For Toyota the D day is Monday
The significance of the Etios Liva for world’s largest carmaker Toyota in India as well as for the rest of the world cannot be undermined even if one wants to. Of the 40 odd cars that the 74 year old car company has produced so far, seldom has it that a car has emerged with so much riding on it. The importance is well underlined by the fact that it has been developed painstakingly over 5 years with a dedicated team of 4,000 engineers, many of them Indian. Roughly that would mean Toyota started its groundwork merely within a year of Maruti Swift’s launch in India, the car that is the benchmark for the Liva.
More importantly, this will be Toyota’s smallest and cheapest car till date and one that has been developed solely with India in mind. While many global carmakers are now making cars exclusively for India, the Liva would be the first such car that would hit the roads. One would have expected a Maruti or a Hyundai which are more entrenched in the domestic market here, it is actually the Aichi based firm that realised first that to crack the Indian market, they have to make a car exclusively for India. It is a bold step and one that may indeed have far reaching consequences than just the success of a car.
The importance of being a Liva
In many ways, the Liva presents Toyota with the challenge and opportunity that Innova presented back in February 2005. Toyota brought the Innova into the market to replace the hugely successful but dated Qualis, which was becoming a favourite in the taxi segment and hence losing its aspiration value. Why Toyota would have had a problem with that is amusing considering that its best selling car worldwide the Corolla is the taxi driver’s first choice the world over, but it was a gamble of no mean proportions. Innova was to be a more upmarket car priced high above, so that people aspire for it. In the meantime Toyota was also ceding the ground that it had itself created with the Qualis for the likes of the Mahindra Scorpio and Chevrolet Tavera.
If the Innova had failed then, it would have taken Toyota, a Japanese conservative firm, to take atleast twice as much time to realise that India was ready for the cars that it produced and also willing to pay a little more for it. Having established itself with cars that are durable, high quality, and reliable, the Liva now seeks to enter a territory that is unknown to Toyota. It is for the first time that the company is entering the world of cut throat pricing which is dictated not by quality or performance alone. If the Liva is as successful as its other cars, then the company would only be further emboldened to take risks and India would emerge as a successful laboratory for that. If not, then Toyota will go back to its risk averse ways.
What is the car all about
Almost all Toyota cars do not score very high on style and aesthetic appeal unlike the Honda. The Liva then, is no different. It does not have the swashbuckling demeanour of the Swift, its major rival. Nor does it ooze quality like the Honda Jazz. But it is a complete workman’s car that is built to last and can be trusted to serve you day in day out for years like the faithful pet in the house. And just like him, it would not grumble and demand too much of your attention as well.
Powered by a 1.2 litre engine that Toyota has freshly developed for this car, it is much more powerful and capable than the ones that do the duty in the Swift, Ritz and Figo. The company has followed Swift so closely while developing it, that it scores better on almost all counts, particularly space. It has by far the best cabin space in the segment. It will not win any beauty pageant, not even come a respectable runner up but it will age gracefully and while at it, it will serve you better than the victor.
What is it up against
The Suzuki Swift is the big rival to the Etios, but first up it would have to contend with other very potent players. The Ritz is not doing as well as it was initially, but it has established itself as an option for those who want a Maruti but are bored with the Swift. And as the numbers suggest, there are quite of few of those in the market. Last year’s sensation Ford Figo is another tough competitor offering very little frills but very high value for money. Except for the Swift and the Micra, there is no other car in the segment that looks quite as good as the Figo and it is also the most spacious.
What works in favour of all these is the fact that all of them also boast of diesel engine option, something that the Liva will not get anytime soon. But as the success of the Etios (chart 1) sedan indicates, there is a firm foundation already present for the Liva to launch itself.
It is unlikely to see Liva going on and beating the Swift first up and there are quite a few reasons for it. Almost 40% of Swift sales is accounted for by diesel where Liva is not competing right now. Toyota has also rationed just 70,000 cars for the Etios twins and that would mean the Liva would at the maximum get about 3,500 cars a month. Less than a third of Swift’s 11,000 odd every month.
But at the end of the year, if Liva is able to establish itself as the strong number 3 in the segment, it would be quite an achievement and a true indication of its success. With more capacity next year and a diesel variant to come, Swift vs Liva, and Toyota vs Suzuki would be the epic battle of 2012. That will also be Toyota’s platinum jubilee year.