According to the findings of the 2004 four-wheeler brand health and need segmentation study released on Thursday by market information provider TNS, emotive needs such as potency, prestige and status are relevant for over 50 per cent of car buyers in India. In contrast, new car buyers in China are becoming increasingly discerning in their choice of brands.
Based on the responses of more than 2,000 new car buyers providing over 8,000 evaluations, the study by TNS specialist division, TNS Automotive, is a first of its kind initiative to understand the hidden motivations behind car purchase and customer perceptions across all available brands. Unlike traditional brand research studies where customers are questioned directly about their purchase reason, this study utilises a proven psychological framework to uncover the motives that drive brand selection.
"Contrary to the belief that prestige and status needs are pre-dominant factors among buyers of higher-end vehicles, the study clearly reveals that needs exist across vehicle segments," said Rajeev Lochan, General Manager (Asia Pacific) of TNS Automotive. "While prestige and potency related needs are the key motivators for entry luxury buyers, these needs exist across segments, including the cheaper small cars," he added.
The key drivers for the six need segments in India are:
-- Potency: buyers are motivated by a need to attract opposite sex and feel powerful; brand image of trendy and innovative appeals to this group.
-- Utility: buyers seek a need for basic transportation and care for family. Value for money and cost of ownership are important for them.
-- Prestige: these buyers are motivated by prestige and exclusivity. They are least price sensitive and desire the latest features in cars.
-- Adventure: these buyers seek fun, adventure and popularity. SUVs are their favourites.
-- Status: buyers want to show off success, attract attention. They relate to superior craftsmanship and best technology.
-- Liberation: this is the smallest need segment, with buyers seeking increased freedom, latest technology; and safety consciousness.
While brands cut across different need segments due to a similar identity, the varying degrees of "fit" are determined by its soul or persona. For instance, both Hyundai and Maruti find similarities on some of the rational brand drivers such as good fuel economy, easy to maintain, and good after-sales service. However, Hyundai's persona is more expressive, while Maruti's is more protective. Popularity and show-off success are stronger motivations for Hyundai, while basic transportation and fit-in socially is higher for Maruti.
In the case of Honda and Toyota, superior craftsmanship is a key similarity for both brands. However, Honda's positioning is closer to the individual oriented zone of self-assertion - reflected in one of its key motive of "feel powerful". Toyota, in comparison, falls more on the expressive and affiliative side with motives like "feel young" and "for adventure and fun".
The China market points to a tough road ahead for lesser known brands and new market entrants. The study reveals that the number of brands car buyers' shortlist has fallen from eight in 2003 to just five in 2004. This is attributed to the flood of new models entering the market, providing a choice of over 150 different model variants from over 30 car makers.
The most attractive brands in China are those that have developed a strong emotional appeal. The six major 'need segments' in China, the study finds, are status, utility, adventure, family, belonging and attraction.
Among brands, BMW ranks highest in terms of attractiveness. Honda also finds a high level of appeal and is perceived as a brand for those seeking adventure, fun or attention. Brand commitment among China's new car owners is relatively low at 53 per cent. However, luxury brands are found to fare better with Mercedes scoring highest overall.