Honda Navi: Inspired or Irrelevant?

The Honda Navi is the big launch from HMSI at the ongoing Auto Expo 2016. But unlike the past this is neither a new bike nor a new scooter from the Japanese two wheeler behemoth. As Honda continues to pursue its ambition of becoming number one in the Indian market, it is trying something very bold. The Navi is all-Indian – thats the first of many new things the company is trying. What I mean by that is that this is the first new product that has been worked on right here in India, with no inputs from Japan. It also uses aggregates and technology that Honda has already transferred to HMSI, meaning it didn’t require a lot of lead time to develop. And then there is the fact that Honda is playing with fire by trying to create a new segment altogether. The Navi is part motorcycle, part scooter and part – well I don’t know what to call it! It looks like a toy bike to some, and like a scooter in bike clothing to others.

So why is Honda doing this? It believes there is a market for a product like this – in terms of what it represents – not how it looks. That means a two wheeler that is easy to ride, efficient, conservative on power yet zippy and fun to ride, easily manoeuvrable, and light on the pocket. To many that describes a scooter too, but Honda wanted to create a proposition even more attractive than the scooter and one that specifically targets the younger buyer. The kind of buyer who doesn’t want to spend too much but still wants their ride to be an expression of themselves. That explains the various avatars the Navi has been launched in.

Honda Navi

Honda Navi

So what is the Navi then? The name comes from the word for new in many Indian languages and dialects. One look at the product and I think even ‘new’ falls short! So is it a scooter, bike, or a scooterette? But honestly I don’t think it would be fair to answer that question entirely until I have actually ridden it. But from the looks of it, it is indeed looking like a new segment – but will get clubbed with the scooters more than the bikes. Why? Because at the heart of it all this is the Honda Activa. The Activa is the backbone of HMSI’s business in India – it has been hugely successful, and allows Honda the chance to stretch the envelope on the back of economies of scale. Ergo, the Navi uses the Activa’s underpinnings, part of its frame and of course its engine and gearbox. So no gear changes and not too heavy – kind of fit in with the premise of what this product is meant to be anyway.

So will it do well? I believe it is too early to tell, and no that is not the safe answer. Honda has opened bookings already. But yes given Honda’s understanding of the Indian market, the trust the brand evokes amongst Indian buyers and the attractive price tag, yes it should do well. What could go against it are the petite proportions. But Indian buyers are amongst the shrewdest in the world. And so if they spot the value, the convenience and the sheer ease of use – they will adopt this segment faster than you may expect. That explains why HMSI is dedicating ample capacity to the Navi. And finally the reason I truly believe it has played this card, and got the approval from its Japan HQ – if the Navi is a success it may finally allow Honda to really crack into Hero’s Splendor citadel. The numbers it seeks to topple Hero from its market-leader status could then come from the Activa, Navi and a clutch of other bikes like the Unicorn and Shine. Two massive volumes products based on the same platform, using the same engine and aggregates will also mean a massive shoring up of margins for HMSI.

Honda Navi Rear

Honda Navi Rear

So it will be all-eyes-on-Honda as far as I am concerned. How effectively it can communicate what Navi is (the teasers with people sitting one behind the other really didn’t make any sense to me – and nor did it communicate what this product ended up being), how smartly it can market it, and then how many it can make and sell. If it does do all of that right – I wonder what it will mean for the rivals. Will they try and consolidate on the existing portfolio, or will they simply have to scurry in a ‘navi’ direction?

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