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Japanese look to gear up luxury play

 

The launch of the Mercedes A Class and B Class and the BMW 1 Series had shaken the traditional market of luxury sedans dominated by Japanese car makers, as customers increasingly veered towards stylish, compact and sporty cars made by established luxury brands.

Operating in the same price segment, the demand for long premium sedans such as Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Nissan Teana tumbled, even as delivery backlog started piling up at Mercedes-Benz for the two compact cars sold in the same price bracket.

Through the launch of compact cars, German manufacturers had substantially lowered their entry price point to rake in volumes. But now, the Japanese trio are fighting back. Honda, Toyota and Nissan are eager to recapture their lost market in the luxury space.

Toyota has evinced interest in launching the Lexus, while Nissan will roll out the Infinity — both the brands enjoy significant exposure in the US. Honda, the fourth largest car maker in India, said on Thursday that it is “studying” the introduction of the Acura brand in the country. Acura too has a loyal customer base in the US.

Yoshiyuki Matsumoto, managing officer, Honda Motor Company, said, “We are studying (the launch of the Acura in India) but have not taken a decision yet. The luxury segment, like the Accord, is important to us. It has a loyal customer following and in future we will have to respond to them.”

Imported directly by the buyer, Lexus cars are not hard to find in India. The Toyota-owned brand, which sells sedans, coupes, convertibles and sports utility vehicles, has a loyal following in the country, centered mostly in the urban market. The Japanese company had been wary of launching Lexus in India, but is now clearing the decks for its launch.

Nissan, meanwhile, is even exploring local production or assembly of models under Infinity. The struggling company with a share of under two per cent, Nissan is keen to decouple its own brand from the budget space and strengthen its image as a premium manufacturer. Introducing the Infinity will be viewed as a step in that direction, believe marketing experts.

Further, Honda is also preparing to launch the ninth generation Accord in India, which it had showcased at the Indian Auto Expo earlier this year. While no timeline has been announced yet, company executives believe the launch will take place before the end of the financial year High-pitch promotions, ‘attractive’ price tags and the lure to own the three-pointed star on the bonnet enticed customers to products such as the Mercedes-Benz A and B Class. Demand for the two fully imported cars is such that waiting period on them extends to three-four months.

One out of every five Mercedes-Benz sold in India is either an ‘A Class’ or ‘B Class’. Priced under Rs 25 lakh and launched a year ago, more than 2,500 units of the A and B Class are running on Indian roads. While a major chunk of the buyers are those who have never bought a Mercedes before, there are also those who were exploring the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. Audi is gearing up to launch the its cheapest model A3 next month.

Combined sales of six cars like the Accord, Camry and Tean dropped 42 per cent to 2,542 units last financial year as against 4,387 units sold in 2012-13, as per data shared by the Society of Indian Automobile  manufacturers. Hyundai Sonata, Skoda Superb and Volkswagen Passat also form a part of that segment.

SPEED BREAKER Demand for long premium sedans such as Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Nissan Teana has tumbled To fight back, Toyota has evinced interest in launching the Lexus, while Nissan will roll out the Infinity — both the brands enjoy significant exposure in the US