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Marketing Interviews

Ravi Bhatia

General Manager | 10 Dec 2003

“A brand asset evaluation revealed that Maruti is a very strong brand in India, but ‘Suzuki’ is slightly less out here. That’s why, even after the change in ownership, the name ‘Maruti Suzuki’ has been retained.”

Launched in 14 December 1983, Maruti has long proved its peg of being a ‘reliable and trustworthy’ vehicle. In this session of Brand Speak, Ravi Bhatia, General Manager – Marketing, Maruti talks to Jasmeen Dugal about what the brand name ‘Maruti’ signifies in today’s context, Maruti’s expectations from the remodeled Zen and Grand Vitara, and why the Versa failed …

Q. Till ‘99-2000, Maruti 800, ‘the little master,’ ruled the roads. In today’s context, what does the brand name ‘Maruti’ signify?

In today’s context, I think Maruti is a very powerful brand and currently occupies the leadership position. In India, it is known as ‘Maruti.’ However, we recently did a brand asset evaluation and discovered that Maruti is a very strong brand in India, but ‘Suzuki’ is slightly less right now out here. That’s why you’ll see that even after the change in ownership, the name ‘Maruti Suzuki’ has been retained.

Q. What are your expectations from the new-look Zen?

We have remodeled the Zen keeping two things in mind. Firstly, we are targeting a younger audience with the new look. When we analyzed the buyer profile over a period of time, we realized from the buyer profile that we needed to attract younger people. 20% of the car buyers’ universe is within the age group of 30-35 years. Additionally, the NFO Report illustrates that the key reasons for car purchase are brand image, followed by styling and the cost of ownership.

This reinforced our need to address younger buyers, and to revisit ‘styling’ as a key reason for purchase. We have done these changes keeping this data in mind. Accordingly, the theme communication campaign positions the new-look Zen as a style icon. Secondly, the styling changes are a ‘refresh approach’ for those who have been buying Zen. There are a lot of Zen loyalists who buy Zen after Zen after Zen. So for them, it’s a new vehicle.

Q. Who do you see as competition in this segment?

In the A2 segment, there are really six players. There are six brands, out of which three belong to Maruti – Alto, WagonR and Zen; the others are Palio, Santro and Indica.

Q. What would you attribute to the failure of Versa?

Two things led to the failure of Versa. Pricing and positioning are very important for any vehicle. When we launched the Versa, it was at a price point, which was very high. When we did the launch with Amitabh Bachchan, we saw a lot of people coming in to the showrooms to check out the vehicle, but the conversion did not happen.

Over a period of time, as the costs went down, we were able to bring in the right price points and a new positioning campaign was launched; the brief to the advertising agency Lowe Lintas was to convey the joys of traveling together in one car with strong cues of ‘occasions for family bonding,’ and to establish price awareness. Versa was positioned as a family-oriented car with the tag line: ‘Ek gaadi main jaane ka mazaa aur hi kuch hai.’ Since then the vehicle has witnessed an upswing. Last year, our average was 80-100 vehicles a month. Now we are reaching 450 vehicles a month. So it’s started doing well.

In the life cycle of every vehicle, when you’re trying a new positioning, there are bound to be ups and downs. Versa’s shape and proposition is very unique; it’ll take some time for people to accept it. It’s a good vehicle for our omni customer.

Q. After the slash in price, is Alto being viewed as an entry-level car?

By slashing the price of the Alto by Rs 23,167, Maruti Suzuki has repositioned Alto to address entry-level compact car buyers in the country, creating a new category between the entry-level segment and the A2 Segment, which gives the customer A2 segment features at a price that is between the A1 – A2 segment. I’m sure the new pricing will make Alto an attractive option for first time car buyers as well as customers who wish to upgrade from a Maruti 800.

Q. Is there a market for Sports-Utility-Vehicles in India?

At the high-end where we play, it is a very nascent market. The customers in this market are used to importing SUVs. So it’s a relief for them to be able to buy it in India with rupee payment, without facing the hassles of getting it imported.

Secondly, the services are available locally. Maruti has an entire network of service stations. When you buy the SUV, you don’t just drive them on Delhi roads; you’ll take them all across. So it’s a big relief for customers. There’s a whole network out there to support them.

Q. Within a year of launching the maiden SUV Grand Vitara XL-7, Maruti has rolled out an upgraded version of the vehicle. How are you planning to promote the new Grand Vitara?

There will be an ad campaign with the positioning – ‘Live the grand life.’ Contract will handle the creatives. In addition, a direct marketing campaign is also in place. The Grand Vitara will not be displayed at Maruti's nationwide dealerships since the company plans to sell the vehicle only to ‘select people;’ it will be sold through doorstep test-drive exclusively for the high-end segment.

Since it is being positioned as the ideal car for the upwardly mobile segment, who like to spend money on vehicles, we will be hosting a number of events where we can invite people from this segment; first in this series is our tie-up with DLF Golf Links; golfers scoring a hole-in-one on any Sunday till March ’04 can win a Grand Vitara. March onwards we will take this event and similar ones to other cities. It benefits us because we gain visibility; DLF Golf Links, for instance, has 1,400 members – they are all the right profile for the vehicle.

Q. Is the ‘True Value Scheme’ a way to induct more car owners into the Maruti fold?

Yes, we are addressing a problem that affects all customers of our industry. While making it handy for them to dispose off their vehicles, this scheme will give them the opportunity to come into the Maruti fold. Under the the True Value Scheme, owners of any car brand can bring their vehicles to Maruti True Value outlets and exchange them for a new Maruti Suzuki car, after paying the difference.

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