Has Toyota finally got it right with the Etios?

The company says the Indian engineering team has incorporated each and every customer feedback while designing the new Etios. Really?

By: | Updated: September 21, 2016 12:20 PM
Toyota had developed the Etios family as a car meant for the Indian market, but it didn’t meet the success it had desired. Toyota had developed the Etios family as a car meant for the Indian market, but it didn’t meet the success it had desired.

Earlier this week, Toyota Kirloskar Motor launched the all-new Etios sedan in India—rechristened as Platinum Etios. The company also introduced the new Etios Liva hatchback. While both the models have received numerous changes inside and out, the most notable is Toyota reconfirming its commitment to safety. Globally, the company’s safety goal is “Zero Casualties from Traffic Accident”. In keeping with this goal, with the new Etios range, Toyota has become the first in Indian industry to standardise anti-lock braking system (ABS) with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) across all models and in all grades. It has also become the first to standardise dual front airbags for both driver and passenger, and dual ISOFIX child seat locks for all models and in all grades.

Toyota had developed the Etios family as a car meant for the Indian market, but it didn’t meet the success it had desired. Launched in 2010, the Etios range, including Etios Liva, has sold about 3.3 lakh units. Of late, most sales have been happening in the fleet segment.

Now, will these changes turn around the fortunes of the Etios?

First, the price. The new Platinum Etios is priced from Rs 6.43 lakh to Rs 7.74 lakh for petrol, and from Rs 7.56 lakh to Rs 8.87 lakh for diesel. The new Liva is priced from Rs 5.24 lakh to Rs 6.28 lakh for petrol, and Rs 6.61 lakh to Rs 7.44 lakh for diesel (ex-showroom, Mumbai). These are very competitive prices, especially considering the fact that the Etios is a no-nonsense car that is high on functionality. Its best-in-class features include maximum cabin space, maximum boot space (592 litres in the Platinum Etios), and an effective AC.

The new exterior features include a redesigned front and rear bumper, and new front grille and fog lamp bezel. The Liva gets contemporary alloy wheels and the Platinum Etios has a new rear chrome garnish with reflectors.

Inside the cabin, the Platinum Etios gets a foldable rear armrest. In addition, Toyota has tried to make the cabin appeal to youngsters, so it has introduced a dual-tone instrument panel in black and ivory, new seat fabric and the “optitron combimeter”. (Optitron is the 3D backlit instrument panel gauge that, years ago, was introduced in the luxurious Lexus range, also owned by Toyota.)

One thing Toyota has not done is moving the instrument panel from the centre of the dashboard to directly in front of the driver, which is the norm. Instrument panel at the centre defies logic, and only makes you adjust your vision a bit for no particular benefit. Further, the Etios range still awaits an automatic transmission.

The company said the Indian engineering team has taken the leadership in developing the new Etios, “incorporating each and every customer feedback,” but then there is still much more to desire from even the new product.

However, as far as safety is concerned, the Etios range has set new benchmarks. Akito Tachibana, the managing director of Toyota Kirloskar Motor, whom we met during the launch in Bangalore, said that “the new Etios range caters not only to the changing taste of Indian customers, it also speaks volumes about the importance Toyota lays on the safety of the occupants.” Last year, the Etios secured 4-star rating in the Global NCAP assessment.

N Raja, director & senior vice-president (Sales & Marketing), Toyota Kirloskar Motor, added that the safety features will strengthen the company’s positioning as a safety thought leader. He added that, with the Etios, the company has had a lot of learnings. “The traditional Toyota strengths are engine and transmission, lifecycle, low cost of ownership, safety, etc. But in the entry-level sedan segment, Indians also particularly look at fancy exterior design, and the Etios perhaps didn’t meet some customer expectations in that area. However, we strongly believe customers will appreciate the new product with its superior styling and added premiumness that has been incorporated keeping pace with evolving customer needs.”

toyota etios

Lately, the Etios has been increasingly getting popular with fleet segment customers. In fact, close to 35% Etios sales come from the fleet market. Raja said that while, in general, a taxicab branding is considered negative for a product, the case of the Etios is different. He had earlier shared with FE that there are Etios taxis that have covered over 2 lakh km and are still running as good as new cars. “When we do customer meets, we display one such cars, and when the customer sees the product, the very fact that it hasn’t aged speaks volumes about it,” he had said.

So, for the fleet segment, Toyota is keeping the existing design for the entry-level variant of Etios unchanged, which will also be more affordable.

With all these design changes and upgrades, the company is targeting more customers in the personal usage segment. Will it be able to?

Gaurav Vangaal, senior analyst, LVP Forecasting, IHS Markit, adds that while the changes are welcome, “these are a tad too late to create a major positive impact on the product.” Moreover, the Indian car buyer in this segment is spoilt for choice, and even though the Etios has set a safety benchmark, these changes don’t appear enough to change the car’s fortunes. Although better advertising and marketing would help the sales, what remains to be seen is whether monthly sales will breach the double-digit mark?