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    Honda will not give up on mass-market bikes: Minoru Kato, President, Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India

    Synopsis

    Being the largest contributor to Honda’s global two-wheeler sales, the pressure is immense on the company to grow volume in India, the local unit’s president, Minoru Kato said.

    Agencies
    Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India, the country’s largest scooter maker, says it “will never give up” on the mass-market motorcycle segment
    Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India, the country’s largest scooter maker, says it “will never give up” on the mass-market motorcycle segment, even as the company inches closer to Hero MotoCorp for the No. 1 position in the Indian two-wheeler market. Being the largest contributor to Honda’s global two-wheeler sales, the pressure is immense on the company to grow volume in India, the local unit’s president, Minoru Kato, tells Ketan Thakkar.
    Edited Excerpts:

    You have a very low market share in the motorcycle segment. What is your strategy to participate in the large mass-market motorcycle segment?
    Basically, as you can imagine from the customer point of view, our competitors like Hero (MotoCorp’s) Splendor has a very strong brand. We are a newcomer in that space and a challenger. It takes a very long time to build a motorcycle brand. Our philosophy is to never give up. However, within the motorcycle segment, we have the No. 1 position in 125cc with the Shine. Currently, we have the Livo and Dream Series in 110cc, then we have 125cc with the Shine. We are going to upgrade our motorcycles with more fuel efficiency and good ride handling. Yes, customers are preferring the Hero Splendor, but we will not give up on mass market.

    Do you ever see yourself getting into the entry-level mass-market motorcycle segment, like the Bajaj CT100 or Hero HF Deluxe?
    We will not get into that segment. Our target segment will be the Splendor segment.

    Even within the premium motorcycle segment, you have a rather scattered presence. What will be the focus going ahead?
    We have a strong intention to introduce new products in the premium segment in the future, post the BS VI emission norms implementation (April 2020), right from 160, 200 and 300cc segments… they hold a big potential. We have been conducting a lot of surveys to understand what segment we should get into in the future — a cruiser or a street bike, etc. We need to be careful with the cruiser. Globally cruisers have a relaxed riding position, but people (here) call Royal Enfield a cruiser which has largely a street-bike stance. So, we need to be careful in understanding Indian customer needs and come out with the right solution.

    Do you think there is a big potential to tap into rural areas with your scooters?
    The Cliq scooter was our attempt to target entry buyers, a lot of people appreciated it. Some people moved from mopeds and motorcycles to the Cliq. It will be our product for the rural buyers for its rugged and tough character and the space for luggage. There is no need to have a different approach.

    What is the expectation from the headquarters? Is attaining the No.1 position on your radar?
    There is big pressure from Honda Motor Japan; they have big expectations from India to contribute significantly to global two-wheeler sales. We have to plan our numbers based on the new capacities that is coming on stream. As for market share, it will automatically follow our strategy. When we can exceed our customer expectations, then we will improve our market share.

    What is the role of exports?
    It is very difficult to export currently. With BS VI in 2020, things will get easier; this will be followed by the OBD (on-board vehicle diagnostic system) norms by 2023. Post that, we can easily export to Europe or other advanced markets, but we need to ensure very good quality. Exports currently are 5% and we expect it to remain 5% as the domestic market will also grow.

    Do you expect the demand to be hit due to upcoming regulations?
    It will all depend on the price increase. Yes, there is going to be disruption in demand for a short while.

    How would you want the share of motorcycles and scooters to be in the future?

    It all depends on competitive intensity. There will be a lot of new products which will come in. Both segments have a potential to grow across geographies.

    Are electric vehicles part of your mid-term plan?
    So far no. We have some idea, but it is under preparation. We are studying the segment. We have the capability and we showcased that at the last Auto Expo (in Greater Noida early this year) with the PCX electric. It will be introduced in other countries soon.

    Indian customers’ weight is a little bit higher than the customers from Thailand or Indonesia and plus there is a challenge of road and charging infrastructure, average speeds. It is tough to meet the expectations, but we are studying what is the right solution.
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