Four-wheeled cheetah

Four-wheeled cheetah

Last Updated: Sun, Jun 24, 2012 19:51 hrs

Car maker Mahindra & Mahindra changed the Indian sports utility vehicles market when it launched the Scorpio around a decade back. Its ambitions were no less magnanimous, fuelled on by the decision of going global, when the company launched its latest SUV model, XUV 500 (to be pronounced as five - 0 - 0) last year, which is No 5 on our list of top launches for the year 2011.

The idea originated about four years back, when the initial brainstorming around the car first began. It began with mainly a two-pronged vision: it wasn’t going to replace the iconic Scorpio; it would be a premium car, catering to the high-end SUV buyer segment. And would reflect the ferocity of a Cheetah in its design.

The decision wasn’t random but one that reflected carefully analysed customer insights, key amongst which was their expectation of a car that was “aggressive” as Pravin Shah, chief executive - automotive division, M&M explains. “The result is a clutter breaking, inspiring and aggressive design. It is unique and yet reflects the M&M DNA in reliability and ruggedness,” says Shah.

Design may have been the mainstay of this M&M pet project. But it did not ride on looks alone. The car was positioned as the ultimate all-rounder, a perfect blend of style and functionality. It also walked the extra mile for its target audience that is always wanting and waiting to be spoiled. Features like touch-screen entertainment and mood lighting in the car were the answer.

The trump card was the pricing strategy. With a price tag ranging between Rs 11.5 and Rs 13.5 lakh, it put a comfortable distance between itself and competitors like Honda’s CRV, Toyota’s Fortuner, Ford’s Endeavour and so on (priced upwards of Rs 15 lakh). The brand claimed for itself the sweet spot, where possible sedan owners wish to upgrade to an SUV but didn’t have feasible options. That explains in part the market share (41 per cent) that the XUV 500 captured in the high-end SUV segment over a six-month period (September 2011-March 2012) since its launch.

The company however did not focus on either of these aspects (functionality or the price) in the campaigns that preceded or followed the launch. The focus was sharp. It was always about the design and the overall car experience. For instance, the pre-launch social media campaign was aimed at creating excitement about the product but didn’t talk about its features and create unnecessary expectations. Various online activations asking users to guess the car’s name or price, revealing the car’s look in parts created buzz around the launch.

The television campaign also followed a similar strategy. The teaser campaign and even the launch television commercial both used the cheetah as a metaphor for the XUV 500, highlighting the speed, masculinity and agility of the car. Even the theme-based campaign that followed refrained from going down the familiar path in automotive advertising, usually speaking either about speed or fuel efficiencies. Instead, the commercial brought out the personality of the car and its owners. It spoke about how interesting people have interesting stories which will always be heard. And naturally driving the XUV 500 will put you in this class. Hence the subtle, ‘May your life be full of stories’ tagline. This has even been extended to the digital medium with customers uploading their own videos with their stories on XUV 500’s YouTube channel.

Apart from the regular print, television and digital campaigns, M&M invested in elevating customers’ every encounter with the brand. So, be it streaming the launch of the car live, accessible globally or providing the customers a state-of-the-art showroom experience or providing buyers with special club memberships or giving them relationship managers who served as their one point contact, it was all there.

Mahindra’s strategy has worked. The company already has 19,000 cars plying the roads. When it opened all-India bookings on June 8, within a week the company had 13,000. There is a demand and the company is ramping up capacity to meet it. Currently, the production capacity stands at 4,000 cars a month, with plans of taking it to 5,000 by October this year as per Shah.

XUV’s 500 alpha numeric name has also attracted much attention. At one point the company had said that it not only creates excitement but also allows room for the possibility of higher or lower variants, say an XUV 400 or XUV 600. The future could just as well be there.

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