The subcompact sedan segment (say 1500cc & below) witnessed a good variety of new options introduced within the last couple of years. The segment which, for so many years was more like a coin with 2 faces, namely Toyota Corolla 1.3L & 5th gen Honda City variants only, ever since the options such as Suzuki Liana, Mitsubishi Lancer and Nissan Sunny went out of the battle by 2010.
In March 2020 Toyota introduced the Yaris, followed by the arrival of Changan Alsvin which was revealed in December 2020 and went on sale in January 2021. Then in April 2021 Proton launched the Saga sedan followed by the introduction of 6th gen Honda City in July 2021. Technically the Yaris has been around for almost 20 months now, the Alsvin for 11 months, Saga for 8 months and Honda City has been on sale for 5 months by now.
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Based on the market performance, two of these cars are enjoying a good place whereas the other two seems to be struggling, so we can simply label these new car launches as either Good or Bad, lets see why…
The Good Launch
The Yaris was launched in the toughest of circumstances with its launch ceremony washed out due to extreme COVID-19 lockdowns. However despite observing zero sales in its initial months due to the economic activities at a complete halt, the Yaris was quick to rise to eminence ever since the lockdowns were eased with thumping sales figures while continuing to maintain its dominance in domestic sales charts in the following months.
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By the end of 2020, it was already the second bestselling local assembled car in Pakistan behind Suzuki Alto with average 2,300+ units sold every month. Not only this, its cumulative sales stood 13% higher than the combined number of Honda Civic & City during the last 8 months of year 2020.
Despite rather unappealing looks, the Yaris has been able to maintain its dominance in the subcompact sedan segment and still sells at a monthly average of 2,250 units, thus placed on top of the segment. The Yaris also won the 2021 Consumer Choice Award for being the highest selling sedan in Pakistan and, for showing outstanding results throughout the year. Even when 3 more options are available in the market, the soaring sales of Yaris speaks for the consumer confidence in the product and can definitely be labeled as a Good launch, in fact the Best launch among all.
Changan Alsvin was the newcomer in the market & a name totally unheard of before. But due to its attractive design, rich features & equipment, better pricing at launch and some brilliant marketing strategies seems to have paid the company well as the Alsvin is already troubling the rivals by eating a good chunk of their sales.
According to unofficial data since Changan is not part of PAMA (Pakistan Automobile Manufacturers Association), the Alsvin is selling at a monthly average of around 1,000 units already. The Alsvin sedan also helped the company to celebrate the 10,000th unit production milestone in Pakistan in July 2021, since it began rolling out the first local assembled model (the Karvaan) in May 2019.
Although the price of Alsvin received couple of majors bumps during the year which also drew a lot of criticism, still the popularity of sedan seems to be growing especially in wake of its performance and customer satisfaction as well as due to the Bad launches discussed below.
The Bad Launch
Proton launched the Saga sedan in April 2021 as the cheapest available option in the market, in terms of price of course. The car had already received a lot of attention prior to the formal launch, mainly due to its anticipated low price factor. However even those customers visiting the dealerships in early hours of the very first day of booking were being given the delivery time beyond 4/5 months, those visiting in the latter half of the day were given 7/8 months whereas some people also claimed a 2022 delivery date if the vehicle is booked on the first day of booking in April 2021. Customers were livid as plenty of anguished messages were seen posted on social media.
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Still many people decided to book the vehicle and ‘wait’ for the prolong deliveries. However due to COVID-19 lockdowns enforced in Malaysia in June 2021, the CKD shipments met enormous delays leaving the customers in further despair. Interestingly the EDB (Engineering Development Board) visited the Proton plant in Karachi and issued the manufacturing certificate in September 2021 which raised further questions from the customers as to why the vehicle was launched in April when the plant was not in ready position to assemble & deliver the vehicles.
It is pertinent to mention that the local assembling of Toyota Yaris & Changan Alsvin had went underway prior to the formal launch of these vehicles. Same was the case with other new cars such as Kia Sportage, Picanto as well as Hyundai Elantra, all were being assembled locally well before the launch took place. However in case of Proton Saga, it was indeed a bad idea to launch the product when the company wasn’t even ready to assemble the vehicles locally.
Lastly, the Saga received another blow to its reputation with a massive price increase in November 2021 which was made applicable to all those customers who were patiently waiting to get deliveries of their cars since several months. Many people canceled the bookings and shifted to other available options in the market while those who managed to receive the CBU units have been complaining about the poor fuel consumption of the vehicle.
Although on papers Proton Saga is a very promising car considering its price & features, but the way its launch was handled by the company has put a really bad impression on its name which Proton will have to work really hard to overcome. Without doubt Saga being an otherwise good car witnessed a very Bad launch in Pakistan.
Honda City was once considered the prime option in the subcompact sedan segment ever since it first appeared in our market back in January 1997. Each & every model of City met with sheer success with Honda updating the model strictly after every 3 years, either with a thorough facelift or a new generation model, thus keeping its position in the market on top.
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However in 2010 when other options such as the Liana, Lancer & Sunny went off the scene, Honda decided to drag the 5th gen City which was launched in January 2009 and continued to assemble it till the middle of this year stretching the production span beyond 12 years, the longest for any locally assembled Honda model. The 5th gen was also the most under-equipped City in Pakistan without a single airbag on offer even in the priciest Aspire trim which costed PKR 2.9 million. The sedan which used to be a prime choice among the buyers became a meme template on social media, primarily due to Honda Atlas unnecessarily portraying the futile cosmetic features as something straight from the heaven.
Earlier this year it was already anticipated that Honda will finally replace the 5th gen City with a new model but it was always a confusion whether it will be the latest 7th gen or the globally discontinued 6th gen. But in a sheer disappointment, Honda introduced the retired 6th generation City as a replacement, almost 2 years after it was discontinued from the rest of the world. Not only this, the 6th gen was priced higher than corresponding Toyota Yaris variants while falling short of equipment with some abysmal quality control. Though its still better equipped than the 5th gen model it replaced.
The result was as bad as expected. While Yaris quickly rose to fame soon after its launch, the 6th gen City has been struggling badly. Even after 5 months since launch, the 6th gen City has been unable to change fortunes for Honda in Pakistan. In November 2021, the company sold 2,771 units of City and Civic combined, even less than that of Toyota Corolla alone, which sold 2,786 units.
So far during the first 5 months of this fiscal year, only 13,215 units of Civic and City have been sold which hypothetically speaking is around only 6,600 units for each. Compared to this, 12,723 units of Corolla and 11,252 units of Yaris have been sold during this period taking the Toyota tally to 23,975 units combined, which is whopping 81% more than the sales of troubled Honda duo.
While Honda is preparing to launch the latest 11th gen Civic in Pakistan, launching the new 7th gen City might have been a very good idea and would have brought the company the desired results. Instead, it decided to stick to its recipe of offering old & obsolete in the B-segment which is why Honda is constantly losing its market share as the time progresses. And with an obsolete model that’s struggling to pick up sales even after passing almost half a year in the market, the 6th gen City which was launched in Pakistan almost 2 years after getting discontinued elsewhere, was indeed a Bad launch in Pakistan.
A computer animation professional with over 23 years of industry experience having served in leading organizations, TV channels & production facilities in Pakistan. An avid car enthusiast and petrolhead with an affection to deliver quality content to help shape opinions. Formerly written for PakWheels as well as major publications including Dawn. Founder of CarSpiritPK.com