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Special Columns
Arindam Chaudhuri, Editor-in-Chief, 4Ps B&M Editor-in-Chief
Dr. Arindam Chaudhuri
A.Sandeep Editor's Desk
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Now for The High Fliers
India’s Favourite Small Car Manufacturer is the envy of a Bevy of Premium and Luxury Players. But now Maruti Seeks to get into The Luxury Segment itself with The Kizashi. Is it The Right way forward?
Issue Date - 10/03/2011
Before the world could get a chance to see the unveiling of the world’s ‘cheapest’ car Tata Nano at the 9th Auto Expo in 2008, the Maruti Suzuki Pavilion attracted a lot of attention on a fine Wednesday afternoon. I was told that apparently, the company was showcasing the concept models of two cars along with other offerings in its portfolio. One concept model alluded to the A-Star. But without doubt, the audience and yours truly that day had their hearts set for the second concept car. The general buzz around was that this car was the Kizashi – Japanese for “a sign of great things to come.” Making its way to India from the Frankfurt Motor Show, where it was first showcased in November 2007 by Suzuki, the model has managed to gather some of the most ubiquitous praise and also critique globally. To put the test to rest and the mettle to the metal, Maruti finally launched the Kizashi in India in February this year.

It may be recalled that when Maruti showcased the production model of the Kizashi at the 10th Auto Expo in January 2010, many automobile experts questioned the ability of the company to take on rivals of the likes of Honda Accord and Toyota Corolla Altis. Now that the model is here in the country and positioned as a luxury sports sedan, it brings to the fore a question on the direction where Maruti Suzuki, the nation’s largest automaker, wishes to go towards, especially as neither Honda, nor Toyota or even the other competitors seem to be backing off one bit from the competitive arena.

My decision to analyse Kizashi’s marketing mix did not emanate from my personal orientation towards the Kizashi (well, I simply love the Kizashi), but from a combination of various other factors – starting from the paradoxical positioning (when Maruti made it clear at the launch itself that it was not aiming at huge volumes with Kizashi; but was rather working on making it a future-ready product) to the fact that the Kizashi might be just a tool to up-position Maruti’s brand profile, much like the ‘business class’ pitted against the ‘economy’ passengers. Yet, Shinzo Nakanishi, MD & CEO, Maruti Suzuki India, has from the start been quite affirmative in his strategic intent – “The Kizashi is a very important step forward for Maruti Suzuki. It will be for the top-end customers in the Indian market and we are fully geared up to delight the customers in a segment where we have been absent so far,” he had said during the launch. Still, the Kizashi issue is quite critical at this juncture for Maruti Suzuki, mainly because wishing away a considerable part of one’s marketing budget to promote a product that is not expected to give numbers, is quite a big ask. And my journey in the past few weeks within Maruti Suzuki’s various echelons of management only succeeded in throwing up more tactical paradigms.

The market size for the luxury sedan market stands at 3% of the Indian automobile market (unit sales of 35,722 for the period of April 2010 to January 2011) as of today. Mayank Pareek, Managing Executive Officer – Marketing & Sales, Maruti Suzuki, knows these figures by heart. And when he talks to me, I can only sense growing confidence that the company has in the product, but always laced with the number issue. Even Mayank admits, “Kizashi will be a product for the future. We may not be able to fetch high volumes today, but we anticipate that there will be a demand for such a model in future.” Then again, the company is investing further into even remodelling its sales process for Kizashi, as it has already got dedicated sales personnel in place for the product, who have been trained especially to deal with the target customers of Kizashi. And this apart from the fact that the Kizashi is even being moderated to suit Indian conditions. I. V. Rao, Managing Executive Officer – Engineering and R&D, Maruti Suzuki, lets on to me, “Maruti has been so successful in the Indian market so far only because it has been able to provide consumers with products that they’ve always been looking for. We are confident that Kizashi will replicate the success.”

I have to admit that I’ve been proven wrong about my analysis on Maruti even in the past – the SX4, and its subsequent success in the sedan segment, being a glaring example. I had, then, even questioned the ability of Maruti to sell a car in the sedan segment, which meant playing against market leaders like Honda City, but the SX4 proved me and other analysts wrong by miles and quickly rose up the ranks to become the second largest selling car in this segment with average sales thundering at 2,000 units per month. And with the recently launched diesel variant (which CEO Nakanishi believes will repeat the success of the other diesel offerings in the Maruti Suzuki portfolio), the SX4 is screaming up the market share and giving the hardest time ever to the Honda City (which still is the best in the category, with sales of around 4,500 units per month).

I decide to chat up with Kartikeya Srivastava, Senior Planning Director, Dentsu Creative Impact – the agency which handles the Kizashi account. Kartikeya dismisses my questions in a jiffy. “It is not that Maruti Suzuki has no equity at all in this segment,” he comes out strongly, “It is Maruti’s reassurance that the consumer gets when he buys the Kizashi.” It’s surprising, but I actually believe him quite strongly. Kizashi has the backing of a strong brand like Maruti Suzuki, which is an icon in the growth of the Indian automobile industry. And if everything goes according to the plan, Kizashi will help Maruti cater to its customer family upwards of the C segment, a segment that has been moving to the competition so far due to the absence of a Maruti model above the SX4.

Arguable it may be, but the positioning of the product is unique. Starting its journey as the first luxury sport sedan in India, the product stands true to the Suzuki DNA of making owner-driven cars. Challenging the belief of the premium sedan segment, where most of the options available are positioned as chauffeur-driven vehicles, the Kizashi may yet find enough takers for its sporty designs and rich features that one finds in a BMW 3 Series or a Mercedes C-Class.

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