By on July 14, 2011

How does one test drive a car that is only available in India? In my case, easier done than said. I took the train from Yugawara three stations to Mishima.

Then a bus up a windy road, and between Mount Hakone and Mount Fuji, Indian cooks, Indian curry, and Indian cars awaited me.

Did I say Mount Fuji? Sure did: The Indian cars are from Toyota. And they were at the Fuji Speedway, one of Japan’s two F1 circuits. The race track is owned by Toyota, and they don’t like to talk about F1, because they had exited the sport last year.

Last December, I wrote about the Toyota Etios, Toyota’s car for third world domination. Now, it was ready to be driven. On the Fuji Speedway. I think last time someone from TTAC was here, it was Stein X Leikanger, who drove a Lexus SUV. Perish the thought of barreling down the track and setting new kita no rūpu (that’s tortured Japanese for “Nordschleife”) records in a 1.2 liter 80 hp hatchback or a slightly better engined 1.5 liter 90 hp sedan. The test drive took place on Toyota’s driver training facility, tucked into a corner of the speedway.

The Etios is a car that stands third world production on its head. Usually, carmakers try to foist current or preferably former generation models onto emerging markets. When roads are bad, as they sometimes are in those markets, the cars are jacked up a bit. If the market wants more rugged cars, mild mannered family mobiles receive faux wood trim, all season tires, a roof rack, and a woodsy name.

The Etios is none of that.  It is a SUV in family car clothing. It has a 170mm (6.7 inch) ground clearance. It has skid plates to protect the underbody from the rigors of unpaved roads. Made for hot India, it doesn’t have cupholders. It has huge water bottle holders, seven of them.

And it has a huge cooled – no, one cannot possibly call this 13 liter cavity a “glove compartment” – it has a huge cooled whatever with room for eight more bottles.

The cool comes from a monster air-conditioning unit the size of a small car engine. A duct punched into the “glove compartment” turns it into a refrigerator.

Inside, the car is roomy. It is built for five ruggedly-built Indians. In a pinch, and breaking all rules, it probably would seat seven skinny Japanese.

The car even has a little shelf space in the dash where to put the appropriate driving deity. A Toyota branded statuette of Ganesha, the cheerful, food-loving god of travel is available. (From a Japanese view, this is nothing unusual. Japan also has gods for everything. My personal favorite is the Tanuki, the god of restauranteurs.)

The engine – well, what do you expect?  A French team that edits managed to kick the car into making sporty noises, and to squeak around the rubber cones while they shot the video above.

Martin Kölling, Japan correspondent of the German version of the Financial Times, complained that he “had to stay in third to get the car to 100 km/h” (62 mph). Ran Kim, the Japan auto industry correspondent for Reuters Tokyo, drove around the circuit “mostly in 5th gear” in the mild mannered Japanese way. Driving styles are worlds apart, and this is a car for another world.

The Etios sedan had been on sale (but not immediately available) for six months and had sold 37,000 units, more than Toshihiro Takeda, manager of Toyota’s India product planning group, had planned for.

We also saw and drove the Etios Liva, the hatchback version of the Etios.  It was launched just a few weeks ago in India, and received 1,400 orders in the first four days.

The cars were introduced by Etios chief engineer Yoshinori Noritake who explained that Toyota  started in India, because this country provides the biggest challenge: Competitive, geared towards cheap cars, the bulk of which provided by Suzuki, a market that holds Toyota in high esteem, but thinks it is expensive.

“If we are successful here, we will be successful in other emerging markets,” said Noritake, adorned with a sporty red polo shirt.  Officially, those other emerging markets are a secret. The Etios will be exported from India to other undisclosed locations (figure South East Asia). It is an open secret that Toyota engineers in Brazil are working on a Brazilian car based on the Etios platform. There are less reliable rumors that Russia might be next.

First and second world auto writers might wrinkle their noses at this car. But it definitely can be a serious player where the action and growth is: In the emerging markets. Ultra-low-cost cars, such as the Tata Nano, usually are a very transitory phenomenon in these markets. They might get people off their scooter and under a roof. But eventually, people will demand a real car with room for bags and the family, and one that doesn’t advertise “I can’t afford something bigger.”

In a far away corner of the facility stood the competition of the Etios. Two Suzuki cars, one from Tata, all three with huge “No photograph” signs on them. I kept a respectful distance.

The Etios will give the competition something to think about.



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8 Comments on “Review: Toyota Etios And Etios Liva, Indian Spec...”

  • avatar

    Great stuff. The first thing that strikes me about this car is that its very “Toyota-ish”. Its not a looker, its not as distinctive in exterior design as the Honda Brio or new Kia Picanto.

    But it has all the elements that has made Toyota a success in the past. Its meticulous and considerate design.

    These are the types of cars reputations are built with. If this car can be reliable and stand up to the demands of the emerging world; not break on poor roads, keep you dry in the Monsoon, keep you cool when its hot and humid with not just a car that doesn’t break, but an A/C that doesn’t break as well. This could be the car that Toyota will be able to build a reputation in India as the country merges and gains in wealth.

    It’ll be interesting to see with this acquired know-how of building tough cars for the emerging market can be brought back to the developed world.

  • avatar

    Anybody that sells cars in Texas should take a page from that air conditioning approach.

    Give us way more air cooling capacity than you think we need (as long as it doesn’t need more than 3 horsepower).

  • avatar

    Interesting read. What was your lap time, Bertel?

  • avatar

    When I rode a motorcycle through India a few years ago, 60kph/37mph was passing most everyone on the road. 40kph/25mph was a standard cruising speed.

    It’ll still be a few years before they have proper roads. It’ll be even longer for most of the population to learn how to drive. That’s not a put down on Indians, by the way. They don’t enforce laws so people drive/ride like madmen. I hung out with some Indian military officers in one city, and had a good conversation where they said they’re not the worst drivers in the world — Pakistan was just as bad.

    It’s a country where a Citroen 2CV would do really well. Citroen made an attempt but were stonewalled by the Indian government.

  • avatar

    In India a 125 cc motorcycle is a 5 passenger vehicle, 6 in a pinch.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    The more I see it, the more I remember the Logan.

    How does it look in person?

  • avatar

    All those mentions of this being a low priced car, with the price never mentioned!

  • avatar

    based on the video, it seems like it rolls a lot on the corner… and i can spot the same audio console as the one in daihatsu sirion hatchback… i heard honda made a similar car for Thailand market and i think they occupy the same segment.

    I wonder if toyota will bring this things will make to ASEAN Shores.

    Should be nice to see the competition it creates.

    Toyota Etios VS Honda Brio anyone? ( just like Corolla VS Civic in the old days ) I bet it would be epic

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