In a bid to extend the Etios model line-up and boost overall sales, Toyota Kirloskar Motor unveiled the Etios Cross at the recently-concluded Auto Expo 2014. Planned for a May launch, the Etios Cross will only be the second car in the relatively new hatchback crossover segment. On the sidelines of the event, we caught up with Akio Nishimura, Chief Engineer, Etios, Toyota Motor Corporation (L) and Naomi Ishii, Managing Director, Toyota Kirloskar Motor (R), who talked about various aspects of the Etios platform and future plans.
Etios Platform – Learning & Developments
The complication of the Indian market can be gauged from the fact that Toyota too had to face challenges with the Etios, despite it being made especially for markets such as India. Ishii admitted that the sales performance of the Etios hasn't been up to expectations. However, the company has derived immense learning from the customer reception of the Etios and will use this knowledge to engineer better products in the coming years.
Design was one key element that Toyota found to be less appealing among young buyers, but finds good demand otherwise. The Etios platform was designed to offer space, fuel-efficiency and low-maintenance – areas in which the Etios has performed exceedingly well, Nishimura added. This is the reason why the Etios continues to perform well in non-metro cities as the above listed requirements are a priority in such markets.
Another area of learning has been the touch and feel factor of the interiors. Based on such feedback, Toyota launched the refreshed Etios last year, which helped increase the sales significantly. Going forward, the focus will be on engaging with customers and collecting feedback, which will be used to improve the aspects such as exterior and interior design in order to enable better acceptance by a wider range of customers.
Talking about the possibility of a sub-four metre sedan on the Etios platform, we were told that there are no present plans to enter the segment. Despite moderate sales of the Etios, Toyota sees great potential and wants to focus on delivering better products in the C segment. In the Corolla, Innova and Fortuner, the company has segment leading products, and it now aims to strengthen its position further in the C segment. The compact MPV segment is of interest to the company, they said, but refused to share any product information.
Talking about products such as Innova moving up the selling price in the past few years, Ishii attributed the increase primarily to the excise structure in the country, and currency fluctuations. In order to lower this impact, the company is working towards increasing its localisation, which stands at about 80 % for the Etios and about 50 % for the Innova currently. In regards to diesel engines and their popularity in India, Toyota plans to localise production of engines for the Innova and Fortuner in an undisclosed time.
Toyota is presently the only company in the country to sell hybrid vehicles but doesn't have any immediate plans to include it in lower segment vehicles. Ishii noted that Indian is a price-sensitive market and installing a hybrid system in existing models will result in significant increase in price, making success unlikely in the volume segment. Despite the announcement of the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020, there hasn't been any progress in its implementation. Unless, there is support and incentive from the government, popularisation of hybrid technology will be a challenge, noted Nishimura. Moreover, there is no immediate plan to introduce the Lexus brand in India as well.
A lot would depend on the future direction the Indian market takes. Nishimura said the future of Indian mobility would depend on factors such as road conditions, fuel quality, safety and emission regulations. Any decision on investments into new product development by Toyota would be governed by these factors.
Text: Arpit Mahendra