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Toyota and Honda have both been around in India for about a decade and have made a mark for themselves. And yet, there’s one segment that has eluded them for the longest period — the one that screams “B-segment affordable hatch.” It may have been deliberate, but they finally have two spanking new concept cars to offer, both of which promise to turn the tide in their favour come 2011. Toyota, in fact, have a platform which will offer a hatch and a saloon, while Honda will have to make do with the hatch.

TOYOTA ETIOS
When the curtains were drawn on the two Toyotas last week at the 2010 Auto Expo, there was a collective sigh of relief from both the audience and members of Toyota Kirloskar Motor Limited (TKML). The debut of their concepts (which in reality are 90 per cent production ready) had taken them four years and 2,000 engineers, which may seem hard to believe at first, but it is the truth.

For Toyota, whose Etios is derived from the word ethos, it was indeed a revisit of their car making ethos with these cars. Best known for their quality cars at slightly premium prices, Toyota has always believed that quality engineering cannot be compromised upon, even if it means an increase in the car’s price tag. While this may not have been true at a certain point in time, it does hold true in recent times. Originally, Toyota were best known for their hardy vehicles, with a focus on reliability. With time, they’ve also added luxury bits and creature comforts, which have made their cars more upmarket and therefore a bit pricey. But with the Etios, they are going back to their roots. They’ve also looked at the Indian market very closely while developing these cars, focusing on what works in the Indian context, while also studying offerings from rivals. The combined knowledge of building quality vehicles and their experience in the Indian market has resulted in a car that maintains the fine grain of Toyota’s beliefs and yet attempts to address very Indian needs.

For one, the interiors use harder moulded plastics and the dials are centrally mounted. There are enough spaces for storage and the single-piece seats with integrated headrests let you know that some compromises have been made to keep pricing competitive. Other signs of cost savings include the use of a single wiper blade and air-conditioning knobs from the Innova. Toyota have also used some clever design techniques to liberate enough interior room for four to five persons.

With the focus clearly on making it a car conceived for India that will also do well across the globe, the two cars have been designed keeping practical considerations in mind. The tail lamps on both the hatch and sedan don’t impinge on boot space, while the flatter body panels help keep costs lower. And these are not apparent immediately, because Toyota’s focus on form and function has been equal. You get chrome highlights on the grille, side-strips and wheels to ensure the cars don’t give up on their premium feel. Like the Honda, the focus will be on heavy localisation levels to keep costs competitive.

Motive power for the two cars will come from two very different engines. The hatch will feature a 1.2-litre petrol engine, producing, by our estimates, upwards of 70 bhp and 10 kgm of torque. The sedan, on the other hand, will have a 1.5-litre petrol engine with over 100 bhp and 14 kgm of torque. These should be more than adequate for the job. With the two cars rolling out of Toyota’s new plant that has a capacity of over 100,000 cars a year, the largest automaker in the world (Volkswagen might beg to differ) has certainly set the ball rolling in India. Pricing will be key, and our guess is the hatch will be priced upwards of Rs 4.5 lakh, with the sedan starting at around Rs 6 lakh. This means that the Maruti Suzuki Swift/Dzire and Tata Indica Vista/ Indigo Manza are in for a tough fight. Expect the sedan to roll out by October 2010, with the hatch in January 2011.   HONDA NEW SMALL CONCEPT
In recent years, Honda have taken a new design direction — edgy cars that not only look futuristic on the outside but are also inviting on the inside. While their premium pricing strategy has worked in India, it hasn’t yet gotten them into the six-digit a year volume realm. That might just become a reality with the Honda New Small car.

Yes, the concept does look stunning, and if that’s any indicator of what the eventual production car will look like, then Honda seem to have a winner. The five-door hatchback, according to its designers, has drawn inspiration from the CR-Z concept hybrid sports coupe, which in itself is quite stunning. The massively raked C-pillar may seem impractical in the concept, but the designers insist that they will try to retain as much of it as they can in the production car, since the C-pillar also incorporates the door handle. The bold grille, with its criss-cross pattern and the slightly oriental headlamps, seems like a mix of design cues from the Ridgeline and a new school of thought.

Keeping in tune with Honda’s philosophy of “Man Maximum, Machine Minimum”, the New Honda Small will be lightweight, dynamic and efficient, and the design language echoes just that. The strong character line running across its flanks helps liberate space and make it aerodynamic, while making the car rigid.

Honda didn’t give a peek into the interiors, but went only as far as to say that the interiors will be a reflection of the bold exteriors. Motive power might come from a 1.0-litre petrol engine with upwards of 70 bhp, while the 1.2-litre petrol mill from the Jazz could feature too at a later date.

Production will commence at its facilities at Noida, with an eventual shift to its plant at Alwar in Rajasthan being highly likely. Honda haven’t spoken much about its price or positioning, but we guess it will be a competitor to the likes of the Hyundai i10 Kappa and Ritz, but with a more premium pricing than either of the two. It will roll-out by August 2011. Let the games begin!