Car news

02 March 2014

Jnaneswar Sen on the new Honda City

Senior VP (Marketing & Sales), Honda Cars India, tells us how the new City will rise to the challenge to be the undisputed sedan, once again...

Devesh Shobha
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The earlier generations of the Honda City looked vastly different from the models they replaced. But that didn’t happen with the fourth-gen model, although it’s an all-new car.

Yes, it’s an all-new model with an all-new platform. But feedback from our customers and market research told us the outgoing City scored really well on design. If I may say this, the design of the 2008/09 City was way ahead of its time.

Even today, it looks fantastic and customers are quite happy with the overall design. And that’s exactly why we decided against making significant changes to the external design, while focussing more on the interior. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t changed enough – the rear styling is all-new, with new tail lights and bumper design. Only the front resembles the outgoing model, so yes, the external design is more of an evolution on the outgoing car.

Also, the overall design is in line with Honda’s ‘H design’ language. The new City has been styled on the basis of Honda’s ‘Man maximum, Machine minimum’ philosophy, which will eventually form the basis of all future Hondas. So it didn’t make sense to change the exterior just because it’s an all-new model – this approach went well with our global design language.

Is Honda pitching the new City as a segment higher than its traditional rivals?

The new City’s overall length remains the same, so ideally, it’s in the same segment as the older City. But with the new platform, the wheelbase has gone up by 50mm, which allowed us to increase legroom and kneeroom, while also improving overall packaging. As a result, back-seat space and boot volume have also increased. So, yes, the City will now offer class-leading passenger and boot space. It hasn’t really gone a segment higher, but it does offer much more than its existing rivals.

Compared to the Amaze, the City’s diesel motor makes identical power. Didn’t it need more power, considering the City is bigger and heavier?

The current generation of Honda engines are some of the best in terms of technology. So 98bhp for diesel and 117bhp for petrol aren’t really bad figures. Compared to the Amaze, yes, the power output is the same. But that’s where the newly developed six-speed manual gearbox and 200Nm of torque come into play. It’s not always about power figures, you see. It’s also about how the power and torque are made, how they’re delivered. And once you drive the new City diesel, you’ll realise the current output is more than sufficient. There is sufficient acceleration and it also has excellent fuel economy.

Speaking of fuel economy, Honda has quoted 26kpl for the diesel City.

That’s true. And that’s not just our internal test result. The 26kpl figure has been approved by ARAI. So this makes the City diesel the most fuel-efficient car in India right now. Not only in its segment, but across all segments.

With the new City, why is Honda emphasising only fuel efficiency in a big way?

It’s very simple. In India, the first thing people ask about a car is its fuel efficiency. Power figures do make a difference, but fuel efficiency is prime. In fact, a key parameter in the development of the City was fuel efficiency, and with the kind of technology Honda has, we made sure the new City returned the best efficiency, while also offering good performance for an upper C segment sedan. That is why with the new City, we are focusing on its fuel efficiency. The rest of it – good fit and finish, build quality, strong feature list, and a powerful engine – these are a given when you buy a Honda. Plus, reducing overall CO2 emissions is part of Honda’s agenda. In this era of global warming, every manufacturer wants to minimise emissions and for us too, this will be an on-going process.

The City’s key rival, the Hyundai Verna played on its feature list and powerful engines and got ahead in the race. What is your strategy for the new City?

Yes, the Verna did play its feature card well. But then, the new City is not just about features. It’s a complete package. We can’t put up glossy pictures of how powerful yet efficient our engines are. We can’t put up pictures explaining how wonderfully the City drives and handles on the road. We can’t use pictures to tell customers that everything in the City’s cabin falls perfectly in place in terms of ergonomics.

All this can only be experienced, and once you experience the new City, you’ll realise it is not only better than its immediate rivals, it also looks at cars one segment higher. Remember, the City was developed in India, with Indian customers in mind, and ours is the first country where it’s being manufactured and sold.

You mentioned a segment higher than the City,  which bringsus to the Civic. What are your plans for this car in India?

Frankly, the Civic won’t be coming to India anytime soon. That segment has seen a drastic and continuous drop in sales over the years. It doesn’t make sense focusing on a segment that isn’t growing at the pace that the rest of the market is. Sure, there are new launches happening in the executive sedan segment, but that isn’t translating into overall growth for the segment itself.

At its peak, the Civic sold more than what the executive sedan segment combined is selling right now. So our short-term strategy doesn’t involve launching the Civic in India; we want to focus on brands that we think will do better for us, like the City, Amaze and Brio. But when the time is right, we will consider bringing the Civic brand back here.

Honda has finally gone diesel, first with the Amaze and now with the new City. But the market indicates that petrol cars are now regaining momentum. Do you feel you got the timing wrong here?

It’s never too late to launch anything good in India. Yes, we did take quite a hit since the market’s diesel phase began. The City lost out to the Verna on that front, but even then, we were pushing the existing petrol technology that we have. Remember, of the petrol sedans sold in the C segment, the City accounted for more than 50 per cent. Which is an amazing stat for us. It proves Indian customers trust the Honda brand – the diesel will only add to its popularity.

What we saw two years ago was basically a herd mindset. Everyone wanted a diesel car regardless of their monthly running. And one of reasons why petrol cars are making a comeback of sorts is because buyers are now better educated, not only by us, but by other manufacturers as well, on the pros and cons of both fuel types.

Which City will sell more – petrol or diesel?

We aren’t sure. But our primary job at the dealership level is to educate buyers on the pros and cons of both. With the gap between diesel and petrol prices closing, the running cost advantage that a diesel car had some years ago isn’t the same today. And it’s not just fuel efficiency – it’s about maintenance costs as well.

Given that the new City is based on the latest Jazz platform, when will the new Jazz debut here?

It’s too early to talk about future models for India. Our focus right now is the new City. The Jazz will come back to India, but not immediately.

Tags: jnaneswar sen, jazz, city, honda

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