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Atul Gupta, Vice-President (Sales & Marketing), Suzuki Motorcycles India
Atul Gupta, Vice-President (Sales & Marketing), Suzuki Motorcycles India

Atul Gupta, Vice-President at Suzuki Motorcyle, on the challenges of being a young player in a new market

Atul Gupta, Vice-President (Sales and Marketing), Suzuki Motorcycle India, has over 25 years of work experience, twenty of them having been spent in the two-wheeler industry. Gupta spent 11 years with TVS, where he rose to head the sales division, and before moving to his current assignment in 2007, he played a senior role in sales and marketing at Yamaha Motor India. He even had a stint at Hutch (now Vodafone). At Suzuki, one of the youngest companies in the two-wheeler sector, Gupta is charged with the challenge of creating a distinct identity for it in a volume-driven, crowded market with well-established players and strong brand loyalties.

Gupta studied mechanical engineering at Regional Engineering College, Kurukshetra, and management at Faculty of Management Studies, University of Delhi. He owns a superbike, Suzuki’s Hayabusa, and zooms up the expressway on weekends. He is also passionate about cricket.

My most memorable marketing initiative

Signing on actor Salman Khan as Suzuki’s brand ambassador. It is the most eventful, most promising and most successful one until now.

Suzuki was one of the last entrants in two-wheelers in India. Therefore, it is important to differentiate ourselves in a highly competitive market. In a cluttered market, you need to spend a lot of money.

Salman is probably the first brand ambassador in Suzuki’s history. It’s a big leap in Suzuki’s way of marketing. The world over, the brand is known for its racing bikes, and in India, for scooters. We launched the Hayate motorcycle with Salman in April. We are selling 10,000 units a month now.

My first product launch

When TVS launched Scooty in 1994, it was my first exposure to a product launch. The South India-based TVS wanted its products to be popular in the North, and so launched it there as scooters were a big market in that part of the country. The work for a launch starts 6-8 months ahead, and you need to plan for what happens after the launch as well.

A great idea that never took off

At Suzuki, we launched the 125 cc Slingshot. It was supposed to be a ‘Suzuki ride’ concept bike, a Suzuki ride being comfortable, pleasurable and non-taxing. We didn’t do very deep-rooted marketing. We didn’t take it to ground level but marketed it at ideal conditions. And coupled with some product issues, it didn’t do too well.

My marketing idol

Nobody. Not in marketing. I learnt a lot about field selling from S. R. Somasundaram, my boss in TVS for about four years.

Where I get my insights from

Talking to people. I don’t read. My only way of acting and reacting is by talking to and observing people.

How B-school helped in my career

Till engineering, life was all about doing well in studies. In B-school, it was everything but studies. In engineering, I was “very studious”. In management school, they said “he does nothing”. In engineering, I said nothing. In B-school, I only interacted with people. Sales and marketing was not a planned field in my career. B-school helped me with the interactions, meeting people and discussing ideas with them.

Challenges FOR the two-wheeler industry

The two-wheeler industry is getting polarised.

It was a demand-led industry 30-40 years ago. All the companies collaborated with Japanese partners and technology came into the picture. By the mid-’90s, motorcycles accounted for 80 per cent of the two-wheeler market. Then in the Nineties and early 2000s, the collaborations began splitting up, there were Japanese players and Indian players in the market.

Now it’s a question of technology versus smartness. All the Japanese firms will leverage technology and the Indian ones will focus on the cost of the product, branding and marketing. The next 4-5 years will see winners emerge. Consumer comfort will win - my assumption is that whoever makes the consumer feel comfortable will be in pole position.

Suzuki’s own challenge

Suzuki is the youngest entrant. In the last two years, it has possibly been No 2 in consumer perception. It’s a trustworthy brand, here to stay and that will automatically result in more volumes. Two-wheelers have a good future for the next 20 years. The lesser the infrastructure, the greater the growth of two-wheelers.

(As told to Sravanthi Challapalli)

(This article was published on December 6, 2012)
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