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great cars. Numbers are flowing and newer models are keeping the interest alive. So, what next? If automotive trends are to be interpreted, then the current one is a massive across-the-industry brand-building exercise. Making the customer happy goes much beyond making good vehicles. So if Hyundai has an \u2018Always Around\u2019 campaign, Maruti does it with special \u2018brand stores\u2019 similar to what Bajaj and Royal Enfield have done for the two wheelers. Honda is taking their worldwide approach of safety-with-environment- friendly to India as well. While India\u2019s biggest two-wheeler company Hero Honda builds its brand image with emphasis on the green steps it has taken in its production.
How far will the companies go to woo their existing and potential customers? What are the schemes that add real value and what are plain fanciful? Do consumers really like the perks or are they just happy with a good car and good service? We answer all these and more.
Along with leading sales figures, Maruti Suzuki is also leading the brand image race in the most logical way - with more dealerships and service stations. The company already has about 2,600 authorised service stations and dealers in over 1,200 cities. With its aim of touching 1 million annual sales by 2010, Maruti has gone on an overdrive and intends to increase the service network to 3800 and dealers to 1700.
While that is a nationwide move, Maruti has also been busy with schemes aimed de- mographically - like the Mera Sapna Meri Maruti: New Pan- chayati Scheme last year that was aimed at rural markets, one of the biggest segments in the country, with special discounts and financing options. With most of its sales coming from small cars, and Maruti being universally popular for its low-mainte- nance and easy to run cars, the scheme makes sense.
The urban market is trickier. Afterall, there is no dearth of showrooms or service stations of other brands. So, Maruti has now come with unique brand stores or Mega Showrooms. These will be unique - for one, they will be the first
company owned display-only showrooms in its two-decade history. For another, they will span thousands of square feet of prime real estate and showcase not just the existing 11 models, but the forthcom- ing ones as well. So if you got see the Splash, A-Star, Kizashi etc only at auto shows till now, pretty soon, they will be at a Maruti Mega Showroom. The first of these showrooms will appropriately be in South Delhi.
With aggressive marketing the order of the day, we just might see a Maruti Suzuki version of Toyota\u2019s Megaweb in Japan that is complete with driving simulators, test tracks, future technologies, the company\u2019s most famous models etc. The funda of the exercise is simple. \u201cIf there are people coming here and seeing the menu of Maruti Suzuki, it makes them inter- ested,\u201d as Shinzo Nakanishi, managing director of the
point with its Miles & Smiles rally for i10 and Verna users. The participants were briefed on fuel efficient driving practices. Then all of them tanked up at the nearest Indian Oil pump, IOC being one of the co-sponsors. The tanks were sealed, trip metres set to 0, odometre readings noted and the rally flagged off. At the end, the one who had used the least fuel for the 110 km-long run, was declared the winner.
Then there is the innovative Always Around campaign. How about getting your car checked and serviced while you shop for your weekly groceries or even while you catch a flick at the mall? And what if it is all free of cost and done on the spot, rather than
at a service station? That is what Hyundai is aiming to do with its second edition of Always Around. By December 2008, the company would have reached 3,000 locations and 60,000 Hyundai owners. As Hyundai\u2019s senior general manager, Service, B. Mani said, \u201cAlways Around is an effort to reach out to the customers long after they have purchased the car. It is yet another op- portunity for us to make our customers feel \u2018Special\u2019. This campaign aims to give our customers a little more attention and a lot more care and going that extra mile to show them that we value them and they are really important for us. It is an effort at continuing and sustaining long term relationship with our customers.\u201d
In an attempt to go the Honda way, Hyundai also got mileage when they gave a Hyundai Tucson to environ-
mentalists T. Srinivasa Rao and R. Gnanasekaran to go on a planet-wide crusade to raise awareness on global warming.
Another mass market player,Ta t a s is now gearing up to extend its network in a massive way to get ready for the Nano onslaught in October. As an added benefit, they also had the free summer check-up for Tata vehicle owners in March this year that included free check-ups es- pecially of parts that are critical for summers like air conditions and electricals, repair discounts and expert advise from Original Equipment Manu- facturers of air conditioners, fuel injection systems, batteries and auto electricals.
niversary recently with the Cashless Ownership Offer - where the company would take care of labour costs, parts for all services and mainte- nance and running repairs for
three years or 45,000 km. This along with its plans to increase its network to 125 sales and 135 service outlets across the country should pull in some numbers.
While the players in the numbers game aim at the \u2018common man\u2019, the premium car manufacturers take the high road. They aim to dazzle their customers and potential buyers with swanky, state-of- the-art showrooms and service centres. Visit theBMW dealers, Deutsche Motoren, on Mathura Road in NCR Delhi. The 45,000 sq ft is ev- erything that BMW cars are - stat-of-the-art and packed with luxuries as well as the latest technology. Over 35,000 sq ft has been devoted to service bays, body shop, a unique exhaust emissions management systems and an electronic diagnostic centre to programme the car\u2019s extensive on-board
computers. Not just your car gets pampered, but you can relax at the luxurious VIP lounge, complete with a bar and a massive LCD television hooked up to a B&H audio system. Peter Kronschnabl, president of BMW India, who inaugurated the facility in December said that it had been designed by the moth- ership, BMW Munich.
Getting onto the display- only showrooms, BMW will also inaugurate its studio at Janpath in Central Delhi by June this year. The 3,000 sq ft space will be used to display all BMW India\u2019s offerings - Series 3, 5, 6, 7 and the X3, X5 and X7 SUVs. You will also get a preview of its models intended for India in the future - the MINI and Rolls Royce brands.
Then there is theA u d i showroom in Gurgaon, the largest luxury car showroom in the country. Taking a cue from BMW, Audi has used German furniture, Japanese lighting, Australian flooring and Italian tiling to make the 13,000 sq ft showroom truly world-class. With 65 employees manning the sales and service fronts, it is a one- stop-shop to take in the complete Audi experience.
Their German counterpart, Porsche too, has done a spin on its international showrooms in both Mumbai and Delhi. With its distinctlyP o r s c h e elements, the 3,000 sq ft Mumbai showroom has an un- mistakable Porsche environ- ment with transparent design and Porsche corporate identity elements as seen globally. The sales team has a special task of also advising customers on the individualisation of their cars with Porsche Exclusive.
Among the two-wheeler manufacturers, even though catering to bigger numbers, only Bajaj and Royal Enfield have cashed in on innovative marketing initiatives. Rein- venting itself as the maker of sports and enthusiasts\u2019 bikes,Bajaj has opened Pro- biking showrooms in Pune, Delhi, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Navi Mumbai. These slick showrooms will have no run- of-the-mill executive class bikes. But instead showcase the cult bike, Pulsars and Bajaj imports, KTMs.
Similarly, Royal Enfield has made use of the fact that it is more an enthusiasts bike rather than a commuter one in its showrooms. You can
learn about the various Bullet clubs in the country, know about the big Bullet trips - Delhi to Leh, Northeast, The Konkan highway etc.
largest bike makers, is now waking upto the concept of special showrooms and plans to start a new retail chain format to enhance its brand status.
The effectiveness of marketing and brand building exercises are only as good as the number of people they reach. While some people that we spoke to were skeptical of the quality in a \u201cfree\u201d check-up, others thought the idea of display-only showrooms was interesting enough to visit once atleast. For premium car owners, the swanky comforts were more matter-of-fact for the price they pay.
\u201cI haven\u2019t used the special check-ups but I read about the rally they held for i10 and Verna. I would have liked to try it out on my Getz as well, but that wasn\u2019t possible. My wife regularly uses Hyundai\u2019s pick-up and drop facility,\u201d says Ramesh, a merchant navy engineer from Chennai.
Anthony T, a media profes- sional in Delhi, says, \u201cI missed the Auto Expo. But I think the Suzuki Kizashi is really cool. When their special showroom opens here, I will probably go over to check it out. There isn\u2019t much to know about the current cars, but their inter- national concepts\u2026 those I want to check out.\u201d
Girish T, a software engineer in Bangalore, on the other hand says that free check-ups \u201care a waste of time. I get my Indica serviced regularly, and there are just too many people at the free check-ups. Infact, I try to avoid going in for repairs or service when they are happening. The mechanics are all busy attending the free camp and it\u2019s painful waiting around.\u201d
But when a swanky show- room of a premium car opens, some people atleast walk in for the experience. Like Mala Chandreashekar in Bangalore who visited the Volkswagen showroom because \u201cI used to pass by the place when they were doing it up everyday. When it finally opened it looked so swanky I dropped in to check out the place rather than the cars.\u201d
networks is definitely good news to many, especially from remoter regions. Namita Punjkaran, a veterinarian in Manali who owns a Maruti Suzuki Zen hopes that Maruti will open an authorised service station in Manali and stock it up well with spares. \u201cCurrently, I have to drive all the way to Mandi 100 km away to get spares or any decent service,\u201d she says.
Selling cars is no longer a matter of putting them in a white room with windows. That is why newer ways of doing it has become an art form. You can check out Maseratis hanging mid air, win a Ferrari in a casino in Las Vegas, walk down Wall Street to pick up the latest WSJ and a BMW, take a Toyota for a spin in a specially-prepared test track in Japan, check out an Aston Martin in a bank vault in California or catch a glimpse of the latest Audi release on a big screen in Munich. The idea is to enhance the brand image,
Eddie Sotto, who calls himself an \u201cexperiential designer\u201d is the brains behind some of the most innovative car showrooms in the world today. His Sotto Studios was responsible for setting up the Ferrari Maserati dealership outside the casino at Steve Wynn\u2019s US$ 2.7 billion hotel in Las Vegas. The idea was simple - anyone could win a Ferrari. Those who hit the jackpot in the casino, walk out and collect their Ferrari at the dealership. Lesser winners can go home with leather acces- sories or even spare parts. But the idea became such a rage that they had to impose a US$10 entry fee to manage crowds.
BMW discovered that the best way to sell was to go where their customers are. So, you can spot a rare BMW deal- ership in the middle of Wall Street - ideal to catch the attention of brokers and bankers. Audi has followed up the successful European adaptation of kiosks as Audi
Forums with one on Park Avenue at 47th Street, as elite an address as you will get in New York. For variety on Park Avenue, you will also find Mercedes/Maybach and Ferrari Maserati showrooms.
Another Sotto inspiration is the Aston Martin showroom in LA, California. Inspired by the James Bond theme (remember Bond always drives an Aston Martin?), the deal- ership is designed as an Aston Martin vault. The cars are given individual \u2018bank vaults\u2019 that are entered with special cards and finger print readers.
Called Club Aston, it is a private club inspired by Bond. Bond music plays when you enter the plush circular room. Complete with a bar where you can play around with colours on your favourite Aston while nursing a drink. You can kick back with a book and at the end, place an order for your car. Receiving your car is the best part - you are invited for a party of sorts with your friends and family and a fantastic colour light show finally unveils your car - in a
In Europe, Maserati\u2019s show- room in its headquarters is a stunning creation by Ron Arad, an Israel-born architect. The biggest highlight of the showroom is the futuristic loop with the complete Maserati model line-up displayed mid-air, including some of its historical models!
The big daddy of auto promotional space is, of course, the Toyota Megaweb. Sprawling three building, it has every Toyota passenger car in the market, including the Lexus. You can get into any of them and try out the interiors. Better still, you can take it for a spin on the Megaweb\u2019s 1.3 km test track (a mere 2.6 US$ gives you two laps around the track). You can even ogle at the legendary Toyota race cars, go green with the Hybrid Wonderland and get a glimpse of classics at the History Garage.
Even hopping buildings is done with \u00e9lan with eCom Ride, a self-propelled electric commuter car that runs on an elevated track. Toyota has even planned something for the kids (a 150m course where they can pedal a motor- assisted cart) and older kids (Gran Turismo 4 on a massive Mega Theatre screen. And there are the inevitable restau- rants and gift shops where you can load up on Toyota goodies.
If that were not enough, Toyota has now embarked on a unique proposition. The Tressa Indoor Shopping Mall that was opened on March 27 this year in Yokohama is one big Toyota showcase. The walkways are strewn with the latest Toyota models and even the shopping carts look like cars. Toyota\u2019s MOBIRO robots - one playing a violin - are also on display and Toyota says some of them might soon be assisting you in shopping!
Since cars have to be reached to the consumers the new ag- gressive marketing strategies, not just in India but also in- ternationally have proved effective. Time only will determine for the final sales figures. But innovative pre- sentations are definitely garnering more attention. For the consumer, it means a more appealing display and services of his favourite cars.
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