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‘Yamaha faces huge local rivals in India’

MURALI GOPALAN | Updated on January 20, 2018

Masaki Asano (centre) with Roy Kurian, VP, and Bollywood star John Abraham at the launch of the MT-09 at the Auto Expo

India sales chief Masaki Asano says the company needs to take one thing at a time

Masaki Asano has been with Yamaha for nearly 35 years which includes stints in Indonesia, Vietnam, Portugal, Italy and Latin America.

Yet, as the Managing Director of Yamaha Motor India Sales readily admits, India is a completely different ballgame. In all his previous assignments, competition largely meant Honda. “Out here, there are huge local rivals in the form of Hero, Bajaj and TVS apart from Honda. I have never faced anything like this before and it is a big challenge,” he said in a recent interview.

Asano moved to India in early 2013 and has seen enough to realise that it is going to be a long haul ahead for Yamaha. “We have to work very hard since our market share is barely five per cent. Simply put, this means that out of 100 customers, only five want to buy Yamaha,” he says.

Yet, the upside is that India offers enormous potential as the world’s largest two-wheeler market whose production could exceed 20 million units by the end of this decade.

Most other traditionally strong ASEAN countries like Taiwan and Indonesia are seeing slow growth. What does this mean to Yamaha which now has to grow quickly beyond five per cent in India?

“It is very difficult to achieve 15-20 per cent but I am optimistic about the future especially with a strong team in place to continue our brand and sales strategy,” says Asano. As he puts it, the most pragmatic option is to work out a timetable, spread across three decades in order to achieve the objective.

“It is important to focus sharply during the first 10 years, then for the next 10 and finally another decade. It is not easy but we just have to work hard during these 30 years,” says Asano.

The journey has, of course, already begun with Yamaha spreading its basket of products to keep in line with customer requirements.

Blazing new trails

The good news is that it is a brand that is now easily identifiable with sports bikes thanks to the success of the FZ series and R models which have given it a strong identity in this segment. The next task is to create another product category where Yamaha could again blaze a new trail and this is where the Fascino is expected to play a key role.

According to Asano, this scooter makes an important fashion statement and is one of a kind in India. Sure, there are some rival European models but the Fascino is different in that it is “made in India for India” with no production facilities elsewhere.

As in the case of the FZ, the Fascino has the potential to grow as a brand especially when scooters are a rapidly growing product segment which already account for a third of two-wheeler sales. “We created a new Yamaha world with Fascino and will now have to do something else with another model. This is part of the (three-layered) 10-year strategy,” says Asano. From his point of view, Yamaha can comfortably leverage its global product portfolio for India. It also puts in perspective why the company believes it can strike the balance as a brand that offers both motorcycles and scooters. “Eventually it is the customer who decides what we make and we need to listen to his voice very carefully,” adds Asano.

Long-term planning

Yet, there are some practical obstacles that crop up as a result of offering a large menu. “When I ask the customer what Yamaha is about, most of them reply saying it is a sports brand in motorcycles. I also want to hear more about Yamaha scooters and need to improve its awareness,” he says. Likewise, there are contemporary commuter bike brands like the 125cc Saluto and this is where rural India becomes critical to spread the message.

Globally, Yamaha is now attempting to position itself as a manufacturer of personal mobility solutions which go beyond bikes and scooters. The Tricity three-wheeled scooter is one of these initiatives and has already made its debut in Japan, parts of ASEAN and Europe. Whether it makes its way to India is the million dollar question.

Going forward, Yamaha’s next big challenge is the world’s most affordable motorcycle which is scheduled to roll out of its Chennai plant by the end of this fiscal. Asano and his team will have their work cut out as Yamaha steps on the gas and entrusts greater responsibilities to the Indian arm.

Published on April 07, 2016

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