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Who will be No 2 is the million dollar question

RL RAVICHANDRAN | Updated on January 23, 2018 Published on August 27, 2015

Activa

The Splendor

Hero and Honda are way ahead in commuter bikes and scooters and there appears to be no strong challenger in sight

By now, it is a well known fact that Hero MotoCorp is the undisputed leader in India’s commuter motorcycles segment. Its former ally, Honda, likewise is the innovator and clear leader in the second largest segment, scooters.

So far, so good. Now, can Hero extend its reach and claim to be the clear No 2 in scooters? Likewise, is this true for Honda in commuter bikes? Bajaj Auto and TVS Motor would clearly disagree with any such view and this is where the dynamics of the country’s two-wheeler become even more interesting.

Unshakable hero

The regular entry level commuting bike segment contributes to 57 per cent of the 15 million two-wheelers sold annually. This makes it the largest product category which attracts first time buyers seeking basic commuting needs in everyday use.

For customers here, the top priorities are fuel efficiency, ease of riding, adequate comfort levels for two adults and, finally, reliability. These people will typically opt for a highly popular brand as they are largely risk-averse.

This is where Hero makes the cut easily as the undisputed leader in this segment with decades of proven reliability in its Splendor, Passion, HF Deluxe and Glamour models. In the first quarter of this fiscal, it had a 65 per cent market share.

This segment is projected to do business of around eight million units in 2015-16. It is also the toughest to crack and every rival brand has played different strategies and fielded various products over the years to snatch market share from Hero.

Honda, the original technology partner for Hero, is a distant second with around 15 per cent share generated by its Dream and Shine models while Bajaj is rapidly closing in at 14 per cent share in the first quarter of this fiscal with its Discover, Platina and the re-launched CT100.

The balance eight per cent in this commuter segment of motorcycles comprises a clutter of brands from TVS, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Mahindra. Thus far, the ‘silver bullet’ is yet to be discovered by any brand to challenge the leader.

Moving on to scooters, they have emerged the best option in convenience thanks to auto gears and ability to offer multiple uses for the family. Scooters are also seeing a growing level of women riders in most Tier 1 cities with this trend now replicated in Tier 2 regions as well. The segmental shift and growth in scooters is steady yet growing significantly in cities and this is what is helping Honda expand its penetration.

In this segment, the leader is the one who has created the ‘convenience and comfort’ riding culture with features like power, reasonable fuel efficiency and top-class reliability. Honda clearly is the inventor and segment leader with over 58 per cent of the market share in Q1 of this fiscal.

Rivals’ race

In the commuter segment of motorcycles, there is a strong possibility of Bajaj claiming the No 2 slot with the renewed focus of CT 100 and Platina. For the moment, Honda is marginally ahead but the tailwinds are stronger for Bajaj.

As for scooters, the runner-up slot keeps changing. In Q1 of this fiscal, TVS emerged No 2 with significant gain in the last year. Its Jupiter, Scooty series and Wego accounted for 15 per cent share in this segment closely followed by Hero with 14 per cent. It will be an interesting race between TVS and Hero to claim the No 2 rank. With the conspicuous absence of Bajaj in scooters, other leading brands like Yamaha with its fashionable Fascino, Ray and Alpha and Suzuki with its stylish and powerful Access 125 are expanding their presence.

The scooter market is growing and now accounts for 28 per cent of two-wheeler sales (from last year’s 27 per cent) with annual estimated sales to be over 4.5 million units. Will TVS or Hero eventually claim the No 2 slot by the end of this fiscal? The next three quarters will see a lot of action in this interesting tug-of-war.

Normally it is said that no one knows clearly who the No 2 is in any field. Hopefully this should not restrain the top challengers in their pursuit to topple the No 1 player in each of these segments, be it Hero or Honda. The market is expanding but this is a different ballgame and not comparable to marketing case studies like the Cola war or television’s TRP based leadership. If the brand is not the inventor of the segment, the challenger brands have to keep running to stay where they are.

Perhaps it is timely to recall car rental brand Avis’ famous line: “We are No 2, we try harder”. This is a 50-year-old tagline, which has now been changed. But it holds out good lessons for all challenger brands. To quote Avis: “Consumer-centric brands must always evolve in order to keep pace with ever-changing customer needs and preferences.” (Courtesy: Adage)

Challenger brands in their own interest have to dig deeper into consumer insights, trend spotting, and consistent consumer connect in the current digitally-connected scenario through product differentiation, reach etc.

By the end of the day, there is nothing wrong in being No 2 but the difference should be a clear No 2 and not merely by chance.

The writer is Chairman, Mind in Motion, and can be contacted at rlr@mindinmotion.in

Published on August 27, 2015
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