Honda finally launching diesel cars in India?

A gradual slow down in sales has, perhaps, made Honda realize that it’s high time it turned to diesel. Honda’s Facebook fan page throws hints at the company’s plans of bringing in its diesel engines (known as i-DTEC) to India by 2012.

Honda Accord and CR-V may get diesel engines

Honda has got only one, tried-and-tested diesel engine, the 2.2-litre i-Dtec that does duty in the European-specific Honda Accord and Accord Tourer. The 2.2-litre i-Dtec oil burner is actually a DOHC, transverse-mounted, 2,199 cc, 4-cylinder, 16-valve, common rail diesel engine that produces 150 bhp of maximum power and 350 Nm of maximum torque. Honda claims a combined fuel economy of 17.85 km/litre or 5.6 litre per 100 km with CO2 emission of 153 – 174 grams per km from this engine. This engine was introduced in early 2009 on the Accord in Europe. It also has a 180 bhp, 380 Nm version of the same engine used on the Accord Type S. Related: Honda CR-V and Accord to get diesel engines

2011 honda accord photo
Photo: 2011 Honda Accord

Plonking the 2.2 litre i-DTEC in to the diesel Accord and CR-V could perhaps be the only way to improve sales of these vehicles any further. Current segment leader Toyota Fortuner clocks sales of around 800 units per month; and Ford manages to sell almost 300 units of the Endeavor, mainly because it runs on diesel. However, Honda sells less than 100 CR-Vs per month. This clearly indicates that even premium car buyers are now moving to the cheaper fuel to save on running costs.

What about the Honda City?

The recently launched Maruti SX4 diesel and the Volkswagen Vento petrol and diesel models have slowly, yet steadily, made a dent in the sales of Honda City, which was the segment leader for over a decade in the sub-Rs. 10 lakh category.

While Honda loyalists might continue to rally behind the City, the increased demand for diesel sedans could force Honda to bite the bullet. The sales chart below shows how Vento and SX4 have slowly pulled down the City’s sales during the September 2010 – March 2011 period. Sales of the SX4 went up nearly 80 percent after the launch of the diesel spec to take the car to second spot, just below the Vento.

Month Sales of Honda City Sales of Volkswagen Vento Sales of Maruti SX4
January 2011 5,059 (petrol) 2,308 (petrol & diesel) 2,159 (petrol)
February 2011 3,668 (petrol) 3,548 (petrol & diesel) 3,534 (petrol & diesel)
March 2011 2,773 (petrol) 3,973 (petrol & diesel) 3,632 (petrol & diesel)

How about an oil burner for the Honda Civic?

Competition in the D segment, too, has stiffened with sales of the Honda Civic witnessing a drop. And here, it’s the Chevrolet Cruze diesel and Toyota Corolla Altis diesel causing the damage. Sales of the Cruze and Altis are now almost double that of Honda Civic every month. In March 2011, Honda could sell only 379 Civics while Toyota sold 953 Corolla Altis and Chevrolet sold 834 Cruze cars. Skoda Laura sales stood at 591 in the same month. The top-selling cars in this segment also show the Indian buyers’ preference for powerful diesels but will Honda oblige?

Honda Jazz begs for diesel

While the Jazz’s higher price tag was the primary reason for its unpopularity in the country, the lack of a diesel version could also be a reason for its dismal sales. In March 2011, only 152 Honda Jazz units were sold. Its rivals, all of which have diesel options, have been selling many times more. Hyundai sold 7,655 units of the i20, Volkswagen sold 3,881 units of the Polo, and Nissan sold 2,060 units of the Micra. A 1.4 litre i-Dtec powered Jazz could work wonders for Honda provided the company prices this premium hatch judiciously. Jazz, is otherwise, a good looking small car with a peppy petrol engine that is a silent performer. It is spacious with high quality, durable interiors and large boot space.

honda i-dtec engine photo
Photo: Honda's i-DTEC engine

We feel that Honda SIEL, after realizing the need for diesel versions in premium models, must explore the possibilities of developing, cleaner, fuel-efficient smaller diesel engines to power the widely popular Honda City sedan and the unfamiliar Honda Jazz hatchback in India. Honda’s Chief Operating Officer of R&D, Tomohiko Kawanabe himself has said earlier, “If you want to compete in markets like India, a small diesel engine is necessary.” Hence, expect Honda to produce smaller diesel engines of about 1.4 litre or 1.6 litre capacities to plonk them into the hoods of Honda City and Jazz.

Honda has been a pioneer in engine technology and its prowess in producing fuel-efficient, technically advanced engines has always been the pillars on which the brand sustains in various car markets across the world. Though the big ‘H’ has finally made up its decision to bring diesel cars, the real challenge for Honda is to achieve maximum localization of these cars’ parts for pricing its diesel cars competitively.