Motofumi Shitara is all smiles. The Yamaha Motor India group Chairman has just wrapped up the launch ceremony of the MT-15 in Greater Noida and is clearly in a good mood.

The teaser for the launch had a tagline, ‘The Dark Side of Japan’, which was intriguing for a bike and had people wondering what this was all about. Shitara says this is part of the effort to drive home the message of brand Yamaha standing out from the rest.

“Every time we come out with a product, we should provide the Yamaha uniqueness to customers and that differentiation is very important. Today, we launched the Dark Side of Japan that has raised a lot of curiosity,” he says.

From his point of view, Indian customers are very well informed and “will understand the uniqueness” of the MT-15. As he explains, motorcycling is now a lifestyle in India and customers are looking for models to suit their requirements.

“Motorcycle customers need a different sense of lifestyle from the routine work they do. During weekends and holidays, they need something new and unique,” says Shitara. It is here that Yamaha hopes to make a difference with its products.

It is now 15 months since he took charge as Chairman and the changes are already noticeable. According to him, till not-so-long ago, there was a different kind of communication for Yamaha models. This obviously did not create the desired impact considering that it was only the RX 100, launched over three decades earlier, which continued to enjoy top recall.

“The image of Yamaha in India was still about RX 100 and customers did not have much of an idea of other contemporary models,” he says. This perception clearly had to change and Shitara decided to go in for a complete brand overhaul or, as he puts it, “integrate totally, each model one by one under one umbrella”.

Colour coordination

Thus was born ‘The Call of the Blue’ brand campaign where Yamaha quickly set about associating itself with this colour that is also part of MotoGP. This message was extended to its employees as well as within the corporate office and factories where blue literally became the calling card across the ecosystem.

“We began promoting this image internally and on the occasion of 63rd Yamaha Day celebrations, we distributed Blue Yamaha T-shirts across our plant locations and offices,” recalls Shitara. The idea was to promote a uniform image about the brand and keep all employees on the same page while delivering the message about the company and its products to the world outside.

As the Chairman reiterates, promotion is just not the responsibility of the sales workforce but of all employees. “Everyone must provide the same answer related to Yamaha and carry the same attitude,” he says.

This was not the case till recently when there were divergent views coming in from people at the factory, sales or the corporate office. “Everyone was having different views but since I took over, I have ensured that there is just one identical view related to our company,” explains Shitara.

The new change in attitude was visible during the launch of the FZ Version 3.0 earlier this year. The sales team understood the rationale of the price tag and are able to better explain it to the end-user. Eventually, the customer needs to be convinced why a product is priced higher than competition and once they are, there is no looking back.

The efforts have paid off for the FZ. “We have started receiving positive response for the model, there is an increase in sales and I am happy,” says Shitara. Things are looking better with the R15 version 3.0, also posting twice as more numbers in 2018 compared to the preceding year and it is now among the top-sellers in its category.

“Our customers are pleased and we are able to explain to them how Yamaha is different from its competitors in terms of performance, design and quality,” says Shitara. More importantly, the reason for a premium price is also being conveyed better to the end-user.

The Yamaha India chief is also quick to acknowledge that there is stiff competition in this market as well as the constant pressure on pricing. He is confident though that the company’s products are right on top when it comes to quality and reliability. “Yamaha is different and this has been borne out by the gradual increase in sales volumes and also profitability,” he says.

Scooter plans

Shitara now wants to extend this “principle of uniqueness” to the scooter range in India. This does not mean a dramatic change in products but in the core of the advertising message. The idea is to bring in something fresh, creative and unique targeted at GenNext.

By the end of this month, there will be a new commercial/communication strategy for the Fascino. The following year will see the launch of an all-new scooter model that will be completely different in its premium positioning.

“The direction will change and the Yamaha uniqueness will be evident here too,” says Shitara. By the end of the day, stylish and sporty scooters appeal to both men and women alike.

Incidentally, headquarters in Japan had already made it known during an analysts Q&A session last year that it was gearing up to release an all-new line-up of scooter models in India “in anticipation of the introduction of BS VI (emission standards equivalent to Euro 5) in 2020”.

In a specific reply pertaining to the Indian motorcycle business, Yamaha admitted that it has been “struggling to grow our retail sales... only growing by four per cent compared with the previous year”.

Even when the scooter market growth has been high, the company’s retail sales “have only grown a little”. “We keenly understand that we need to work tirelessly to make many improvements to increase product competitiveness in this segment,” Yamaha stated in its response.

Other mobility options

Beyond motorcycles and scooters, the company is also keeping a careful watch on other potential mobility solutions in India. A beginning has already been made with e-bicycles where headquarters in Japan has tied up with Hero Cycles. Perhaps there could be other solutions like the three-wheeled Tricity hitting Indian roads sometime in the future too, though this will depend on a host of other variables.

Electric will also be a big part of the India strategy and Shitara says all possibilities will be considered. As part of its mobility mission, Yamaha Motor Corporation, Japan, has evolved a new term, ART, which stands for Advancing, Rethinking and Transforming. India could be a critical component of this new thought process though these are early days yet.

As in the case of Hero Cycles, the company could be open to other such alliances in India’s mobility space. With disruptions becoming the norm in the new global order, companies are also forging alliances to stay ahead of the curve.

It explains why Yamaha and its old foe, Honda, have come together to work on small scooters for Japan. Whether the duo will take this partnership further into areas like e-mobility is the million dollar question.