Snapshot – Selling cars in India is a black art. Why, ask Vincent Cobee, the Global Head of Datsun, and who has just gone on record to state that “India is a very complex market to understand“. Oh, yes. A marketer’s nightmare, India is more akin to a continent than a country in terms of the sheer diversity it serves up, North to South and East to West. In a country whose cricketers and movie stars are accorded demi-god status, even celebrity brand endorsements, in many instances, have failed to boost demand for certain cars. We take a look a five of them today, and we have plenty more in store.
Force One & Amitabh Bachchan
The Force One began life as the Ford Explorer, and the Chinese promptly copied it. The Guangdong Foday Explorer III was born. Keen to enter the thriving SUV market of India, Force Motors promptly went ahead and brought this sports utility vehicle here, and rebadged it the Force One. The Indian automaker even got a certain Amitabh Bachchan on board, to endorse its flagship product. The SUV’s German genes, despite being limited to the drivetrain, was also proudly proclaimed as the “Daimler connection”. Yet, the Force One is a rarity on Indian roads. Even with Mr. Bachchan promoting the vehicle, the SUV remains as elusive as a snow leopard in the wild.
Fiat Palio & Sachin Tendulkar
The Palio hatchback spearheaded Fiat’s comeback into India. Though the car instantly became a driving enthusiasts’ favourite, it never quite managed to set sales charts afire, not even with cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar urging you to drive one home. Fiat even made use of its Tendulkar connection to roll out the S10 range, a 600 unit run of the Palio with the master blaster’s signature on the hood, canary yellow paint, et all. Why, a Palio was even gifted to Sachin Tendulkar, and was widely publicized to make full use of the celebrity connection. Nothing worked. Make no mistake, the Palio was a great car, from introducing India to ride-by-wire on the 1.9D diesel variant to being the first 100 Bhp hatch through the GTX version. However, systemic lapses at Fiat never really did justice to this car, Mr. Tendulkar’s brand endorsement notwithstanding.
Mahindra Verito & Jimmy Shergill
As soon as Mahindra began rolling out the Renault Logan as the re-badged Verito, the automaker engaged the services of Jimmy Shergill, an Indian actor, to endorse it. A high voltage marketing campaign, with Jimmy Shergill playing a middle class man who brooked no nonsense was launched. However, the car failed to take off as expected and Mahindra had to adopt the same tactics that the Mahindra-Renault joint venture once employed with limited success – going after fleet sales. Now more recognized as a taxi cab than a family car, the truly no-nonsense Verito sedan is in desperate need of new imagination, and that isn’t forthcoming as Mahindra has larger tasks to expend its energy over.
Fiat Punto & Yuvraj Singh
The Punto is yet another Fiat built like a vault but ironically with enough chinks in its armour to end up with lowly sales figures. Yuvraj Singh, a cricketer best remembered for his big hitting and match winning abilities, was roped in to endorse the car. Curiously, very little marketing with Yuvraj as the Punto’s brand ambassador made it out of Ranjangaon, which had its own issues to sort out back then, most famously the Tata-Fiat failed joint distribution venture. Even though Yuvraj hit a crest in terms of his performance by being instrumental in bringing the 2011 World Cup back into India, Fiat was too busy putting its house in order, to really capitalize on the Punto-Yuvi connection. Even a facelift hasn’t really given the Punto the legs it needs at the hustings. That, says it all.
Chevrolet Aveo & Saif Ali Khan-Rani Mukherjee
Back in the day, the Chevrolet Aveo was usually one of the last vehicles a C-Segment sedan buyer would consider while car shopping. General Motors India wore its thinking cap and came up with this – Let’s get the Aveo sedan to feature in a bollywood movie – one of the many ways to reach a mammoth audience instantly. Saif Ali Khan played failed-racer-turned-taxi-driver in a movie called Tara Rum Pum (pronounced just the way you read it). The movie was forgettable and amid the bedlam, the Aveo was resigned to become yet another also-rans, in a market that just doesn’t tolerate sluggards. Even a CNG-petrol variant introduced later in the Aveo’s life cycle couldn’t turn things around for the car.