What would be the flagship vehicle for Mahindra right now? Also, what’s the differentiator among each of your SUVs?
If you look at products which have been around for a while, then I would say the Scorpio. We recently launched a refresh of the Scorpio. This has been very successful too. Scorpio as a brand first launched in 2002 and that’s been a flagship for many years.
Now, with the ‘new generation’ Scorpio, which is a completely new product on a new platform. The advertising was also pretty clutter breaking. That has been very well received. In fact this is the fourth year that the Scorpio will be crossing 50,000 vehicle sales in the year.
Then, there’s also the XUV500, a brand we launched around two and a half years ago. This is also doing very well and it’s giving us a lot of satisfaction the way it’s performing. We’ve seen with the XUV500 that we know the pulse of the consumer; we keep launching products, based on consumer needs and insights.
I’d also want to mention the Bolero, a brand launched in 2000, which also continues to do well. That’s been one of our core brands too, and sells a lot in the small towns and semi-urban markets. This year, for the seventh year in a row, it’s the number one selling SUV in the country in terms of volume and will hopefully cross one lakh vehicles in this financial year.
These are our three strong horses in the SUV segment.
Then, we have the Thar, which is a completely different animal. It’s a true off-roader, and the off-roading community has received it very well. That’s established its own space.
We also have the Xylo which is the ‘people’ offering.
So, we have a whole host of offerings in the SUV space. As consumer expectations increase, we increase our offerings too. In fact, later this year we’ll launch the ‘company’ SUV, and that will be again creating a new segment in the market. We’ve had the Quanto before, but we’re launching a completely new platform.
Who would you see as the primary consumer for each of the above?
The one thing that is common across these vehicles is the tough and rugged DNA. Each product in the portfolio has its own positioning and target audience. That’s what has been behind our success of growing our SUV portfolio over the years.
The XUV500 is for the global Indian. It’s an international quality car, with the best of technology and has everything in one package. The Thar is the hardcore true blue off-roader. The Scorpio is a premium SUV for somebody who wants to respect his status, power and wants thrill in his life. The Bolero is for the more value conscious, middle class consumer in a smaller town. The Xylo is for somebody who wants the space and comfort of a MPV.
What about the Verito and the Vibe?
These are the two vehicles that have given us a presence in the car market. But, we are basically a company with a core in SUVs and pick-ups. We’re number one across those two categories in this country.
I would say that our strategy was to just have a presence in the car segment. As you know the hatchback market is a much cluttered segment, so that’s not the central or core to the strategy. The offerings are available for those consumers who are loyal to Mahindra.
And how has the entry to the electric car space worked?
We have the e2o. We are the pioneers in electric cars as far as India is concerned. They may not be big in India today, but the way the world is going, I think it’s a big bet we’ve made for the future. The future may not be too far ahead. A lot depends on how the government supports such initiatives. These initiatives cannot be made big just by a private enterprise. If the government gets behind it in terms of giving infrastructure support and incentives, it can really become a big bet for the future.
How has the Indian car buyer evolved?
The Indian car buyer’s needs, desires and wants have gone up and rightly so. Aspirations are rising and everyone wants more and better. Consumer expectations have also gone up. Secondly, the competitive landscape has changed entirely. Way back there were hardly couple of players in the market. Now, anybody who is present in the world is present in the Indian market.
You spoke about more competition coming in. Earlier it was almost a monopoly in terms of SUVs and off-roaders. Now, with international players coming in, how has this affected Mahindra?
I think competition is good for everyone. It’s good for consumers, first of all. This gives them more choice. Secondly, competition is also good for the players in the market because they keep upping their game. It’s like in the World Cup, if you have good teams like India and Australia playing, the other teams have to raise their game to take them on. So, similarly in this market, players raise their game as one manufacturer improves. I think the whole ecosystem benefits from competition and we welcome it.
The fact is that even with all the competition from all the big brands in the world, we continue to be number one in terms of market share in the SUV segment. We’ve risen to the challenge and this is why we’re still number one.
What’s the contribution from rural to urban in terms of sales? How is this changing?
Rural contributes about a third of our sales by volume.
Which are the biggest markets internationally for Mahindra Auto?
We’re present in markets like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, South Africa, Chile and several other markets. I don’t have numbers since I handle only domestic, but it’s a growing opportunity for the future.
Regarding partnerships - how has the deal with the SsangYong Motor Company worked? What went wrong with Renault?
It’s worked well. SsangYong has been launching some new products, including its latest offering, the Tivoli. They’re launching new products that are being received very well by their customers.
About Renault, I wouldn’t like to comment. That’s the past and we’re focusing on SUVs right now, and we’re number one. That’s where our core lies.
Any challenges you foresee in the Indian auto-market?
The biggest challenge is that everyone is hoping for growth. There are so many players in the market, with everyone just hoping that interest rates go down, economy starts growing and consumer sentiment will become positive. That’s what everyone is hoping for. We are sort of cautiously optimistic while looking at the future because the economy needs to start peaking at a much higher rate. Once that happens, everything else falls into place.
What is Mahindra’s annual ad spend and the strategy behind your advertising?
We don’t reveal numbers, but I believe our advertising is adequate. We advertise smartly. Our marketing strategy is not only about our TV advertising. We do a lot of print, digital and social media advertising too.
We also have lot of on-ground events. On the SUV side, we have the Mahindra Adventure initiative. We do one-day off-roading ‘great escapes’ to multi-day expeditions. These expeditions include from Delhi to Leh, Ladakh and back. We also organise ‘escapes’ from India to Bhutan and back. We have an experiential marketing strategy.
Then, on the commercial vehicle side, we have an activation strategy, especially in the semi-urban and rural markets. Here, we do a lot of road shows and programmes where we leverage the synergies of Mahindra group companies. For example, we may have a big Gramin Mahotsav, where we display our tractors, pick-ups, two wheelers and also have a Mahindra Finance counter to help people buy those products.
With all this on-ground activations what’s the BTL-ATL split?
It would be roughly 60-40 biased towards ATL.
How much of your ad spends would be on digital currently? How is it changing?
Of our total media spends, digital would be around 15 to 20 per cent. We are very strong on digital. We have around 17 million fans on Facebook across our various brands. For the Scorpio alone, we have 3.3 million fans. So, there’s a community which is thriving and people want to be associated with our brand and what it stands for. We promote our events on these pages, and people talk about what they like about the it, etc.
We’re also very big on YouTube. All our videos put together have crossed 40 million views.
The third thing in our digital and social media is the innovations we do. At the last Auto Expo we did the Google Street View. Along with the Google team we got people to literally walk through the Mahindra Pavilion and see the vehicles on display. This allowed us to expand to people who were not only in Delhi. That was a big hit for us.
We keep doing contests on social media, because our focus is on generating buzz and engagement. It’s no longer about collecting more and more likes.
The other thing that we have, that none of our competitors have, is Anand Mahindra. He’s an active member of Twitter and social media. That’s a big advantage for our brand.
How has the Mahindra Rise campaign impacted the automobile segment?
Mahindra ‘Rise’ is our core philosophy. It is what we are and what we stand for. There are three pillars of Rise – Alternate thinking; accepting no limits; driving positive change. The core is driving positive change in the lives of our stakeholders, consumers. We do this using alternate thinking and accepting no limits. How this fits into our business can be explained with examples of two big ad films we’ve rolled out recently.
First, was the ‘Live Young, Live Free’ brand campaign. This connects totally with the ‘Rise’ philosophy. It shows a very aspirational lifestyle our customer can have, which is enabled by our SUVs. It is in a sense driving positive range in the lives of our customers by accepting no limits. You don’t need to worry about roads and it’s a call to action.
If you look at our ‘Takdeer badal de campaign’ for our commercial vehicles, it’s about progress in life. We show how our Mahindra commercial vehicle can help you progress in life. It helps you earn money and drives positive change.
Rise is our core purpose.
(This first appeared in the 20 March issue of Campaign India)