What’s the history of Nissan in India? How big a disadvantage is the late move into the market?
NT: Nissan as a brand is a late entrant in India. But if you look at the lineage of Nissan, it has been in India indirectly starting with the Jonga, a vehicle used by the Indian army. The Jonga was famous and was known to be a very versatile vehicle. From there, the journey continued with the Japanese coming in. They (Japanese) are very loyal to the brand and the consulate started using the brand.
After this, activities started around the Nissan brand in India in mid-2009, with the launch of the Micra. This was one of the fast growing markets and Nissan being a global player, in the top four manufacturers in the world (the Renault-Nissan alliance), wanted to enter it. The advantage we had was that Nissan as a vehicle suits the Indian terrain. It is known for its comfort, reliability and (low) cost of ownership worldwide; it’s a value proposition. It’s one of the few Japanese companies which has diesel engines across the entire range and we are known for our diesel engines. We are also known for our suspension.
With this background, we decided to enter the country through the CBU route, bringing in two products which are very value conscious but are at the upper end of the market.
We launched a luxury sedan Tiena and a soft off-roader, the X-Trail. The X-Trail is a SUV that can be driven well in the city and can also take on the off-road conditions. India has seen it as we did a National Geographic tie up where the cars were driven extensively in the Himalayas and the deserts and all the vehicles came out very well.
We then decided to come top-down and looked at the small car market, as that’s where the action is.
How has the launch of the Micra and Sunny helped Nissan?
NT: The penetration of cars in India is still low. In terms of vehicles-to-population, nine cars are sold among 1000 consumers, so we have a long way to go. Rising incomes, better quality of road transportation will make people want to travel. Transportation has now become a necessity - it’s not a luxury.
There are more homes going in for two cars. Looking at this, we launched the Micra, a small car. This is a small, manueverable car but it’s one of the few cars in which a six-footer can sit comfortably on the back seat. It’s one of the few hatchbacks which don’t have a hump in the middle, which allows three people to sit comfortably on the back seat. So it boasts of the comfort the Nissan is known for. We launched it with a campaign using Ranbir Kapoor as brand ambassador because he’s known as a youth icon and families have a lot of comfort about him. He’s non-controversial; and he’s an icon who is here to stay. We thought that in our nascent stage it is better to tie up with a brand ambassador for the Micra, as that could take the brand through in that segment for years to come. We launched with a multimedia campaign and I think we have done very well with the car.
One and half years after launching the Micra, we launched the Sunny. In the Sunny we created a differentiator by capitalising on the single largest proposition we had in the Sunny, which is: the comfort of a luxury sedan in a mid-end sedan. In India, unlike in the West, sedans are used by an equal proportion of consumers having chauffeurs. So it means one is not necessary driving a mid-end sedan, unlike a European sedan which is designed with husband-wife and two small kids in mind. So, the comfort factor of sitting at the back is far better in a Sunny and that’s demonstrated in the campaign which has a very high recall value. The ‘Caaaar’ campaign began with mixed reactions but the recall was very high and at the end of it, the campaign has delivered largely because it single-mindedly drove the consumer to a showroom to test drive the vehicle, and be satisfied because whatever we communicated is what we have delivered. In addition to that, it’s about cost of ownership - I’m proud to say that this is one of the cheapest brands in the country (on that count).
We saw another segment that was growing. In September 2012, we launched the Evalia, a multi-utility vehicle. The differentiator for the Evalia is that the car is a utility vehicle for the urban class consumer and it can carry a whole family or group of friends within the city as well as inter-city. It’s not a vehicle that’s designed only for travel out of city. We maintained the same suspension and ride quality and we are delivering a fuel economy that is 50 per cent higher than any other car in the category.
The vehicle will be seen and visibility will improve in due course. Any vehicle that’s launched in the market takes about five to six months to get visibility. Very soon, we will be launching more models in different segments of the market. We are looking at markets, we are looking at what the high growth segments in those markets are, and we are looking at models to plug in to them. In the B and the B+ segment, we’ll have more than one model. In the sedan class, we’ll have more cars across segments and will adopt some of our features available worldwide and deliver them to the Indian consumer. We have a theme for the Indian consumer which is ‘Innovation and excitement for everyone’, which is about enjoying the drive and making everything about your drive very enjoyable. So be it the comfort, cost of ownership or features, all of that goes into the combination of innovation and excitement.
With the Micra, Sunny, Evalia, Teana and the X-Trail, the brand is now present in all the categories. Yet, it doesn’t seem to be top of mind for Indian car buyers. How do you plan to address this problem?
NT: If we look at the auto industry, it usually takes about five to seven years for a brand to have top of mind recall. But, our awareness levels have been very high according to our survey results, because in two years they shot up by 60 per cent. That itself is an industry first. We are present currently with 79 dealers and already covered about 75 per cent of the Indian footprint and that’s a task that no other automobile manufacturer has completed in two and a half years. It has taken other automobile manufacturers around eight years to reach this. We have a roadside assistance, 24 * 7 in 1,681 towns across the country with a commitment of the number of hours or minutes it will take for the mobile van to attend your car. The car is towed to the nearest destination and owners are driven to where you wanted to reach. We are all about commitment and that’s what we stand for.
Visibility will go up when the dealer network is increased and once we launch different models. Currently we are only present with two models in the mass market and have just launched a MUV.
How much do you see each model contributing to sales? What would be the flagship?
NT: The flagship for us would be the Micra and the Sunny. This will continue because that’s where 45 per cent of the overall automobile market is concentrated. We sold 33,000 units overall in 2011 and we looked to be on course to double that in 2012. We will look at more segments and more models in 2013 and the numbers should go up.
The Renault’s Pulse is much like the Nissan Micra. What efforts has Nissan undertaken to distinguish the car?
NT: That’s where the brand Nissan comes in. It’s not just about the product. Cross-badging is a phenomenon across the world, across industries. It’s all about how you position the product with your brand equity to deliver to the consumer a differentiated delivery process. The market is very large so we’ll look at harnessing everyone’s strengths.
How does the Nissan-Renault alliance work in India?
NT: The Renault-Nissan alliance is more of a manufacturing alliance. It’s a combined manufacturing facility. With this alliance, we ensure we get economies of scale and translate this to better value to the consumer.
A musical campaign for the launch of the Evalia, ‘A Star of India’ campaign as well as innovations in print were seen in 2012; there’s a clear focus on youth through all the campaigns. Is that Nissan’s TG?
NT: The Micra is targeted at the youth, because that’s the consumer who aspires to buy a hatchback. A person buying a Micra is someone who has owned some car. He’s not the first time car buyer. He may have used his parents’ car, so when he buys a Micra, he’s already experienced driving. He’s definitely looking for safety, overall value and value in terms of cost of sustaining the car. He’s looking at the purchase that should be with him for a minimum of five years. Nissan is known for its longevity and we’ve seen cars that are 10 to 15 years old in the Indian market, even though they have been imported.
There were two major digital campaigns in the year, student brand manager program and the new star of India campaign. How big is digital for Nissan?
NT: Digital is a parallel medium we believe very strongly in. Digital is what I refer to as the technology which is present on television, mobile and any other IT device. It’s a compliment of all three. For me, TV is also digital. We have worked on social media. We strongly believe that 95 to 98 per cent of consumers research before they look at buying a car. We look at attracting them at different points of interface.
We are one of the few brands in India that created a campaign only on YouTube and Facebook. We involved our social friends, people who are on the social networks, to get us to understand what is it that they look at. We created ‘The Star of India’ campaign. We used Kapoor and our cars in a song and dance sequence with a theme, got people to say that I want to be a part of the movement and they came on to our property. We selected some of these kids from this campaign and shot a film and launched it only on Facebook and YouTube. We got 6,60,000 fans through this. We engaged with these fans not through propagating the product, but by propagating the brand through social conversations. We have a team that’s only looking at social conversations and seeing how we can pick those people up and move them to synergies with the brand.
The thinking behind the ‘Student Brand Manager Program’ was that we understand that India is the country that has the largest youth. That’s going to be our big firepower in terms of ability to buy. The idea is about getting Nissan registered in the students’ minds at the time when they are just moving out of professional institutes and management colleges. We got 6,500 entries last year and finally selected 30 of them. We incubate these guys with projects for six months.
The idea behind this is anyone who is coming out of a professional institute is ready for a job and is ready for a car. So what’s the first brand that comes to mind, is the idea.
Which are the strongest global markets for Nissan?
NT: The strongest global markets are the US, Japan. Middle East, which is a very large loyal base of consumers, is helping us indirectly in India because there are three or four states (largely Kerala and Punjab) in India which swear by this because of the effect of using Nissan in the Middle East. These are some of the large markets where we are very big.
What are Nissan’s objectives for 2013?
NT: We have a couple of milestones for 2013; one is bringing out more models in 2013 and the other is to increase our network so that we can service and sell the car through a larger footprint. We want to serve the Indian consumer.
A print ad to show the manueverability of the Micra
Primo; the latest variant of the Micra
The print ad for the diesel variant of the Micra
The launch campaign for the Evalia
Nissan rolls back the years in this TVC for the Micra
The Caaaar campaign for the Sunny
Nissan's 'Star of India' campaign that was created specially for YouTube and Facebook
Nissan looking to attract the youth with its 'Student Brand Manager' initiative