Monday, October 19, 2015

Baleno : Premium play using a phased-out brand?

Brand: Baleno
Company:  Maruti Suzuki

Brand Analysis count:  # 560

Maruti Suzuki Ltd ( MSL) is in the process of  foraying into the premium hatchback ( B+) segment with the launch of Baleno. The announcement was surprising to me since the company which is struggling to break into the premium segment has chosen to name the product with a phased out brand!

Interestingly, Baleno was MSL's foray into the premium sedan segment, 16 years ago. Baleno was first launched in 1999. Although the car was exceptional in terms of quality, MSL priced the product exorbitantly high. In 1999, the brand was priced at 8 lakhs. This along with the general VFM perception of Maruti brand caused a lukewarm response to Baleno. Later Baleno reduced the price substantially to around Rs 5.5 lakhs. Despite these efforts, Baleno failed to deliver volumes resulting in its withdrawal in 2006. It is said that the quality of the product is evident in the fact that Baleno is still used as a racing car in India.

It is in this context that the launch of the new Baleno hatchback becomes interesting. MSL has stated that it aims to break into the premium segment of the Indian automotive market. The company had created a premium distribution network branded as Nexa. The company had launched its premium crossover S-Cross through Nexa. 
Everyone knows that MSL has the issue of being perceived as a value-for-money brand. Many experts suggest that more than the VFM perception, the brand Maruti have an issue with the design. So far no product from MSL was having a premium design. 
When  the company has such a perception problem existing, why would it launch a " premium" car with a brand which was phased out? Frankly I don't see any logic or rationale behind that move. Baleno, in my personal view, doesn't have a lasting equity which  could help in the new product launch. Further, the new product is a hatchback and not a sedan. 
So what is the value that the old brand Baleno is bringing to the new product is puzzling. Baleno is also a product which failed due to its high ( premium) pricing. Now MSL is launching a high-priced hatchback in that same name is nothing but an irony. The only logic I see is that the Baleno hatchback is a global product and hence the brand. 
In my opinion, MSL has lost an opportunity to build a premium brand. By launching Nexa, the company wanted to create a separate identity away from old Maruti products. When the company has invested so much in creating a different identity, why would it bring back a brand which has the baggage of history? 
Premium-ness comes from exclusivity, stellar performance and brand equity. I wonder how could anyone relate premium-ness to a brand which was phased out because it was not successful?

On the branding front, I consider the Baleno branding as a big mistake. Baleno hatchback would be a successful product probably as a VFM product and I doubt whether it would be a premium brand as wished by MSL.