A Tale of One City!

04 Oct,2022




By Avik Chattopadhyay


Avik ChattopadhyaySo, the Honda City completes 25 years in India. That is quite an achievement given the proliferation of choice the consumer has had in the last 10 years and the sheer impatience automakers have with continuing with ‘old’ product names.


I have never owned a Honda City neither have I worked in or for Honda, yet I take this opportunity to salute one of India’s most successful brands, across industries and product categories. So, what exactly has made it such a darling of the Indian marketplace?


It pioneered a segment

When the first City was launched at Auto Expo 1998, it started a trend of the affordable performance sedan. The Opel Astra was too expensive and unreliable while the Maruti Esteem was a bit underwhelming. Till then, the only Honda people had access to was the expensive Accord, imported through Tata Exports. Suddenly, the aspirational Honda badge became accessible in the form of the City and there was no looking back.


It has stayed true to its core promise

In its fifth generation in India over the last 25 years, not once has the City wavered from its core promise of “comfort + reliability + performance = prestige”. It is not that every generation has been equally loved and successful, as competitive offers have kept increasing, but one cannot fault the brand for deviating from its promise. The service standard has been a terrific support to the cause.


It has kept reinventing itself

The brand has kept listening to customer feedback, media feedback, social media chatter and expert inputs to keep refreshing its proposition every 5-6 years. And the refreshment has been totally transformational in style and shape without compromising on the promise. The second generation launched in 2002 was not much liked for its polarising styling yet the promise was otherwise delivered. It has had its dip for the lack of a diesel engine when diesels were the toast of the day, but came back with an offer, even though some may say too late to make the desired impact. Given the stereotype of the Japanese image of being slow and procedure driven, the City has shown that as a brand it has had no ‘holy cows’ to live by.


It has a symbiotic relationship with the mother brand

“City” is a standalone brand by itself, just like Bravia and iPhone. While it derives its core essence from the Honda DNA, its unprecedented success across South Asia and China has allowed it to feed into the Honda DNA too. The Honda brand has always been about race-bred performance, reliability, and edgy styling. The City has definitely added the facet of comfort to the mother brand. This can only happen when a product badge evolves into a brand with its own following and advocacy.


It is loved by competition

Strong brands are usually feared or at the most respected by competition. The City is in fact loved! Every automaker has had the City as a benchmark. The V-tec engine was a performance standard for competition to follow. Just like the Maruti 800 gave the Indian consumer access to modern technology and motoring, the City allowed the consumer to experience an enviable package of comfort, safety, performance, reliability and badge value! Competition always has wanted to outdo the City in providing a better package. Interestingly, when in Maruti Suzuki, my team used the entry-level City as a benchmark in deciding the feature package and price point for the top variant of the to-be-launched Swift in 2005. When working out the India entry strategy in Peugeot, we had the City as the only benchmark to use ignoring sedans offered by other badges. In VW, we used to keep scratching our heads on how Honda could offer the City at that price point maintaining the quality index.


For any brand professional, the City is a perfect case study of what product and brand management is all about…staying true to one’s promise, always open to feedback and, sincere respect for the consumer and the market!


Frankly, I remember none of the Honda City communication or advertising. Not because of any quality issues but because the fundamental package of the product + service was so compelling, that all else can only exist on the side-lines. The growing clan of Honda City owners and the increasing tribe of an envious competition has done all the talking all these 25 years. I hope the brand story is kept the same way if it wishes to celebrate another 25.


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