Honda Brio: The sleeper hit of 2012
Not every car makes a splash like a XUV or Duster, but in these times of petrol phobia, Honda Brio has done well for itself.
The disclaimer first. I do not own a Honda Brio. Neither do I own any of the Honda cars. Once the first name in affordable luxury in India, the Japanese company has had a tough ride over the last couple of years. The reason: spiraling prices of petrol and its lack of diesel engines.
Rivals have swiftly exploited this weakness. Its flagship Accord lost the crown to the Germans that came in with diesel power. Ditto for the otherwise superlative Civic, which is infact on the verge of being phased out now. Its first small car Jazz suffered as a result of the company’s own miscalculation. It remains a hugely under-rated car and a case study on how not to market a product.
The last bastion and one that has been a virtual fortress – the City – also fell away when Hyundai launched the new Verna last summer. Its next small car – Brio – then came in at a juncture when Honda was at an all time low in India.
The start of Brio’s journey was nightmarish to say the least. Barely had the car started to make its presence felt in the second half of last year that the floods in Thailand crippled supplies of crucial parts and brought the factory in India to a standstill. It only exacerbated the situation already made worse by the surging petrol prices and the sudden shift in consumer preference for diesel cars. Like all Honda cars, Brio does not have a diesel engine and like in all other segments it remains the only car to not have it.
In this context then, one has to say the car has done well for itself so far. It isnt quite in the league that it can challenge Swift yet but among petrol cars in the compact car space it has a 21% marketshare that is next only to Swift’s 30%. And in the meantime it has trumped cars like Toyota Liva, Nissan Micra and Skoda Fabia and is neck and neck with VW Polo. Only the Swift and i20 are ahead. And all of these are hugely aided by their diesel variants.
So Brio finds itself in a space similar to that of the City. It has by far the best petrol engine in its category. The 1.2 litre iVTEC powertrain is borrowed from the Jazz and develops 90bhp, the maximum in this category. In effect while driving it you may be forgiven for believing that you are actually driving a bigger car. Rock solid at seriously high speeds of over 150kmph while being nimble and easy to maneouvre in the city. And unlike the Jazz it does not compromise on fuel economy as well.
Who are the people who are buying this car? Women constitute a healthy percentage and not without reason. It can hold its own against speed demons on the highway but Brio is largely a city car. If anybody had any doubts about it then the small boot would put it to rest. And it has a very light steering. Add to it the rather unconventional looks, what with the all glass boot lid at the rear and it finds widespread appeal to the fairer sex.
The other category that has taken a liking to the car is students. Limited use of the car makes an expensive diesel hatch untenable for this ‘perennially short on cash’ section. And a large boot is also not an incentive to them. So for a lot many Brio suits them just fine.
The big problem ofcourse is the ever rising price of petrol. Which proves why despite a 21% marketshare, Honda is struggling to sell any more than 2500 units of this car every month. The share of petrol in this category is less than a third of all cars sold. This pushes the overall share of Brio to just 6%. Rumour mills say a diesel version is in the works and should be out next year. It has already received a decent opening with its petrol variant, the diesel version may just help turn the tide for Honda.