Raahil Chopra
Jul 13, 2016

Chevy charts comeback plan, staying true to DNA

Q&A with Jack Uppal, VP – marketing and customer experience, GM India, on the brand’s roadmap

Chevy charts comeback plan, staying true to DNA
Chevrolet’s strategy for India now is to focus on the brand’s DNA. That means that it will not be present in every segment there is. A case in point is the lower-A (entry level hatchback) segment, in which it had the Spark until last year. 
Jack Uppal, vice president – marketing and customer experience, GM India, informs that the strategy was arrived at after customer feedback that some of the cars didn’t have what was expected of a Chevy. The brand intends to stay true to its core of innovation.
Listening to customer feedback, the company also announced that it will not launch the MPV Spin in 2017 as announced earlier, but introduce a Chevrolet Beat Activ instead, catering to increased appetite for SUVs.
The future is in focus, with India becoming the first market to have a complete brand store on Amazon. As a pilot, the Trailblazer was made available exclusively on the platform for a week – eight people actually booked the car online.
With the roadmap charted out, Uppal explains how Chevrolet’s is planning to get to where it wants to, and how perception on certain aspects needs correction. Edited excerpts:
Chevrolet has been in India since 2003. But it's perceived not to be the top of mind brand in each of the segments. What are you doing to correct that?
We are not playing across all the segments currently and it’s a conscious decision. The Spark was discontinued last year and we’re not playing in the lower A-segment.
In the segment the Beat is in, over the last two to three years a lot of competitors have rolled out SUVs or crossovers. So, the traditional hatchbacks are beginning to lose some of their lustre. We are probably a year or a year and a half late in bringing a refreshed product into the segment. We will be coming with one next year.
The Beat is well established in the segment, but am I selling the kind of volumes I would like to? The answer is no.
But, I don’t think that it is primarily to do with not being top of mind in the segment. It is also to do with a lot of choices available. The market is typically chasing what is latest and greatest. And let’s be honest that even though the Beat is a very strong contender and great value for money, it’s not the latest or the greatest.
It’s a great safe car, which is very fuel economical when it comes to the diesel variant, but it hasn’t evolved in the last three to four years. When that product refreshes, I think the Beat has very good resonance within the segment to revive itself.
What about other cars like the Sail?
The Sail is there still, but it didn’t fit right in the segment. Customers have told us that it wasn’t really what they expected it to be.
We have to look at the Trailblazer and the Cruze as examples. We have to follow the true Chevrolet DNA and both of those products fit that. If we want to become relevant in the segment (B segment), we have to look at our core strengths and stick to them and bring in products which reside on innovative technology around the car and overall are big, powerful American cars. If the vehicle depicts that then we get a good response with the car.
We’ve seen it with the Cruze. We had created a segment with it. Then we got about eight or nine competitors. Last year at this time, we had slipped down to number seven or eight in the segment we had created with the car a few years ago. We then had minor refinements to the car this year and added some connectivity to it. We repositioned it, and we are back to number three or four in almost every market.
Do you plan to get back into the A-segment?
No. There are no plans right now to get back into that space. We continue to look at segments as they’re evolving and look at our product programmes in the world. At this point of time we continue to focus on the Beat and the segment above us.
So does that mean going forward you’re focusing on lesser cars in fewer segments, with quality over quantity?
I don’t think we’ll be in all segments. We’ve got a cautious view and depending on where the segments are evolving, we’ll be there. We are seeing preferences changing from sedans to SUVs.
We’ll see how trends are changing and look at which segments are growing and have potential for us to participate. Then we will look at the segments we have the ability to participate in with our true DNA.
I think the biggest growth trend is from getting some kind of a crossover or a mini SUV. I think India is reaching that point of 15 to 20 years of automobiles on the road and people are into their third or fourth cycle of consuming, and so the consumers are moving to SUVs, which has been a g lobal phenomenon.
You've been with GM across markets since 2001 before moving to India. How different is compared to markets like Canada, Singapore and the Middle East, where you've worked in?
The Indian market is at a different level of evolution compared to where the Middle East is from a product portfolio perspective. The market dynamics are also very different. India has its own unique needs, infrastructure and people, among others.
The Middle East is a bit of a mirror of what happens in the mature markets based on how they’ve based themselves in terms of regulations and infrastructure. The product resembles a lot more of what’s available in mature markets.
India is unique and different. That’s what makes it more interesting and exciting. It’s in a different stage of evolving into a mature market.
Singapore is a whole different game altogether.
In the Indian market which is conscious when it comes to resale of cars, there's again a perception of Chevrolet not being as competitive as say a Honda, Hyundai or Maruti. Would you agree with that? If yes, what are you doing to address this?
I’ll give you an example. I’ve been travelling to the Northern part of the country and visiting dealers. I asked this question to a few dealers. We’ve seen a great momentum on the Cruze and even launched a campaign for the facelift. It was about taking the performance aspect of it and dialing it in with the emotional aspect. It was about putting a persona with the brand.
So, the question I was asking the dealer was about sustaining this growth and whether customers are worried about the resale value.
They told me, of the ones that we’ve resold, we’ve sold about 15 per cent of them to existing Cruze owners. The resale value we were able to quote them was more or at par with other brands.
The Beat also, after four to five years of being driven on the road, is retaining about 30 to 35 per cent of its value. Not a lot of people know that. I think on our core name plates we are pretty competitive on a resale value perspective.
Some of our products that haven’t done well in the market place, I would say you’re right and we don’t have a good resale value and that hurts the brand.
In the two core name plates which are our two global platforms, and what we are now expanding our portfolio on, our resale value is pretty strong.
Is there a ‘core TG’ for Chevrolet?
It really depends on the segment. But, if I had to look at Chevrolet as a brand, we are looking at that 25 to 40-ish type of individual. Not all of them go into this segment, but it’s someone who is taking risks, an individual who doesn’t follow the usual and has a start-up entrepreneurial mindset.  
This aligns with us because even though we have a 100-year history, we are a brand that’s known for innovation. Fifty to 60 per cent of the technologies that exist in cars today, from ABS to electronic steering wheels to stability control, most of these are patented by Chevrolet.
We really want to focus in on the TG that resonates with our values.
From the Beat to the premium SUV, Trailblazer - what's the flagship for Chevrolet in the country? Would it be the Cruze?
Flagships exist on both sides (sedan and SUV). On the car side the Cruze is the flagship and will continue to be. If I look at utility vehicles, the Trailblazer will definitely be it.
The Beat sells the most across our portfolio.
You also have a deal with Amazon for the Trailblazer. What's been the response to this? Do you have similar deals in other markets too? 
It was a pilot. We had two key objectives going into that project. One was to be disruptive in the market place saying that the vehicle is only going to be available on Amazon online. For the first seven days it could only be booked for and paid for online. We wanted to understand consumer behaviour and understand e-commerce and the propensity of consumers to do it when it came to big purchases like a car. We had fairly good success from what our expectations were.
We had a million people who went through the experience on Amazon. We had eight bookings. Three people switched colours, one cancelled it, and four who actually paid for it online.
It was a learning experience on the e-commerce side.
Now, today we have established a complete online store on Amazon. We are probably the first to have a complete brand store with them. The goal was to have a merchandising store, a Beat Store, a Cruze store and a Chevrolet Master Store. When it’s established it becomes another platform to connect with consumers.
India was the first country to have worked with Amazon for a complete brand store.
On marketing: You've had a few digital campaigns running but a big TV campaign has been missing. Do you think the Indian market is mature enough for an auto maker to concentrate on digital with a significant budget and let go of TV?
I don’t think India will run away from TV anytime soon. I think in the marketing mix TV still plays an important role. 
But, I think India is faster than anyone else in moving into the digital space. Our brand stands for innovation, which means it does everything including communication in an innovative manner and we choose to go digital and mobile to be more aligned with our DNA.
But to connect to the masses we take a 360-degree approach too. TV plays a big role and so does traditional print to sell cars. But yes, we are looking at our campaigns more from a mobile and digital front too.
There were news reports last year about GM not being viable to operate for some showroom owners and the number of outlets were on a decline. Has that been corrected? How many outlets do you have now?
I don’t know the exact number that shut down. But, about the network, it has natural attritions. There’s nothing hidden. The fact is that our volumes have come down. When volumes come down to a certain level in specific markets, these are independent dealers and they need to make sure their business can survive. So dealers have made decisions to move.
Sometimes even dealers, for whom the business was viable, have made decisions to move on to brands which they feel have the potential for higher volumes.
Given our forecast of the next three to four years, we have a footprint that is still probably fourth or fifth best in the country. In strategic places where we lost capability in terms of service coverage we are looking for new dealers or service capability. We have a commitment with customers that will provide them service for a minimum of 10 years after purchase, so if we lose a service point, we have solutions for them. So coverage will remain a strong point.
About two months ago we launched a brand new dealership in Sholapur. We’re looking to expand our service capability in the Southern part of the country where we feel driving distances for customers is a lot higher and longer then they should be.
Exact numbers change on an annual basis. But we are pretty strong; we have 202 sales outlets, and 227 service stations.  
Chevrolet has got a global deal with Manchester United. How is the association being leveraged in India?
The tie-up with Manchester United is great. It’s the biggest sporting brand in the world. It has a great fan following. India is the second largest fan market for Man United, according to the club’s claims.
We are on the jersey and that gives us great affinity. We can get legends from the club to India and we did that with Louis Saha at that Auto Expo. We have a 12-month plan where every 30 days we have engagement with fans and we bring that by bringing the Man Utd and Chevrolet experience to them through stuff like fan parties, which are primarily hosted by Chevrolet. If there’s any activity led by the club, then Chevrolet brings that to the fans here.
What are the other marketing tie-ups that you have?
Globally, this is the biggest tie-up we have. Locally and regionally we have smaller tie-ups. In India we are focused on football and it’s better to do it well than focus on three things and not do them that well.


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