Maruti Suzuki, the compact car leader in India, has aimed big with Kizashi, its latest offering in the luxury car segment in the country.
Available in India, in two variants – Manual Transmission (MT) and Continuous Variable Transmission (CVT) – the models are priced at around Rs 17 lakh. In its earlier attempt, Maruti Suzuki had failed to make a mark with its premium segment car, Grand Vitara. According to Indian estimates, the premium segment accounts for 2.5 per cent of the Indian car market.
Kizashi literally means a ‘prelude to good things’. During the launch of Kizashi in India, Shinzo Nakanishi, Managing Director and CEO, Maruti Suzuki India, observed that Kizashi was a major step forward for Maruti Suzuki. But would it really prove so for the compact-car leader, given the common perception about Maruti Suzuki being a brand for mass market in India?
The unsocial people
The daggers are already out on the social networking sites against the car. Netizens are finding it a little difficult to believe that Maruti Suzuki’s latest offering in India is a luxury car. A search on Kizashi tags (#kizashi) turns out some of these results: “Kizashi Maruti’s attempt to get out of ‘Kitna Deti Hai’ image,” tweets a user with the ‘sachingulhane’ handle.
Hari Krishnan with the ‘outswing’ handle tweets: “How not to sell a luxury car. Check Maruti Suzuki #kizashi India website. It’s the pits. Suzuki and luxury cars. #epicfail.”
Vikrant Kumar (vikrantkumar) is perhaps not sure if one will spend Rs 17 lakh to have a Maruti branded car. “Imagine you have spent 17 lakhs on a car and then you see big 'M' on the grill,” he tweets.
These Tweets somewhat sum up the sentiment of the consumer and the marketing experts, and sets the tone for this story, as well.
On the positive side, Maruti Suzuki Kizashi’s official page on Facebook had 17,357 fans at the time of filing the story. The irony about Facebook, however, is that a user has to “Like” the page and be its fan, to be able to comment, even if one wants to express one’s dislike. While there are comments that rave about the car, there are others who want Maruti to concentrate on the below Rs 10 lakh cars. A Facebook user, Saurabh Singh Tomar, comments on the page, “Hope Kizashi doesn’t meet the same fate as Maruti’s only SUV, Grand Vitara, which was a completely build-up car from Japan and also the 'Car of the Year' in 2007, but is hard to find on roads. Maruti can sell something below Rs 10 lakh but when it comes to anything beyond that the consumer looks for other options....”
To Saurabh’s concern, the company replies back: “Hey Saurabh let’s cross our fingers and stay at a positive note. Kizashi is Maruti Suzuki’s first luxury sedan and has an empowering presence that exudes confidence, and has been crafted to make your every drive a joyride... so buddy hope for the best.”
Shashank Srivastava, Chief General Manager, Maruti Suzuki, wards off such scepticism, as he feels that similar doubts were raised when Maruti had entered the A2 segment with Ritz and Swift, and then in to the A3 segment with DZire. “But we not only performed in those new segments, we are also market leaders,” he says, adding, “We have now entered the A4 segment with Kizashi and we look to capture fair market share in this segment too.”
The bumpy road
Dr Sharad Sarin, Senior Professor of Marketing at XLRI, feels that customer acceptability would be the biggest hurdle for Kizashi. “Luxury car is all about prestige, social status and personal esteem, which brand Maruti may not be able to deliver,” he opines.
Agreeing with this, renowned automobile expert Murad Ali Baig says, “When a consumer goes for a luxury car, he looks to his peers and definitely there is a prestige bias attached with the brand Maruti in that segment.”
Though Srivastava admits that building the brand Kizashi will be a challenge for Maruti, he feels that brand trust will give Maruti an edge over its competitors. “It is true that we are known for our small cars, so building the brand, Kishazi, will be a big challenge. But once we are able to do that, we can excel on our brand promise and values,” he says, adding that hundred-thousands of Maruti’s existing customers will now have an option to upgrade their four-wheeler with Maruti.
But Dr Sarin feels that upgradation of a brand is not such an easy process. “It takes years for a brand to change consumer perception,” he says.
Another challenge for Maruti may come from its distribution strategy. As against the plush and swanky showrooms of other luxury brands like Audi and BMW, the existing Maruti showrooms will obviously not be a place to lure potential customers for a test drive or even a purchase-related query.
According to Srivastava, there wouldn’t be any major shift in the distribution strategy for the new product. He informs that Kizashi will be sold through Maruti showrooms in top 20 metro cities.
Getting the TG right
Well established Japanese rivals, Toyota and Honda, with their different brands – Camry (approximately Rs 22 lakh) and Civic (approximately Rs 19 lakh), available in the luxury segment will make it more challenging for Kizashi to find its own place.
Apart for these are the European car-makers, who have carved a niche with strong brand recall in the luxury segment over the years with names like Mercedes and BMW. While these brands talk to HNI (high net-worth individuals), Maruti will have a tough time shaking off the ‘every Indian’s car-maker’ image.
The company though is clear about its TG. It has a loyal customer base and Kizashi is an option for them in the luxury segment. Srivastava says, “Our own customers who earlier would go to Honda or Toyota, now have an option to get their own Maruti car in the luxury segment. Besides this, we also aim to target those who would otherwise go for other brands just because we didn’t have an option in place.”
Baig, however, has a different point of view. He says, “The TG for the luxury segment goes for the ‘status’ factor. And Maruti fails to cater on that front.” He thinks that a completely different brand name, different from Maruti, would have done a much better job for the company.
Get the branding right
The ads for Kizashi appearing in newspapers are a tad dumb and do not give any feel of Maruti positioning it as a luxury car. In comparison, Tata’s sedan, Indigo Manza, which starts at Rs 5.14 lakh and is about Rs 10 lakh cheaper than Kizashi, is being depicted in a better light.
Also, Kizashi’s branding with a logo in Japanese iconography too may go against the brand, which prominently associates it as a Japanese label, and Japanese cars are not known to dwell in the luxury segment. Usually, the luxury perception is associated with the US and European car-makers.
Maruti did have a precedence, which it chose not to follow. Toyota, which broke into the luxury segment in 1989 in the US, launched a separate division for it, under the ‘Lexus’ brand name.
Another case in point is of Volkswagen. “The German car-maker never attempted to launch a luxury car under the Volkswagen label as it was considered a mass brand. It created a new brand instead, called Audi. And it is a success story,” says Baig.
Dr SR Singhvi, Professor of Marketing at IMI and formerly with IIM Indore, too cautions that Kizashi should not carry Maruti Suzuki’s name prominently as it may impede the upgradation process of the brand from local to international.
The car might find itself in the league of BMW and Skoda as far as its pricing is concerned, yet, Dr Singhvi suggests that Kizashi still is a premium car and not a luxury one. “In my view, it is in the middle segment, where the product will face competition from established cars like Honda Civic, Toyota Carolla, etc,” he says.
Kitna deti hai?
So what’s the fuel efficiency of Kizashi? Srivastava says that the ‘Kitna Deti Hai’ campaign reflects Maruti Suzuki’s forte of fuel-efficiency, which goes along with Kizashi’s high-performance delivery as well, “but this is not what we would harp on while positioning the new car,” he says.
“It’s all about exclusivity. Exclusivity in product – a combination of luxury and sports, and exclusivity in brand trust and values that we have created over the years,” adds Srivastava.
As for Maruti’s claim of fuel-efficiency and high delivery, as an exclusivity factor, Baig points out that fuel efficiency is a basic hygiene for each and every brand today. “As per the strict regulations and guidelines, fuel-efficiency is one of the major factors while allowing an engine to be used in a car. So there is no exclusivity on that front,” he says.
So, will Kizashi find favour with Indian consumers? Any takers?