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The City over the years: How the sedan established Honda in India

Honda is all set to reclaim its top spot on the sedan expressway with the new 2017 City, launched on Tuesday, Here’s how the City helped the Japanese automaker establish its feet in India in two decades.

autos Updated: Feb 15, 2017 15:46 IST
Gulshankumar Wankar
The Honda City has undergone change five times in India, since its launch in 1998.
The Honda City has undergone change five times in India, since its launch in 1998.(Anmol Wahi / HT Photo)

Honda launched the 2017 edition of its most popular midsize sedan, the City, on Tuesday. Since entering India two decades ago, the Japanese automaker has strengthened its roots riding on the success of City, which still remains the first choice of many sedan-buyers with a budget of around Rs 10 lakh.

Here’s how the City became the identity of Honda Cars India Ltd over the years and its generations:

First generation 1998-2002

In 1998, the Honda City was born in India which was the third generation of the Japanese model. Also called City VTEC, this petrol sedan was straight, simple in design, nothing too fancy; and was put up against the Maruti Suzuki Esteem, then the most popular luxury sedan made in India.

The first City was rolled out of Honda’s Greater Noida factory set up in 1997 across 150 acres. The silhouette as well as design of City was similar to that of the one-litre Esteem, though it sported a more powerful 1.5-litre engine. Rivals in the field then were the Opel Corsa and Astra, Ford Ikon and Mitsubishi Lancer.

Also, Hyundai Accent had opened to great success in 1999.

Second generation 2002-2008

The second generation Honda City in India, launched in 2002, was the fourth generation global car. It was chubbier -- steeper airdam, shorter bonnet and a sleeker boot design. This City, which also had a moniker ZX, was powered by 1.5-litre i-VTEC petrol engine (‘I’ for intelligent) delivering 101PS of power and 132 Nm of max torque.

During this edition’s reign, Honda City took on Maruti’s Esteem head on, Accent too enjoyed a good share in the market, while the sales of Lancer and Ikon declined. Eventually, Maruti Suzuki discontinued the Esteem in 2005, which sped up sales of the City.

Read | To push growth, Honda re-designs sales policy, might stop selling Mobilio

Third generation 2008-2014

The third edition in India, launched in September 2008, was a massive upgrade. The car looked more pompous, thanks to the three grey-slats’ grille and bigger headlamps. The rear too got bigger, with broad quadrilateral headlamps and top of the line luxury, just undercutting the offerings by its own sibling – the Civic.

In just 12 months, Honda sold over 50,000 units of this City, which went on to become the Indian Car of the Year for 2009.

Fourth generation 2014-2017

The freshest of the Honda City model that we see on roads today is this – the fourth generation, launched in January 2014 at Rs 7.42 lakh . This model, which is the sixth generation globally, outsold its predecessors, thanks to Honda finally bringing a 1.5-litre diesel engine in India.

Yes, Honda had been selling City all these years in only the i-VTEC petrol version. After successfully propelling i-DTEC in India with Amaze, the Japanese automaker finally launched a diesel version of the City. Both City and the compact sedan Amaze sell well at around 4,000 units a month.

The silhouette of fourth generation City remained almost similar to the previous one, making this upgrade more of a facelift. An addition was a broad chrome bar holding the Honda badge came over the grille connecting the two headlamps wrapped around the bonnet.

This City became the fastest selling sedan in India at that time, touching a lakh units’ mark in just 15 months. However, it was this model which lost the best-selling mid-size sedan crown to the latest competitor in town, the Maruti Suzuki Ciaz. Much of the share of the mid-size sedan segment was also eaten up by the new fluidic Hyundai Verna.

Fifth generation 2017

Honda launched its fifth generation City on Tuesday. Again, the dimensions of the car haven’t changed -- 4,440mm long, 1,695mm wide and 1,495 mm tall.

So this too looks more like a facelift, with major gadget upgrades inside the cabin. The headlamps and taillights have got LEDs, and there’s a 17.7cm touchscreen that takes care of the music and navigation.

What more has changed in the new 2017 City? Read more here

The front gets a hexa-mesh over which floats a chrome slat holding the Honda badge. (Mohd Zakir/HT PHOTO)

City has been Honda’s biggest seller in India, not only establishing the brand as a whole, but also helping other models like Mobilio and Brio attain the premium tag. But is Honda overdependent on the City?

According to Anil Sharma, IHS Markit analyst, “The City as Honda’s flagship product has helped immensely in establishing the Japanese brand in the Indian market. Honda’s overdependence on the City stems from underwhelming performance of smaller models which is indirectly a function of the massive popularity of the flagship model.”

Honda needs this City to succeed and sell a minimum of 6,000 units monthly to fill for the void left by the departure of popular sedan Civic, and the not-so-widely selling Mobilio and the latest BR-V.

“Although City’s sales volumes have come under pressure lately amid renewed competition, it helps that the automaker regularly updates the model to keep it in the reckoning,” Sharma adds.

The City has lived through the two decades, fighting Esteem, then Accent, SX4, Verna and present day Ciaz. The model has helped Honda keep its head up, though it has presented headwinds in the automaker’s attempt to enter smaller car segments.

The competition in the mid-size segment is expected to heat up once the facelift of the present segment leader, the Maruti Suzuki Ciaz hits roads in a few months.

More news from HT Auto here

Share your Honda City memory with the author @GulshanMWankar