For any carmaker, research is often the best way to gauge the mood of consumers before a product launch. But not for India’s biggest carmaker by volume. “Knowing through a survey is like kissing through an interpreter,” says Mayank Pareek, COO (marketing & sales), Maruti Suzuki IndiaBSE -0.51 %. “At times you have to go with gut feeling.” And Pareek did go with just that when MarutiBSE -0.51 % rolled out the Celerio hatchback in February. “I was tense as we launched in the midst of a full-blown slowdown,” he recalls.
But it seems like a gamble that has paid off.
Change in socio-economic conditions and demographic profile have helped the auto giant. “Many urban households miss having a second car that can be used for errands when the family vehicle is unavailable,” says Smitha Sarma Ranganathan, a brand communication specialist who teaches marketing management at IBS Bangalore. Moreover, a number of consumers with experience of driving overseas are staunch advocates of the ease and comfort associated with gearless cars.
For the longest time, though, India was quite a hostile market for automatics. For one they were typically a lot pricier. Pareek recalls the launch of Zen automatic almost two decades ago, sporting a price tag of Rs 1.5 lakh more than the vanilla version. “It bombed,” he admits, candidly.
Automatic transmission driven cars were also considered a lot more problematic, translating into high maintenance costs over time. And then there’s perhaps the most damning counterpoint to a company that ran a highly successful campaign (Kitna Deti Hai) around fuel economy. Many auto experts believe automatics are not as fuel efficient at least in urban areas.
So, what has Maruti done to convince consumers to take a U turn? Experts say they have got the 3-Ps bang on target â€” Product, Pricing and Positioning. On the product front, Maruti has been eager to establish the credentials of the Celerio as a car that’s not going to be the proverbial gas guzzler. It took special care to ensure that the mileage of automatics matches that of manuals. “So, from ‘kitna deti hai’ we are telling the buyers that ‘ye bhi deti hai'”, says Pareek.