Newswire

UPDATE 1-India's Hero Honda launches new look Ambition model

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NEW DELHI, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Hero Honda's Motors Ltd , India's biggest motorcycle maker, expects to win a greater share of the top-end segment of the country's booming bike market with a new-look Ambition model launched on Thursday.

The automaker, which has a dominating 47 percent share of the Indian motorcycle market, the world's biggest after China, is already a leader in the entry-level and mid-price bike segments but trails rival Bajaj Auto in the premium segment.

"It was time to move into the premium segment and make a bigger bang there," Atul Sobti, Hero Honda's senior marketing vice-president, told Reuters.

Hero Honda said in a statement the Ambition135, powered by a 133cc engine, is a restyled version of its Ambition model, which it launched in September 2002.

It carries a showroom price of 44,977 rupees ($993) in Delhi and is styled close to its 156cc CBZ bike.

Sobti said even though the premium segment made up about 10 percent of industry sales, it would be the fastest growing over the next four to five years.

"We had crossed 10,000 a month (with the older Ambition), but only for a month or two and we hope to do that within a few months (with the new model). We definitely should come back with a bang with this model."

India's motorcycle industry had sales of 3.83 million bikes in the 2002/03 (April-March) fiscal year and demand in the first nine months of this year grew 13.4 percent to 3.22 million.

An entry-level segment comprising low-price bikes makes up about 35 percent of industry sales and a mid-price or an executive segment contributes 55 percent.

Sobti said Hero Honda had wrested the top position in the entry-level bike segment from rival Bajaj Auto Ltd after the launch of its low-price CD-Dawn model in April, 2003 and sold nearly 50,000 of these models a month.

Bajaj dominates the premium segment with its Pulsar models.

Hero Honda, in which India's Munjal family and Japan's Honda Motors Co each hold 26 percent stakes, expects to sell 185,000 to 190,000 motorcycles in January, up from 145,708 units in the year-ago month.

Its sales rose 15.3 percent in the first nine months of this fiscal year to March to 1.48 million from 1.28 million in the same period a year ago. ($1 = 45.3 rupees)