Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tata Aria : Luxury That Thrills

Brand : Aria
Company : Tata Motors

Brand Analysis Count : # 500

Game Changer, New Breed, Super Luxury, Most Awaited, Eagerly Awaited, Flagship ... These were the terms that were used during the much publicized launch of Tata Motor's luxury offering - Tata Aria. Aria was launched in 2010 - touted as the most luxurious, sophisticated and most expensive offering from Tata Motors in the passenger vehicle segment. After a year of the launch, Aria is struggling to reach the position where the brand expected it would be. 

Tata Aria was publicized as India's first 4x4 Crossover. Crossovers are those vehicles that combine the attribute of cars and SUVs. Tata motors aimed to create a new segment of luxury crossovers with the launch of Aria. Tata Motors has been trying hard to create new niches in the Indian automobile market the last attempt was through the brand Tata Xenon.

Tata Aria which was expected to create new market and a new image for Tata Motors however is now struggling hard to create volumes. According to news reports, the brand is finding it difficult to convert the interest  and good reviews to sales. 
Tata Aria was launched with an expensive price tag of Rs 12 -15.5 Lakh making it the most expensive model from Tata's brand portfolio ( excluding JLR). To compensate for the high price tag, Aria came with many features, attributes and gadgets which was available only in super luxury segments. Many gadgets was even not present in those expensive sedans. But even with this heavy loading of features and goodies, consumers were reluctant to accept the high price tag.

Blame it on the Positioning.

It is easy to put the blame on the pricing strategy of Tata Aria. There are critics who argue that Aria could have priced at around Rs 10 lakh and  blazed the sales chart. To a certain extent the argument has lot of validity. But I feel that more than the pricing , there is a larger issue of positioning. Not only with regard to Aria, but it points out to the luxury foray of Tata Motors as a corporate brand.
First let us look at the positioning issue. Tata Aria wanted to position itself as a pioneer of a new category - a Crossover between a sedan and an SUV. 
Positioning theory talks about Points of Parity and Points of Difference as the two main focal points of positioning process.Marketers use Points of Parity to establish a membership in a category and also to establish parity with competitors. For brand launches in existing product category, category membership is automatically established because of similarity in product form, pricing, attributes etc. For example a new soap brand need not establish category membership since consumers know that the brand belongs to soap category just by seeing the product. Category Points of Parity is important for "really new products" where consumers are not able to connect any existing category to the new product. In such cases, marketers try to tell the consumers that the new product is related to an existing product category. 

Here Tata Motors failed to understand the perceived points of parity of Tata Aria with brands like Innova and Xylo. It is obvious to any person that Tata Aria looks very very similar to Toyota Innova which is the market leader in the premium Multi-Utility Vehicle segment. So just by looking at Aria, consumers establish its membership in the MUV category of Innova. Whether Tata Motors likes it or not, Aria's category membership is with Innova and not as a crossover. 

What Tata Aria did was to ignore this obvious similarities with an existing category products and tried to establish a new category which it called a Crossover. The brand wanted to use breakaway positioning strategy where by Aria will be positioned as a new category vehicle different from the existing category of MUVs. 
The first launch campaign was expected to identify Tata Aria with the new category - Crossover
Watch the ad here : Tata Aria Crossover 

For a brand that aims to create a new category that too a luxury one, the launch campaign failed miserably to communicate the concept of a new category. A sedan and an SUV colliding ( mating) to form Tata Aria  crossover was too basic , too amateurish communication strategy. The brand initially had the tagline " A New Breed ". The campaign managers failed to understand that just by labeling the product as a crossover does not make it a crossover. The brand should produce sufficient evidence that it belongs to a new breed. In the case of Aria, the campaigns failed to provide a significant reason to be called as a new category pioneer.

For any product aiming for breakaway positioning, the acid test is to differentiate itself from the category from which it is moving away. A classic case of breakaway positioning is that of Swatch brand which successfully positioned itself as a fashion accessory rather than a watch brand. For that the brand created strong identity interms of design, price , distribution etc which convinced consumers to consider Swatch as a fashion accessory rather than a watch.
Here there was no significant WOW factor in Aria which made consumer think that Aria belonged to a different category distinct from MUV brands like  Innova. So when consumers checked out the brand Aria, they began to compare it with Toyota Innova. Innova had established itself  as one of the most reliable and comfortable MUV in India. Innova was priced at around Rs 12 lakh. When consumers began to compare Innova and Aria, Aria was perceived to be expensive despite the presence of many new features and attributes. 
Sensing the mood of the market, Tata Motors launched a lower priced version of Tata Aria in the form of a 4x2 variant. The brand priced the product at par with the competitors and launched it with a different positioning. 
Watch the ad here : Tata Aria Spy ad

Here again Tata Aria was unsure about the positioning. The brand discarded its Crossover positioning and began to focus on features. The tagline was changed from " A New Breed " to " Luxury that Thrills". Within one year of launch , the brand had to make significant positioning changes which again proved to be a disadvantage for establishing a consistent brand image. The plot of the repositioning ad which shows foreign models with an unbelievable storyline and an attempt at humor creates a confused positioning to the audience ( my personal opinion). Along with these campaign in TV, the brand also ran a series of print campaigns highlighting the 36 new features of Aria. Those campaigns helped the brand to create a positive image of a fully loaded premium MUV. But the steep pricing dampened the enthusiasm over the features.

If Tata Aria wanted to be perceived as a new category pioneer it should have looked very distinct from the pack. But since it looked exactly similar to Innova, the brand shouldn't have ventured into creating a new category positioning.
The brand had a better chance of survival had it accepted the similarities and competed with Innova using the features and goodies and a competitive price. Still fighting Toyota's reliability is a uphill task but with better value offering, Aria could have raked up enough volume to keep the enthusiasm up in the market. 
If at all the brand Aria wanted to create a crossover category, it should have created a design which had no similarity with any of the existing product categories in the Indian passenger vehicle market.
Tata  Motors always nurtured an ambition to compete in the luxury segment in the Indian automobile market. It tried with brands like Estate, Safari, Manza etc but couldn't find huge success because Tata Motors was perceived to be a value-for-money brand and consumers were never comfortable with paying a premium for Tata cars. 
A radical move for the company can be to create a separate identity and a division which is not endorsed by Tata Motors. Honda , Toyota and Nissan used this strategy successfully for entering the US luxury car market. Honda used Acura, Toyota used Lexus and Nissan used Infiniti as separate brands ( divisions) and found success in the US market. They used this strategy to tide over the perception that Japanese car brands are utility vehicles rather than luxury vehicles.Likewise Tata Motors can create a luxury division which will not have the Value-For-Money baggage of  the parent brand Tata Motors.
I love the Tata brand and always wished that its products met with success. But these brand launches were disappointments because very obvious , fundamentals are overlooked and valuable time and brand equities are lost. But Tata Motors are know for perseverance and resilience. Hope that Aria will clean up the positioning mess and reach its rightful destination.  It needs to redefine its identity by answering this simple question - What exactly is Tata Aria ??


  1. I beg to differ from most of the points you have explained. First of all, please do not follow the crowd and mark Aria as a dud in the market.

    Actually, Aria is a lifestyle vehicle and those who had a feel of the vehicle would understand it. It is no way comparable to an overpriced Innova.

    The target customers are not those who compare Aria with an Innova. Innova is simply an awesome people mover. But Aria should be compared to a Fortuner and the vehicle still has better features with much lower cost!

    Those "critics" who say Aria should be priced at 10 lacks are simply those who have no idea what they are talking about. A vehicle's cost is based on the engineering that goes into it and also the cost of materials incurred for the company. Just because Aria looks similar to an Innova doesn't mean it should be priced similar.

    As for Aria being called a failure, I fail to understand the logic as the sales are way better than competition.

    Last 3 months avg sales is as follows.
    Captiva : 129
    Endeavor : 251
    Outlander : 35
    Pajero : 154
    Honda CRV : 27
    Suzuki Vitata : 4
    Nissan X-Trail : 26
    Skoda Yeti : 149
    Tata Aria : 296

    The only lifestyle vehicle which scores better is the Fortuner which sells 900 plus, but people would spend thousands and wait ages even if Toyota brings out with a soap box and that strong is the brand value.

    Most vehicles whose sales are listed above are considered relatively a success but I fail to understand why Aria is tagged as a failure even though it outsells all of them. Vehicles like the Xenon (and even Aria to an extend) is never meant for sales in India, they are for export market. Manza sold close to 5100 last month which is one of the highest in the segment.

    If your advice for Tata is to make Aria look different from Innova then the advice should be for Volkswagen for creating Polo, Vento, Jetta and Passat which all looks the same but cost multiple lakhs apart! Personally though, I feel an Innova looks far better than the Aria.

    But I totally agree with the ads, they are without doubt the worst ever by Tata. The ads are confusing, immature, lacks class and simply stupid.

  2. @Raaj, completely agree that Aria has lot of goodies to offer and may not be in the category of Innova but consumer perception is what matters. When Aria looks like Innova, it is bound to be perceived in the same class . Just by labeling it as a crossover is not going to change that perception. Thanks for the different perspective.

  3. I personally feel Tata's should not waste time in trying to establish premium segment, they would be better off concentrating on volumes of Indica, NANO, Manza and Indigo. Scorpio too has some scope, what happened to SUMO ? Higher segments they can promote Jagaur or Landrover, it makes sense.

  4. Congrats Prof Harish for your 500th brand review, it is major achievement. I hope all your posts are treated as case studies by Management students. Good Luck Please remove the word verification setting, it is painstaking feature, i have done away with it long back.

  5. Its not because Aria looks like Innova that people find it difficult to accept Aria. Innova is actually a good looking vehicle but Aria at least for me is not. If you take a test drive, you would know they are world's apart.

    The problem mostly was because Tata failed miserably in bringing in the concept of Crossover to the minds of people. Their ad campaign and projection was even more confusing.

    I honestly believe, the new crossover launched yesterday in the market Mahindra XUV5OO, will be a huge hit even though it is way more expensive than an Innova. The vehicle would click the right boxes and people have by now come in terms as to what to expect from a Crossover.

    XUV5OO will be a classic example of enjoying the second mover advantage in terms of marketing and Product awareness. I sure hope I won't have to eat my own words. :)

  6. For a "not so into" car guy like myself when I first look at the Innova the first thing that comes to my mind is "INNOVA LIKE".

    However hard may expensive TV Ads try to promote the Aria of the Xylo as Lifestyle vehicle.. it doesn't work out. Both the products just doesn't have the attitude/appeal.

    Lifestyle vehicle..?? That's what the Mahindra XUV 5OO is..!!

  7. Anonymous12:58 AM

    Nice review,awesome car. Tata Aria . has many advanced features that not only are comfortable but many of them are safety features to give you a very safe ride with smooth performance for any kind of journey.Thanks for sharing this review.

  8. Harish has rightly addressed the "Value for Money" tag with luxury segment. I do agree with RAAJ as well BUT as Harish has said I find suitable for luxury customer. This is the worst part why more luxurious people do not opt for TATA Vehicle. Because I believe Luxury has no price it's just a perceived value.

  9. Yes, TATA makes a big foot print by making a SUV-Sedan competating with forgein SUV's and other cars. And the millage is also good when comparing with others. Price is low since it is an India!

  10. I took delivery of a "New" TATA ARIA on 17th of August 2012. The customers who are being targeted in this class expect a gentleman approach from the brand-owners. TATA is yet to cop-up. They omit even the proper PDI before delivering the new cars!

    It's ONLY 2 DAYS… JUST 2 DAYS BACK; I purchased this car from a dealer in Kochi who has been claimed as a TATA subsidiary. They convinced me that the other dealers could cheat me on service and replacement of spares. I booked the car on 10th Aug, (by paying the advance) and gave time till 17th to deliver it. But, I got my car ONLY at 9pm, saying the PDI was not over! This junk vehicle displayed “ENGINE SYSTEM FAILURE” within 5 minutes of taking it out of their showroom! Whenever it touches 3000rpm, it cuts the fuel-supply for a second and displays this Fault-message.

    The odometer was clocked 850kms when the NEW car was delivered!
    They told the music system comes with 6 speakers and one woofer. BUT THE WOOFER IS MISSING from the Car!!!
    The AC vent-knob in the left-mid-pillar is stuck and unable to adjust the throw!!
    Many more complaints… I’m not mentioning all here.
    *** I gave 8 days before taking delivery of my car. What did they do as PDI?***


    Now, (I fear and feel) I need to start my hurdle legally to get my money back and to give this vehicle back to TATA. Or I need to start my marathon to convince the public about this failed product through Medias, Social Networking sites, and email marketing. Let me see if this issue would be settled in next working day as they have agreed. Nobody else in this country should be fooled again!

    This is my 11th car. One would never experience such problem with any other brands. (You can see my name in TATA's records for owing two more tata cars before) I never recommend this brand anymore, and I've never expected such issues from a company like TATA!

    Sajin K. John
    CSS Microsys and Numak Corporation
    35/767, North Janatha Road,
    Palarivattom, Kochi – 682025
    Tel: 0484 2342529
    Mob: 0-9447034252
    Vehicle model: Pure
    Chassis No.: MAT614007CRA00531

  11. Sir I have a strong objection to the end of the article where you suggest creation of a new brand for charging a premium. Not only is that an expensive effort intensive process but also irrelevant for the Tata group in India. As you yourself have mentioned, the Hondas and Toyotas created new brands to enter a completely new market in a new segment. Do you truly believe that's possible in an old market in an old segement? I do not. But I also do not have an answer to "then what?". Suggestions?

  12. I think its not a proper crossover but it suits to the dusty and broken Indian roads of different plains and terrains.It got such masculine and rowdy features with powerful engine mill inside it.


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