Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Tata Sumo Grande : More Than Meets The Eye

Brand : Sumo Grande
Company : Tata Motors

Brand Analysis Count : 319

Tata Motors is in the news for all the good reasons. The latest news being the acquisition of Jaguar & Land Rover. Along with this big news was the relaunch of Tata Sumo.
Tata Sumo is a brand that redefined the commercial vehicle market in India. Tata Sumo was launched in 1994 based on the popular Tata 207 platform.

At that time, the commercial vehicle market was dominated by Mahindra Jeeps. I can say that there was no Multi-Utility Vehicle ( MUV) category . Sumo was an instant success . The success was due to the time-tested value for money proposition. Sumo became the darling of those running passenger-moving business.
The vehicle was rugged, cost effective and spacious,looked good and was ideal for Indian road conditions.

Right from the launch itself Tata Motors tried to position Sumo as a family utility vehicle. As usual the brand was not perceived as a family vehicle. The main reason being the looks. Sumo looked and felt like a commercial vehicle. At that time Tata was perceived to be a truck manufacturer and that secondary association weakened the positioning of Tata Sumo as a family vehicle.
But the good news was the wide acceptance of Sumo as a commercial vehicle. Tour operators and taxi segment embraced this vehicle and soon Sumo became the market leader.

But early 2000 saw the emergence of new competition. Mahindra Bolero and Toyota Qualis gave a new meaning to the category which Sumo created. Qualis redefined the segment and became the market leader. It was also a signal of a shift in customer preferences in this segment. Even passenger-mover segment began to look for attributes like luxury , comfort, styling etc.

But Sumo was a brand that tried to change with times. Although no major changes were made to the product, Tata Motors nurtured the brand with cosmetic changes and tweaking here and there. Tata was not complaining since volume was not bad.The brand also launched a low priced variant Tata Spacio to fight the price competition.

The major change that happened to Sumo was in 2004. Sumo relaunched itself as Sumo Victa. Beyond cosmetic changes, the product had major changes like Power Windows, Power Steering etc. The brand was struggling at that time from the competition from Qualis. But Qualis withdrew from the market in 2004 to move into a new category of luxury MUV with Innova.
Innova soon gained acceptance as a family MUV - a place which Sumo wanted.

Sumo Victa during these period ran a campaign highlighting the positioning of a family vehicle. The campaign featured different profiles of people who had traveled offbeaten paths. The campaign was significant since it was more of a brand building exercise for Sumo. Till that time , all the ads of Sumo was talking about features rather than the brand.

Sumo Victa had the slogan " Kuch Log Sumo Chalate hain " translated to " Some drive a Sumo " . The message was that those who drives Sumo are those who have traveled the ' road less traveled'. But still the brand could not acquire the status of a family vehicle or a vehicle for individual use. But the brand had a set of customers who ran one-man-show business. For them Sumo provided twin benefit of business and family vehicle.

2008 saw something revolutionary. Tata Motors launched Sumo Grande. Sumo Grande has no resemblance to the older version of Sumo. Infact auto analysts say that Sumo Grande is an entirely new vehicle with new engine , new features and a new look.

There is no similarity between Grande and the original Sumo. Grande is positioned as a family car that feels like an SUV. By the look of it, Sumo Grande is an SUV. The brand is currently running a TVC with an international touch. The tvc shot in a foreign location has a catchy music, foreign model and a nice twist. The ad gives a clear support to the positioning of Sumo Grande as an SUV. The brand now has a new slogan " More than meets the eye " . The positioning is based on the premise that Sumo Grande delivers more than what you think it would.

But a big question is regarding the brand name. Why did Tata retain the brand Sumo. The new product is refreshingly new and everything about the brand is new, except the brand name. And for the first time, Grande looks and feels like a vehicle for individuals rather than commercial. The design has smooth curves and imposing looks of an SUV unlike the boxy Sumo. The interiors are spruced up. But Why the brand Sumo.

In theory we talk about the importance of brand associations. Sumo has strong associations with commercial vehicles. Whether Tata likes it or not, Sumo was never perceived to be a family brand. When such a strong association is existing , why did the brand use that name ?
May be the marketers at the company is not confident about launching a new brand . Tata Grande would have been a fine brand with an excellent product. Tatas could have easily drove into the mind of Indian consumers as a family SUV. Branding could have been more effective and Grande would not have to carry the burden of Sumo.

This is an exact reversal of the Maruti Zen example. When Zen was relaunched, the brand had positive association while the new product failed to deliver. In this case the brand have negative association and the product have excellent deliverables.

One reason can be the existing equity of Sumo in the commercial segment. It is where the brand has to decide on the segment. If Grande wants to take the position of Sumo in the commercial segment, it should adopt the brand name Sumo Grande. But then it should forget the family segment. If the brand decides to segment the family segment , the brand name could have been Tata Grande with no reference to Sumo. Tata could either retain the original Sumo or kill that brand which has reached the decline stage of the product-lifecycle.

But what Tata tried is to satisfy both segments which can be dangerous. I am sure that if Tata Grande delivers on performance, the commercial segment will definitely embrace the brand. Scorpio is an example where the brand is positioned as an SUV and is also successful as a commercial passenger mover. Even Tata could have introduced a variant of Grande aimed at commercial segment.

Having said that, I would like to add that Indian consumers believe in functionality more than anything else. Sumo Grande looks promising and initial auto-reviews are also positive. The brand comes with a neat price tag of Rs 6.5 lakhs to Rs 7.5 Lakhs. So there is a good probability that many individuals will try out this brand.