Is the Toyota Etios a success?
It’s been out in the market for a good 16 months and generally that is enough to decide whether a car has hit the bull’s eye or not. The Toyota Etios though, is a curious case.
If we look at sheer numbers, it has not done too badly. Launched at the fag end of 2010, the car notched up sales of a little over 8,000 units in the first three months of 2011. Thereafter, with the help of an all important diesel variant, it sold more than 50,000 units in financial year 2011-12 (April 2011- March 2012). This made the Etios the third largest selling sedan in the country after the Maruti Suzuki Swift Dzire and Tata Indigo.
That can only mean that Toyota, one of the largest automakers around the world, has got it right in its first attempt at a India specific product. Well….not exactly.
The Etios opened to mixed response from critics who liked the space, handling and performance of the car but were appalled by its styling and poor quality of interiors. To many, who were used to the Corolla and Camry as the benchmark of Toyota in India, it was a dampener.
In the marketplace too, that confusion reigns. Customers who are buying this car are happy with it but do accept that its interiors could have been better or that the Dzire still offers a better package.
Styling has never been Toyota’s forte and the Etios is not a head turner. That is a crucial aspect that is often pushed under the carpet by manufacturers. Making a car stand out of a crowd is an expensively creative pursuit and many like Maruti, Tata, Mahindra and Nissan opt for the safer practical route. But to a consumer, nothing gives a better high than the envious look on the face of his neighbour or the number of heads that turn for his car on a red light.
That may cost a bomb but may be worth the money. Etios does not have many good looking cars to compete with, but even then it manages to look passable. If it had not been for the space and a superlative 1.4 litre diesel and 1.5 litre petrol engine that powers this car, it would have been a one way street for Dzire.
The relative lack of success for the Liva, the compact car built on the same platform but with a smaller 1.2 litre petrol engine, throws more light into this. The Liva entered a segment that is inarguably the most competitive in the automotive industry. With the likes of Swift, i10, Micra, Fabia, Polo, Pulse, Brio, Punto, Figo, Ritz and Beat to contend with, Liva finds itself in the position of an also ran. It suffers from the same handicap of poor styling and benefits from a bigger diesel engine, but the variety of options for consumers makes the demerits pinch a lot more.
The Etios is a very important product for Toyota, both in India as well as globally. It indicated that unlike many companies like Volkswagen, Skoda, Renault and Honda, it is willing to push the barriers and get into unchartered territory. Before the Etios and the Liva, the smallest car it had in its global portfolio was the Yaris. It respected the Indian market by not merely tuning the Yaris to Indian needs but instead went back to the drawing board and built a car from scratch.
The execution however could have been better. As the Liva shows, the respectable volumes of the sedan is more due to the fact that it faces less competition and not due to the inherent strength of the product in the market. Other than the Dzire, its rivals are dated and archaic like the Hyundai Accent, Ford Fiesta Classic, Chevrolet Aveo and Mahindra Verito.
Part of it could be because Toyota believed it could get away with some tell-tale signs of cost cutting so long as it provided durability and a good engine. No doubt the Etios is built to last but consumers would still compare it to the Corolla and Innova. Not that it is supposed to compete with them. Rather, it should look as if they belong to the same family. As it stands, Etios and Liva look like cars from another planet when compared to Toyota’s other offerings.
Perhaps it would be prudent for the company to do some soul searching and undo the damage. As its chief architect Yoshiniro Noritake himself said, improving the quality of interiors neither takes much effort nor resources. They only have to do it while there is time.
Strange as it may sound, the jury is still out and befuddled. Etios is not dead but neither is it firing on all cylinders…..yet.