Uplift, upgrade,relaunch: Two-wheelers tweak offerings to stay relevant

Honda was inspired by the success of its Unicorn 150cc motorcycle to launch a new version with a 160cc engine, but it failed to grow overall sales
Periodic and timely interventions are critical to building a healthy and powerful brand. One of the explicit manifestations of these is longevity and sustainability of the brand. In recent times a majority of the product categories, particularly two-wheelers, have seen their ownership cycle reduce drastically. Over the past decade, the average ownership of a two-wheeler has come down from 10 to five years. In order to drive sales and stay relevant, manufacturers are continuously working to refresh and extend the longevity of a popular parent brand even as they woo consumers with new launches.

“It is the need to stay relevant that drives brands to evolve its offerings. Many more positive outcomes like creating conversations around the brand and attracting new consumer franchises are equally important goals of such interventions,” says Aniruddha Haldar, V-P, marketing (scooters), TVS Motor Company.

A number of players undertake brand revamp, vehicle upgrade and at times relaunch select offerings to ensure a popular vehicle continues to enjoy a longer product life cycle and has a positive impact on the sales volumes and bottom line of a company.

TVS has managed to widen the scope of one of its key offerings, TVS Scooty.

TVS Scooty was for long synonymous with female mobility. Taking cues from social media conversations of its target audience (TG), TVS realised that the female riders were looking for greater power and pickup. This led to the launch of TVS Scooty Zest 110 with the best power-to-weight ratio in its class. TVS also went on to introduce the Himalayan Highs — a special edition TVS Scooty Zest 110 commemorating a 21-year-old girl triumph on the highest motorable road with a TVS Scooty.

Haldar says the launch was in tune with the young TG’s search for “authentic experiences”. Scooty sales have picked up since.

According to Sumeet Narang, vice-president, marketing (motorcycles), Bajaj Auto, any attempt aimed at increasing the shelf life of a product has to be seen as an opportunity to lift the sales volumes significantly. Therefore, a new variant or upgrade comes about as a result of a needs gap or a problem that needs to be solved. One could also be looking to create and tap into a new TG with a new variant.

For Bajaj, Avenger has been one of the best selling brands for the last 10 years. Building further on its success, the company re-launched Avenger in 2015 in two variants — Street and Cruise. The two variants cater to two different kinds of customers. Avenger Street 220 and 150cc are sportsters and more city amenable while, Cruise 220cc appeals to people who love open roads and long leisure rides.

According to Yadvinder Singh Guleria, senior vice-president, sales and marketing, Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India, any bid to extend the life cycle of a product is determined by factors such as how successful the parent brand has been, to what extent its core values can be amplified and the enhanced value that a revised version can deliver to the customer.

A product upgrade or relaunch comes with a lot of risks. Launched in 2004, Honda’s CB Unicorn 150cc was doing good business with monthly sales of about 20,000 units. Inspired by it, Honda decided to extend the brand and launched the motorcycle with a 160cc engine with new look and design. In the process, it discontinued CB Unicorn 150cc. But the new variant failed to grow the overall sales for the brand which hovered around 15,000 units.

Luckily, because of an emotional connect with CB Unicorn 150cc the company continued to receive a lot of queries for the original brand from west and south India. Honda relaunched CB Unicorn 150cc and continued with CB Unicorn 160cc too, since it had invested significantly in the model. Today, both models collectively sell 25,000 to 30,000 units per month. Guleria says Honda has had more success with product relaunches or upgrades than failures.

Honda has kept up the momentum, with as many as 50 brand extensions for one of its largest selling scooters, Activa. Launched in 2001 and with a monthly sales average of 250,000 units, the two-wheeler continues to charm buyers with the 4th generation Activa 4G.

Bajaj’s Narang points out that the key challenge with extending the life cycle of a parent brand is determining the quantum of change that one wants to carry out. Cosmetic changes fail to excite customers. And if the changes are big and too visible they may confuse buyers who seeking the assurance of a trusted product. The only way out is to carry out meaningful changes to the brand while staying true to the core value of the product.

A company has to be equally mindful of managing the complex supply chain and retail network. This is so because retailers have limited space and unlike others two-wheelers are not low-ticket products which can be stocked easily. Each model has variants. And each brand needs a differentiated retail environment to lure buyers.

  • An uplift, upgrade or relaunch of a product has to contribute to overall sales to boost company growth
  • Companies have to be careful to ensure the extension of a popular parent brand does not end up overshadowing new launches

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