After selling cars for over two and half decades in India, Honda Motor Company, for the first time in 2024, will import “Made in India” vehicles into its home market Japan. Our sister publication Autocar Professional has learnt that Honda Cars India will be exporting a significant 30,000-50,000 units of the Elevate SUV in the next calendar year. This is a strong validation of the quality of made-in-India cars, and this move will likely more than double Honda Cars India's exports, say people in the know.
This is the highest number of units the company has planned to export in its history and also the highest volumes being exported to Japan from India by any carmaker yet. Suzuki Motor Corporation too is likely to send vehicles back home.
Honda Elevate to be sold as WR-V in Japan
According to people in the know, a series of initiatives were taken to evolve the systems and processes to meet the quality standards of Japan before the go ahead for the model was received. The made-in-India Elevate will be sold in Japan as the Honda WR-V. In an official response, Honda Cars India spokesperson told Autocar Professional that after its successful debut in India earlier in 2023, the Honda Elevate is scheduled for a Spring 2024 launch in Japan.
“In a first for HCIL, the model will be manufactured in India and exported to Japan. This strategic move is a strong reflection of manufacturing capabilities of India operations and also solidifies our vision of making the country a key export hub in Honda business. We are sorry, we cannot make a comment on the export volume as of now,” added the spokesperson.
Elevate to help boost Honda India's exports
At the global premiere of the Elevate SUV, Toshio Kuwahara, president and CEO, Asian Honda Motor and head of Regional Unit (Asia and Oceania), Honda Motor Company had told Autocar Professional that he is expecting the Elevate will contribute towards expanding the exports volumes from India.
“India is one of the key global hubs for exports for Honda in the future, and one of the most important automotive markets for Honda brand's future. That is why the global premiere of the new premium SUV Elevate is staged in the Indian market,” Kuwuhara had said in June.
Interestingly, while the volumes of the overseas shipments are still low, India will still be the third biggest exporter outside of its home base in Japan, after Thailand and US – underlining Honda Motor’s approach of making locally for local markets.
Exports help when domestic sales fall
Exports have helped numerous vehicle makers over the last decade, like Nissan, Volkswagen and Ford, to de-risk its manufacturing operation in India in case of a fall in the domestic volumes. This was not leveraged well enough by Honda until 2020-21, although the company was exporting critical parts from the country that offered a significant revenue opportunity but did not fill the manufacturing capacity. A slowdown in the market and fall in sales (between 2017-2020), compelled Honda to restructure its manufacturing footprint from two factories to one in India.
In 2021, the company took a first major decision to export the fifth-gen Honda City to 12 markets, including left-hand drive markets. This move helped Honda triple its exports from India, albeit on a low base. The company had exported less than 4,000 units at the end of FY21, but this quadrupled to 18,420 in FY22 and to 22,000 in FY23. Clearly, the role of India as an exports hub is only going to increase, even with the onset of electric vehicles.