Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Brand Update : Maruti Suzuki tries premium push through Nexa

Maruti Suzuki which has a bear grip on the Indian passenger car market is desperate for a share in the premium car market. While the company has huge lead in the mid and small car segment, it so far has not been able to break into the premium segment ( 10 lakh above). Maruti had tried earlier with its Grand Vitara, Baleno, and latest Kizashi but failed to replicate the success of its affordable car range. 

Maruti Suzuki is now trying to go through the channel route to tap this segment. According to reports, the company is opening a premium channel named ( internally) as Nexa. Maruti plans to launch its premium cars  beginning with S-Cross through this channel. All cars which are in the premium segment will henceforth available only through Nexa. 

Further , Maruti believes that there is a perception that the brand " Maruti Suzuki" is very much linked to " affordability" and hence it will not be able to sell a premium car.   Hence all the new premium cars will now contain only Suzuki name . 

This is an interesting story because the company is now finding its greatest strength ( brand ) as a liability. So probably S-cross will be Suzuki S-cross and the company believes that Indian consumers will consider it a premium brand because there is no Maruti tag on it !! 

What may be hurting Maruti Suzuki management would be that premium brands like Honda are now making huge volumes by down-ward stretching ( launching products at lower price) and threatening some brands of Maruti. 
Maruti is now trying the trick of Japanese brands cracking the premium American car market. They have done through creating new brands like Lexus, Accura,Infinity which was positioned away from the mass market brands.

It is true that an affordable brand ( perception) would find it difficult to move up the value chain using the same brand name. So it makes sense when Maruti wants its premium brands to be kept away from the mass market brands. Here the assumption is that in Maruti Suzuki brand name, Maruti part is creating the perception and by removing the Maruti part, the affordable tag can be eliminated. I wonder whether that assumption holds true. Unlike Honda, Suzuki does not have that premium image in the Indian market. Suzuki brand in the two wheeler segment is not in the best shape and is not in the premium segment either. Hence just by launching a premium car sans Maruti name is not going to do the trick. As auto-expert Hormazd Sorabjee points out, the issue is more of design that positioning . None of the premium offering of Maruti had the wow factor expected out of a premium offering.
How ever, the new channel strategy would benefit the premium push because the premium brand is not sold alongside its cheap companions and better service can be delivered to the premium customers. The downside is that there is a possibility of channel conflict because existing dealers will not be able to sell high-margin cars using their current infrastructure.
According to reports, Maruti Suzuki has created a separate organizational structure for the premium category. It would be an interesting story to watch how Maruti will be able to break into the premium segment with the new strategy.