BANGKOK – Honda wants to leverage its new Brio hatchback, initially designed for the Thai market, with an Asian-focused sedan version in 2013.

The strategy follows the trail blazed by Nissan, which recently unveiled a sedan variant of the March, its global subcompact hatchback.

Such low-cost, fuel-efficient cars are building towards a battle for consumers’ attention in Asia, and the next faceoff will be between these two impending sedans.

Nissan was the first out of the eco-car gate slightly more than a year ago, while Honda unveiled its hatchback contender some six weeks ago, although the consequences of the Japanese parts shortage due to the March 11 earthquake have thrown initial plans to launch Brio sales this month into turmoil.

Thailand’s eco-car initiative is seeing a clutch of major auto makers building similar cars in the country, which is making great strides in becoming a global hub for low-cost car production through tax incentives, similar to what was done with 1-ton pickup trucks.

Honda is anxious to get the Brio into the marketplace before Mitsubishi launches its Global Small here next year, which will be pitted against a contender from Suzuki. Toyota, Thailand’s biggest player with a market share currently hovering near 40%, will debut its small-car entry in 2013, as well.

The new Toyota model will serve as the next-generation Yaris, although with a little tweaking it could fit the eco-car profile. The engine size is less than 1.3L with a combined fuel efficiency of 69 mpg (3.4 L/100 km) and a maximum of 120 g/km of carbon dioxide

A Toyota Thailand spokesman tells Ward’s the company’s official eco-car entry tentatively is set for introduction in early 2013.

This wave of new hatchbacks will broaden diversity in Asia’s entry-level market segments and soon will be followed by sedan versions that will seek to tap into more traditional buying patterns of local consumers, analysts say.

Nissan not only was the first to get its eco-car into Thai showrooms, but also the first to show off the sedan version unveiled in China at the end of last year to excellent local reviews.

In addition to reviving the Sunny name for the Chinese market, other changes from the March hatchback include an engine tuned for more torque to balance the sedan’s additional weight, as well as a slightly more refined interior.

Honda has penciled in a 2013 launch for its Brio sedan in Thailand, which along with the hatchback will be produced both here and in India.

The introduction of the Brio in India has been delayed by the Japan parts shortage, as well, and the hatchback’s rollout now is set for September or October. It will be built at Honda Siel’s plant at Greater Noida.

“As of now, we plan to launch (sales of) the car during the festival season this year, the exact date has not been finalized as yet,” Anita Sharma, assistant vice president-marketing, tells Ward’s.

Hit by a shortage of inventory, Honda Siel’s overall Indian sales fell to 2,012 units in April, compared with 3,578 in like-2010. The auto maker operates a single plant at Greater Noida which builds four models ­– the Jazz (Fit), City, Civic and Accord.

Excluding the current effects of the parts shortage, the plant normally runs at about 60% of its 100,000-unit annual capacity, leaving plenty of room for the Brio models. Honda added 11 dealers in India in 2010, for a total of 125 in 77 cities.

Short- and long-term sales targets for the Brio in India have yet to be announced as Honda works towards the hatchback’s new launch and production start date. “The sales and production plan will be fixed closer to the launch and after we have resumed full production,” Sharma says.

The future Brio sedan in India will go up against Toyota’s locally developed Ethos, which launched at the end of last year. Both Japanese brands are aiming to take a slice of Maruti Suzuki’s domination of the local small-car sector.

With the rescheduled launch of the Brio hatchback looming, Honda isn’t keen to discuss prospects for the 4-door version. What is known is the future sedan will push closer to Honda’s B-segment City in length, which is 174 ins. (442 cm), but still give some ground to its larger Nissan rival.

The Brio hatchback’s smaller dimensions, compared with the March, have been a major target of negative feedback in Thailand, particularly as pricing is comparable.

Delayed production is hurting Honda’s Thai sales efforts. The auto maker opened its order book in March following the Brio hatchback’s public debut at the Bangkok Motor Show, where arguably it was the star of the event. About 5,000 orders have been taken so far.

Thailand production now is slated to resume this month, and Honda dealers currently are quoting a delivery time toward the end of July for the manual-transmission model.

Of more concern for the auto maker is the December target date for Brio models with the auto maker’s continuously variable transmission. Production should hit full speed by the start of the third quarter. However, Honda’s Thai target of 40,000 units this year is looking exceedingly remote.