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Full Throttle

Brave new brio


LEG ROOM: The Brio can comfortably accommodate five adults.

Honda's hot little number looks to break the Japanese carmaker's mould by bringing value for money in the small car equation.

Nearly 11 months to the day, Honda showed the mockup of its Project 2CV at this year's Delhi Auto Expo. About a week back, it took the wraps off the near-production version of its B-segment car for the emerging car markets of Thailand and India at the Thailand International Motor Expo 2010. The car now has a name - Brio - and on hand to do the honours was none other than Honda Motors' president and CEO Takenobu Ito. Not only was this a symbolic move, proving the importance of the car, it was also a silent reminder of how critical its success in these markets is to the company.

Brio, in the literal sense of the word, stands for a youthful and energetic persona, and as we could make out from the form and the proportions, this Honda sure is a racy little number. The car employs the Japanese firm's oft-quoted and well executed "man maximum, machine minimum" design concept. In fact, this time, Honda engineers have taken it to the limit, given its compact dimensions. And, just as Toyota has delighted with its Etios, it is the largesse of the cabin area in contrast with its diminutive overall proportions that truly signifies how well the Honda designers and engineers have plied their craft to make a cabin feel completely comfortable for five full-grown adults.

The racy arrowshot design, reminiscent of so many recent Hondas including the brilliant new CR-Z hybrid sports car, manifests itself to great effect on this machine. It is a credit to Honda's design team that they have given a super shape to a form with small proportions. Unlike so many other small cars, the rear end styling is pretty distinctive. The Brio is one compact number as its overall exterior dimensions suggest: 3, 610 mm in length, 1, 680 mm in width and 1, 475 mm in height. On this very aspect, let me also throw in another idea and suggest that Honda could drum up a saloon, which could very well be squeezed into the 4.

0-metre overall length, should they decide to storm in a model here as well but that's conjecture at this point.

At the Thailand International Motor Expo, it was turned out in shiny metallic green and this was to signify its link with the Thailand Eco-car project which calls for small cars (irrespective of cubic capacity) to meet a minimum fuel efficiency target of 20 kmpl in their own driving cycle. On the other hand, the Honda Siel engineers and product planners have stated with a degree of conviction that the drive experience of the Indian Brio will be scintillating and delight users across the spectrum. While no power or torque figures were stated, ditto being the case with all up weight, what was inferred was that the car would come with a 5-speed manual gearbox for India while Thailand would get this transmission plus a CVT as an option.

The Honda Brio will begin rolling off the assembly lines at Honda Siel Cars' Greater Noida unit around August-September 2011. Up to 80 per cent of the car will be made locally to deliver value without compromising quality. This is the biggest challenge for Honda with the Brio, and if it can hit the sweet spot on this count, it would really hit the ground running. The 80 per cent localisation it states is the most for any Honda four-wheeler to date at start-up, and this will also put into practice a new way forward for all cars from the Brio onwards.

The Brio project was on even before Honda's Jazz launch in India, but it got an impetus when the high-price positioning of the Jazz led to sluggish sales. The Brio is important therefore in this critical aspect of Honda getting large numbers where it matters - on the roads. And in a segment awash with great cars at every price point delivering strong value, Honda will be marked out for how well it positions the Brio.

Speaking of pricing, Ito mentioned that the car would be priced below Rs 5 lakh and that is mighty low given the way it went about the Jazz. That Honda supermini sadly has sung a lamentable tune thanks only to its price positioning and if Honda has any ambitions to play the game in the largest segment of the car market in the country, it will need to be spot on with pricing, otherwise it would have lost out on the one opportunity to redeem itself. Well, the firm has about nine months to deliver a bonny baby and also to price it just right to find many a home and heart.

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