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Honda's Brio takes aim at Maruti's Swift

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Honda on Tuesday unveiled a prototype of its new small car, the Brio, at the 27th Thailand International Motor Expo 2010. The introduction of the car is a significant step for Honda in rapidly growing Asian markets. The prototype unveiled on Tuesday is meant for the Thai market, but it won’t differ significantly for India. Honda had showcased a concept version at the Auto Expo in January.

The Brio is an attempt by Honda to enter a segment dominated by Maruti Suzuki Swift. When launched in India before the 2011 festive season, the car will sport a starting price of less than Rs 5 lakh. It will be the first time that Honda enters the volume segment and will pit the Brio against not just the Swift, but the Ford Figo, Volkswagen Polo, Nissan Micra, Hyundai i10 and the Toyota Etios hatchback (which will be introduced early next year).

Developed to conform to Thailand’s Eco Car programme initiated by the government, the Brio is designed to meet strict emission norms and fuel efficiency targets. At 3.61 metres in length, it’s a tad shorter than the Chevrolet Beat and Swift, but a little longer than the i10. Honda’s small car will feature a 1,200 cc petrol engine, like the one on the Honda Jazz.

“We plan to begin production of the Brio with 80 per cent localisation,” said Ito. “To introduce the Brio at a very reasonable price, we’ve had to do things in production and purchasing that have not been done before, including more Indian components and newer supply sources,” he said.

“The biggest learning for us has been localisation,” said Ito when questioned about how the Brio hopes to achieve a sub-Rs 5-lakh pricetag. Takashi Nagai, president & CEO of Honda Siel, said while components such as crankshafts and conrods were produced at Greater Noida, Brio’s aluminium components such as the cylinder block and heads would be sourced from its plant in Rajasthan.

On the possible split in its joint venture with the Hero Group over Hero Honda in the two-wheeler space, Ito refused to comment. “Our bigger worry is to match up to demand for our two-wheelers in India,” he said.

(The writer was invited by Honda Siel Cars India to attend the unveiling of the Brio at the Thailand International Motor Expo)