When it was launched on June 10, 2009, the Honda Jazz was instrumental in opening up a new segment in India. Here was a hatchback which was as spacious as most sedans and as versatile as most MPVs. It was a very practical car, especially for urban Indians—parking it was a breeze, the cabin was well-appointed, and the ride quite comfortable. However, there was no diesel-engine option and even the entry-level model cost a steep R6.98 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi). The result was that while the Jazz did make the Indian buyer recognise the value of a truly premium hatchback, it could never give Honda the numbers the company was looking forward to.
However, the Jazz wasn’t really India’s ‘first’ premium hatchback. The title goes to Hyundai i20, which was launched six months earlier, on December 29, 2008. A slow starter initially, the i20 took the small ‘premium sedan’ market by storm when Hyundai introduced the 1.4-litre diesel in the car on July 7, 2009—around the same time the Jazz was launched. While customers appreciated the Jazz, they found the i20 a better buy, especially the diesel model. What perhaps helped matters was that Hyundai had a better dealership network (it still has) than Honda.
Let’s come back to the Jazz. On August 18, 2011, Honda increased the localisation levels in the hatchback, and dropped the price of the entry-level model to Rs 5.5 lakh. However, that couldn’t revive the car’s fortunes. In March 2013, the Jazz was discontinued in India, selling a total of only 23,000 units over four years.
On July 8, Honda will relaunch the Jazz in the country. Called the Fit globally, the new car looks very aggressive and futuristic. Among other cars, it will take on the hugely successful Elite i20—the Indian Car of the Year 2015—which has made a lot of Indian buyers upgrade to premium hatchbacks, thus truly opening up the segment.
Harish Bijoor, brand expert & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, feels that while the new Jazz is a much improved car and even comes with a diesel engine, the Indian buyer is still price-conscious. “Today, there are many options in the category the Jazz is entering. Price runs and ruins categories and that’s exactly what happened to the Jazz last time round. It was a terrific offering, but got locked into the pricing mindset of the ‘hatchback’. The market, in fact, remains conscious of the length of the car vis-a-vis pricing. A sedan is a sedan-length and can be priced as a sedan. A hatchback needs to be priced as a hatchback, premium or otherwise. ‘What is outside is more important than what is inside’ is the mentality in a show-and-tell category of car ownership in India. And this is one.”
Abdul Majeed, partner PW and auto expert, feels the same. “Indians are price-conscious customers so any advantage the new Jazz can have in terms of its pricing to other cars in its segment will benefit it. It is a diverse market out there—while few prefer compact SUVs, few may prefer premium hatchbacks based on their needs,” he adds.
Gaurav Vangaal, analyst, IHS Automotive, says that being in the premium hatchback segment does not mean you don’t have to be price-competitive. “Nowadays, price skimming strategy looks outdated in the Indian market and car-makers are clinching buyers from each other on each move. The success of the new Jazz will definitely depend on the upholding of strong brand equity and the price tag of the featured-stuffed vehicle when compared to the competition. Honda itself experienced the difference in the recent past with the Amaze and the Mobilio,” he says.
Last year in January, when Honda launched the new City, it comprehensively beat the reigning Hyundai Verna as far as sales are concerned. Can the new Jazz repeat that with the Elite i20?
Majeed says that if features are to be compared between the Jazz and the Elite i20, it is a close call. “The new Jazz is more versatile. For example, its boot space is around 340 litres and the back-seat can be folded for extra space. It also gets something called as Magic Seats, in which you can fold all seats in various ways—among other adjustments, the front passenger seat can be folded down flat to give the rear passenger a business class experience. The Elite i20, while spacious, loses out on boot space and versatility,” he says. He further adds that the new Jazz has touchscreen entertainment whereas the Elite i20 will get this shortly. “However, the Elite i20 has push-button start feature along with rear AC vents, which are missing in the Jazz. In terms of fuel-efficiency in diesel, the Jazz claims 27 kmpl while the Elite i20 returns around 22-23 kmpl. In the end, buying decision is based on the looks of a car and is also a personal choice. We may have to wait a few months—maybe till the close of the festive season—to know how the new Jazz fares in the market and who the real winner is in this segment,” Majeed says.
Vangaal is clear that the new Jazz may not be able to do a City. “The brand City—one of the best established in the Indian automobile market—is incomparable. It will be relatively tough for the new Jazz to take on the well-settled Elite i20, which also enjoys a better dealership network, thus higher visibility,” he adds.
While a lot still depends on its pricing, one thing is clear: that the new Jazz is now more fit for the Indian market. “The market has grown a lot since 2009 when the Jazz was first launched. There are far more premium hatchback buyers today. It is expected that the response to the new Jazz will be far better when compared with the last generation, especially on grounds of larger market and with the addition of a diesel engine,” Vangaal adds.
In fact, even before its launch, the new Jazz has received over 2,336 bookings (till June 30). This makes the new Jazz the third best selling product for the Japanese carmaker in June 2015, followed by the City (7,187 units) and the Amaze (6,834 units).