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So far, Toyota has sold close to 536 units of the new Camry in India, since its launch in April this year, of which 472 are hybrids. Photo: Reuters
So far, Toyota has sold close to 536 units of the new Camry in India, since its launch in April this year, of which 472 are hybrids. Photo: Reuters

Toyota to use hybrid push to shed taxi image in India

Over the next few years, Toyota will introduce hybrids of the Corolla, Lexus and mass models in the segment where it sells the Etios sedan

Mumbai: Paying an additional 3 lakh for a hybrid car wasn’t something Sunil Kumar, a Palakkad, Kerala-based neurosurgeon who was looking to upgrade from his seven-year-old Toyota Corolla, had in mind initially. But a quick, back-of-the-envelope calculation swung the decision in favour of the Toyota Camry.

Kumar’s new hybrid car gives a mileage of 16km to a litre of petrol in the city and 22km on the highway. Happy with the car, his only grouse is its “sluggish pick-up".

Hybrid cars are more expensive than regular ones, but it’s time that motorists put clean technology over cost, he reasoned.

“Someone has to make a beginning, and being a doctor, I thought I should take the lead," he said.

A top-end Toyota Camry costs 28.80 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), while the hybrid comes for 31.92 lakh.

Kumar has company. Many buyers in the premium category are willing to fork out that little extra for a hybrid car, Shekar Viswanathan, vice-chairman and whole-time director at Toyota Kirloskar Motor Pvt. Ltd, said in an interview last week.

Such is the demand for the Camry hybrid that Toyota has increased production to seven units per day from three earlier at its factory near Bengaluru, he said.

Toyota also plans to introduce hybrid variants of other existing and future models, as part of a strategy to promote clean technology, shed its taxi image and reinforce its premium positioning in the car market. Over the next few years, it will introduce hybrids of the Corolla, Lexus and mass models in the segment where it sells the Etios sedan, Viswanathan said.

So far, Toyota has sold close to 536 units of the new Camry in India, since its launch in April this year, of which 472 are hybrids. The waiting period for a hybrid is three months, Viswanathan said.

“The market for hybrids will gain traction gradually but we are confident it’s here to stay," he said.

Global car makers were wary of launching models with alternative propulsion systems in India till recently, in the absence of government incentives to promote clean technology. However, with the rollout of a government scheme earlier this year which offers demand incentives and duty benefits, besides incentivizing buyers, India as a market has re-surfaced on their radar.

As part of the national electric mobility mission, the government through the ministry of heavy industries and public enterprises launched the so-called FAME (faster adoption and manufacturing of hybrid and electric vehicles) on 9 April. The scheme envisages 795 crore in support in the first two fiscal years starting with the current. The demand incentives can be availed by buyers at the point of purchase and the manufacturers are reimbursed by the ministry.

Besides, finance minister Arun Jaitley set aside 75 crore to promote sales of electric and hybrid vehicles in this year’s budget. This is part of a larger plan by the government to take sales of electric and hybrid two-wheelers, cars and commercial vehicles to six million by 2020. In the long run, the government plans to spend 12,000 crore on battery technology, infrastructure and subsidies.

India’s largest car maker Maruti Suzuki India Ltd introduced a diesel hybrid version of its Ciaz sedan on 1 September in Delhi, which costs 8.23-10.17 lakh, ex-showroom. Honda Cars India Ltd is planning to introduce the hybrid Accord, said a person familiar with the company’s plans. This will be Honda’s second hybrid offering. It launched the Civic hybrid in India in June 2008 at 21.8 lakh. Subsequently, faced with poor response, the company effected a steep price cut of 8 lakh in November 2008 and eventually stopped selling the model.

Both the Ciaz and Camry hybrids include a 13,000 and 70,000 subsidy, respectively, that took effect on 1 April. The quantum of subsidy depends on the fuel efficiency of the vehicle. While the Camry’s variant is a ‘full’ hybrid, the Ciaz is a ‘mild’ hybrid. A model is categorized as full or mild on the basis of the strength of the electric motor which charges the battery pack, the size of the battery and the extent to which the electrical unit is used.

By definition, a hybrid vehicle utilizes more than one form of onboard energy to achieve propulsion. Typically, a hybrid has a traditional internal combustion engine and a fuel tank, as well as one or more electric motors and a battery pack. Hybrids are most often petrol-burning machines that utilize their electric components to collect and reuse energy that normally goes unutilized in standard cars.

Experts are of the opinion that even as car makers have started launching models with alternative propulsion systems in India, a lot will depend on the value proposition such vehicles offer and fuel price trends.

Rakesh Batra, head of automotive practice at EY, said: “It’s still early days for hybrids in India." Eventually, “the buyer should see value in the purchase of such models and be able to recover the cost over a period of time. Moreover, fuel price trends will be yet another important determinant. Globally, there has been a strong correlation between sales of such vehicles with fuel prices. When fuel prices rise, sales of such vehicles pick up, and vice versa," he added.

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