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Lixil to bolster water-saving toilet business with Indian launch

One version of Lixil's SaTo low-cost, water-saving toilet series.

TOKYO -- Lixil Group's efforts to expand sales of its water-saving SaTo toilets will enter a new phase as it gears toward beginning sales in India in December, with plans to expand the products' market by two to three countries each year.

SaTo, which is short for "Safe Toilet," was developed as an inexpensive answer to the hygiene needs of people in the many regions where water is scarce and plumbing infrastructure is absent or underdeveloped.

Though the profit on individual SaTo toilets is small, the potential market is enormous. In India, where an estimated 600 million people lack access to toilets, Lixil aims to sell 1 million units a year.

By designing versions of the SaTo based on local plumbing infrastructure and water resources, the Japanese manufacturer of building materials and housing equipment hopes to turn the SaTo business into the black in the early 2020s.

The Indian model SaTo is built in a shape that can be attached to piping. The company tested a version imported from Bangladesh but decided to develop one better suited to India's wastewater environment and installation standards. The company seeks a local manufacturer to serve as a production partner.

The blue plastic SaTo toilets were introduced in Bangladesh in 2013, where they sell for $1.50 to $1.70 apiece. A valve that opens under the weight of water covers the outlet otherwise, keeping smells and flies at bay. The toilet needs no more than 0.5 liter of water, compared with the average of 4 liters for a typical flush toilet in Japan.

The SaTo toilets have been introduced in about 10 countries including Uganda, Kenya and Haiti, with the total topping 1 million units in June.

Lixil formed a dedicated unit in its water technology division in May to develop different versions for various regions of the world. The toilets are to last 20 to 30 years and have attractive designs. They are also to be inexpensive to make and ship to allow good profit margins. One version for extremely dry areas includes a wire to pull the valve open. Another version uses a plastic foot base for regions where concrete is too expensive to pour for the base.

The company aims to develop more than 100 related products, such as washbasins, under the SaTo brand by 2021.

Lixil licenses manufacturers in Bangladesh and Uganda, collecting a royalty of 10 cents for each SaTo toilet made. The company will look for production bases in sub-Saharan Africa, such as in Nigeria or Tanzania, as part of the expansion.

While working to keep costs down, the company also will design value-added versions that can be sold for around $5 apiece.

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