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‘Datsun brand will evolve over the years’

Murali Gopalan | Updated on January 09, 2018

Global Head of the brand, Jose Roman, says patience is the name of the game

It has been a little over six months since Jose Roman took over the reins at Datsun.

The brand, which was revived after 27 years by Nissan Motor in 2013 as an entry-level car for emerging markets, has not really set the sales charts on fire. In India, it is only lately that the redi-GO has been notching up some numbers but there is still a long way to go.

And this is precisely the point Roman is attempting to drive home during our interaction at the recently held Tokyo Motor Show. “Customers in emerging markets are totally different from what you would see in developed countries. This calls for different solutions,” says Nissan Motor’s Corporate Vice-President and Global Head of Datsun Business Unit.

Emerging markets

Roman also reminds you that he knows that he is talking about given his experience in emerging markets. “From my point of view, the Datsun brand has a lot of power and heritage,” he insists. Beyond this, there are many other things which become important in emerging markets like after-sales.

“In emerging markets, a car is a big investment for the customer and completely different from the US and Europe where it is like buying a refrigerator,” says Roman. “After all, you have been saving money for five years to make this a reality and need to go in for something good and reliable.”

Most emerging markets are also huge be it Brazil, India or Russia. This explains why a long-term strategy is imperative where companies need to develop the business, brand and service over a period of time. “Obviously in India, I think we will take time to develop the brand and it could be two to three generations of the product,” he says.

By the end of the day, continues Roman, this is the way a brand is built and if someone thinks to the contrary and “believes it can be done in three years”, they have got it completely wrong. “You need generations of products that deliver the message of quality and service to customers,” he says.

Eventually, this is going to be “a long-term fight”, especially when one has to consider that emerging markets also go through their cycles of ups and downs. Nissan is now preparing for the second generation of Datsun products that will be launched in due course. These will be “nicer” and help penetrate more markets.

Third-gen Datsun

“I would like Datsun to be a brand of 4,00,000 units or half a million cars by 2023 where India will take a big place in addition to Russia and Indonesia,” says Roman. “The emerging markets are going to grow rapidly during this timeframe, which means that the sky is the limit.”

The team is already thinking of the third generation Datsun, which is only logical given that “you cannot think of markets like India for the next three to fiveyears but 15 years”. After all, this is only inevitable when it involves a huge population and diverse preferences for a car.

“The Datsun brand will evolve over the years and I am thinking of bigger things,” hints Roman. “You cannot be confined to a segment as a brand given that there are passenger cars, pickups, crossovers and I am visualising all the possibilities.”

He does not subscribe to the view that the progress thus far with brands such as the GO and GO+ reflects a wrong strategy. It is his belief that all this is part of a curve where companies need to learn and adjust in emerging markets, which throw up a host of new surprises.

“I like what we are doing but want more because we know we can deliver more,” he says. “This is where the second generation Datsun is critical and I am happy with what is being readied.”

Challenges in India

The other thing about a country like India is accessibility to a dealer network, which is a challenge given its size. “It is actually a continent with many countries within where you need to address the dealership issue,” avers Roman. The coming months will see a “big evolution in distribution”.

In addition, technology will be another key area of focus, especially in India where youth is constantly seeking connectivity. The Datsun chief then tells you how similar customers are across markets. “I am familiar with Ecuador, Brazil, Venezuela, Japan, Mexico, India and Russia where car buyers have more or less the same expectations,” he says. “I would think 70 per cent is common and 30 per cent different.”

This is also true for Datsun where Chile gets its cars from India, thousands of miles away. Thus far, the brand is present in over a dozen markets with new ones being explored. India, though, is the “main country” and will be the source of ideas for customers in other markets. With its size, it also offers better growth prospects than many other parts of the world.

“India has the potential to do much more and could be a source of bigger business for us,” says Roman. “You have one big, strong player (Maruti Suzuki) and shifting the balance will take time. You cannot think short-term in emerging markets.”

The Datsun chief knows what he is talking about considering that he has worked in these regions for 20 years. They have their “good and bad times” that is only a reminder that short-term planning does not work.

“This is where strategy and smart investments matter, especially thinking long-term,” says Roman. “You need to understand what customers want otherwise you are dead.” This is where the next three generations of Datsun are critical to get into “a higher dimension” within the mindset of the customer. “As a brand, you will have to be an important part of his mind and this is a long game,” he says.

From Roman’s point of view, Datsun boils down to being “a beautiful brand and a dream for any marketeer” with its heritage and image. It is only a matter of time before it can deliver and flourish. “I am focusing on all these aspects without being arrogant but I am confident about the future,” he says.

Thinking long-term is also pragmatic since the youth of today will become more affluent in a decade from now by which time the brand will have evolved even better. In markets like India, these also include a large mass of two-wheeler riders who will want to graduate to an entry-level car. This is where the Datsun story will hopefully kick off in right earnest.

Published on November 16, 2017

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