The Yaris—named after the Greek goddess Charis who embodies beauty and elegance—was full of clever ideas and feel-good features. It had a ‘smiling’ face with big eyes (headlights), a strange but functional dashboard, and more cabin space than most cars of its segment.
When, in 1999, Toyota Motor Corp of Japan decided to replace its small car, the Starlet, with the strangely-named Yaris, the company itself perhaps didn’t have an idea how successful, and iconic, the new product would turn out to be. The Yaris—named after the Greek goddess Charis who embodies beauty and elegance—was full of clever ideas and feel-good features. It had a ‘smiling’ face with big eyes (headlights), a strange but functional dashboard, and more cabin space than most cars of its segment. It was a car made for the world, but the initial focus was the European market—that’s why its design was developed at ED2, or Toyota European Design Development, in Nice, France. For Europe, manufacturing started at Toyota Motor Manufacturing France in Onnaing, a commune in northern France, on January 31, 2001. But the Yaris was a world car, and soon it started beating competitors across the world. Globally, today, the Yaris is available in 120 countries, is manufactured at six plants, sells over 300,000 units per year, and is available in both hatchback and sedan body shapes.
Soon, the sedan body shape of the Yaris will be launched in India, and it will compete in the tough B-segment (which includes cars such as Honda City, Hyundai Verna and Maruti Suzuki Ciaz). The Yaris, Toyota said, is built on the company’s philosophy of QDR (quality, durability and reliability), and it offers a distinctive design, spaciousness, quality and comfort comparable to higher class vehicles. “The Yaris has gained international reputation for its five distinctive attributes—advanced and emotional design, expansive comfort, superior ride quality and quietness, dynamic efficiency and performance, and class-leading safety and technology,” said N Raja, deputy managing director, Toyota Kirloskar Motor. In fact, during the unveiling of the Yaris at the Auto Expo 2018 in February, Takatomo Suzuki, chief engineer, Toyota Motor Corp, had said, “We see Yaris as a model that will introduce new customers to brand Toyota in India. We have developed our new sedan without compromise to embody the Indian car buyers’ overarching desires for a premium and high-performance vehicle … Our focus has been on creating a distinctive, superior car with intuitive functions.”
While Toyota hasn’t announced the variants the car will be available in (variants and pricing will be announced during the launch), Raja said that even the entry-level model will be feature-rich. “Our customers, we believe, will accept a small premium on the ‘value’ they get.” At the Auto Expo, Toyota had said that the Yaris will come with a lot of industry-first features such as seven airbags as standard, disc brakes on all four wheels, automatic gearbox even in base models, front parking sensors, and so on.
“Its premiumness is its strength. The Yaris is a huge, established brand globally. The customer knows that. Toyota needs to market it accordingly,” said Gaurav Vangaal, senior analyst, IHS Markit, a global information company. “The Yaris is such a strong brand that it might even pull customers from the segment above, where Toyota rules with the Corolla.” Another first for the Yaris is that it will be launched only with a petrol engine. Raja, however, doesn’t view it as a disadvantage vis-à-vis competition. “We have observed that, over the last 2-3 years, the share of petrol has grown in the B-segment. Today, 65% cars sold in this segment are petrol,” Raja said. However, the option of a diesel engine, Toyota added, remains open. Vangaal added that not having diesel is not really a disadvantage. “The petrol is a very strong engine. Moreover, the design of the car is good and it’s designed for India. Customers will value that.”
The segment the Yaris will compete in has a size of about 15,000 unit sales per month, and there are six players—City, Verna and Ciaz, followed by Volkswagen Vento, Skoda Rapid and Nissan Sunny. “The Yaris is entering a segment where there are well-entrenched players. To ensure the car succeeds, Toyota will have to offer an exceptional value proposition, and bank on its reputation for reliability and hassle-free ownership,” said Hormazd Sorabjee, the noted automotive journalist. While Raja didn’t share the expected sales figures, he added “it is our aim to give customers in India a car that exceeds expectations … With the Yaris, we hope to repeat the success of the Corolla.”