D was established to support localisation of the cars. Now we have more skilled engineers and they have started to work on direct development of the vehicles. Going forward, Indian R&D will be more involved in developing new cars.

How is your other recent launches- BR-V and Accord Hybrid doing?
We believe BR-V is doing very good. It is helping us to create a new segment, which is between MPV and SUV. The customer is not comparing BR-V with any car and they are very satisfied with its performance. Accord hybrid is doing 20 units per month and given the high price tag it has, it is a good number for us.

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