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Who will be king of the road among sedans?

By TE Narasimhan
November 20, 2017 09:29 IST
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With the new Verna, Hyundai takes on Honda. Beating the Honda City is something the country’s second-largest car maker has taken upon itself with its new launch. Will it succeed?

Who is going to be king of the road. Photo courtesy Honda, Maruti and Hyundai

Four years after losing its leadership position in the mid-sized sedan market to Honda, car maker Hyundai Motor India has mounted a significant challenge with the 2017 Verna.

 

It has completely overhauled the brand, going in for a full model change.

Next Gen Hyundai Verna. Photo: Courtesy: Hyundai

The move comes as the 2011 variant of the Verna, the last time the brand was given a makeover, completes its product life cycle (Product life cycle: from the time the product was first thought of until it finally is removed from the market).

Since that launch, the brand has been through minor changes and refurbishments twice, to bring excitement in the marketplace. It did not work, with the Honda City continuing its reign over its rival. In calendar year 2016, Honda City sold 57,619 units vs Verna’s 16,461 units, according to industry sources.

The latest version of the Verna, however, holds promise like never before for the country’s second-largest car maker to take on the might of the Honda City.

Next Gen Hyundai Verna. Photo: Courtesy: Hyundai

The reason, say experts, is because the Verna remains one of the key products in Hyundai’s portfolio. It has sold over 300,000 units since it was first launched in India a decade ago and was an important brand along with the Santro earlier to help Hyundai emerge a significant challenger to Maruti Suzuki in the small and mid-sized car market in the country.

These segments still remain key to India’s growing car market. They constitute around 60 to 65 per cent of the overall car market here.

Hyundai has spent Rs 1,040 crores in revamping the Verna, company executives said, as it looks to stage a comeback in the segment.

But is toppling the Honda City or fighting the Maruti Ciaz, which has recently emerged the second-largest selling model in the mid-sized sedan market, easy?

Initial numbers seem to suggest so. In September, which was a month after launch, the 2017 Verna became the segment leader with 6,053 unit sales against Honda City’s 6,010 units and Maruti Ciaz’s 5,603 units, data from the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers said.

While the question is whether the new Verna can maintain this lead in the forthcoming months, the company seems to have gone all out to ensure it can keep consumers engaged for now.

Next Gen Hyundai Verna. Photo: Courtesy: Hyundai

Analysts said the new Verna offers a lot more than its competition and is priced competitively at Rs 7.99 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi) in keeping with these features. The Maruti Ciaz and Honda City, for the record, are priced between Rs 7.65 and Rs 13.43 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), sector experts said.

“The next generation Verna is engineered to deliver excellence in all core areas of styling, performance, technology, safety, ride and handling, creating a new benchmark in the sedan segment,” said YK Koo, managing director and CEO, Hyundai Motor India.

Next Gen Hyundai Verna. Photo: Courtesy: Hyundai

The latest model comes with 1.6-litre petrol and diesel engines, with both manual and automatic transmission variants. The 2017 Verna is based on a newly developed K2 platform, Koo said, with features such as sun-roof, rear curtain, six airbags, eco-coating for air-conditioner vents and rear parking sensors to increase comfort and convenience for consumers.

Koo also said that the new Verna had been put through a number of product trials and tests to ensure it can meet Indian driving and terrain standards. The research and development on the 2017 Verna was undertaken jointly by the firm’s R&D centres located in Chennai, Hyderabad and South Korea.

Next Gen Hyundai Verna. Photo: Courtesy: Hyundai

While the introductory price of Rs 7.99 lakhs would be applicable only to the first 20,000 customers of the brand, sector experts said the move would aid penetration. Hyundai is expected to raise the price of the Verna once it settles down in the marketplace, industry sources said.

Hyundai has also pushed the pedal on marketing with the new Verna, backing the brand with a 360-degree campaign. “With an equal focus on television, print, out-of-home, digital and social, the idea is to reach aspirational consumers while creating a big impact across all platforms,” Koo said.

Next Gen Hyundai Verna. Photo: Courtesy: Hyundai

The pre-launch phase saw Hyundai come out with a teaser campaign, stepping into a full-blown launch campaign closer to roll-out. The post-launch phase has seen Hyundai engage with its dealers and consumers on a one-on-one basis, encouraging test-drives and having an open door policy to see and understand the Verna closely.

India will be the fourth production hub for the Verna, following South Korea, China and Russia. These countries will continue to manufacture for the domestic market, company executives said.

The plan is to produce around 130,000 units per annum of the Verna including 50,000 units for the domestic market and another 80,000 units for global markets. This includes Africa, West Asia and other Asian countries. Exports of the Verna are expected to start by next year.

The battle for leadership has begun.

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TE Narasimhan
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