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Honda to power up the brand list with 4 launches

June 14, 2017 16:43 IST

It kick-starts rally with the Africa Twin motorcycle; three more launches slated for the year

Two-wheeler major Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India (HMSI) is looking to leverage its understanding of the Indian two wheeler market with four brand launches in 2017-18.

With this it hopes to build upon its strong lead in the scooters segment and reduce its gap with market leader Hero in the motorcycles segment. Two motorbikes with the Africa Twin, being the first one (1000 cc) in July, and two scooters are set to roll out from the Honda stable in the course of the year.

Apart from the fact the second bike could be in the 200-300 cc segment, the company refuses to divulge any details about its future models.

However given that its objective is to plug all the gaps in its portfolio and expand its brand footprint in India, experts see the year unfolding as one where Honda steps into niche segments and leverages the brand’s pull among young urban commuters to break into the older age group and non-urban markets.

The idea is to strengthen the brand in India, already HMSI’s top international market for two wheelers. Minoru Kato, president and CEO HMSI, who took over in April, says that India contributes around 30 per cent of the overall Honda’s global sales. “Still we can do lot more in the country,” he adds.

Kato’s reference is perhaps to the motorcycles market where former partner, Hero, holds the leadership position. At present, the Indian market sells more scooters than motorcycles and draws a large number of brands into its fold.

In scooters, Honda is the market leader with 63 per cent share of the segment and Activa as the flagship brand.

Activa is the company’s most successful model till date; it sold 312,632 units in 2016-17 and is leagues ahead of its next competitor (TVS Jupiter, 58,527 according to Society for Indian Automobile Manufacturers or SIAM).

While Activa’s popularity has been attributed to its gearless facility and the rise in the number of women riders on the road, HMSI has always positioned the brand as a family scooter and has also launched an extension of the brand (Activai, 110 cc). The other two brands, Dio and Aviator are aimed at the young single on-the-move commuter.

Honda has been the beneficiary of changing customer perceptions about scooters in the country. With more women riders, the choice of a vehicle is no longer the preserve of the single male member according to industry experts.

Also there are multiple riders in the same house and they look for a vehicle that can be easily used by everyone. The next step for any brand would be to explore the niches that are left out of the major customer block and to leverage the brand’s recall with different age groups say experts.

“My personal view is that we have enough in the commuter segment, but each product needs to improve. We also need to focus on other segments (higher cc products),” says Kato.

The company last strengthened its portfolio in 2015-16 with 15 new models, in the 110cc, 125cc, 160cc and one in 650cc motorcycle market.

At the time it had set its sights on young customers with sporty products like Livo, CB Shine SP, CB Hornet 160R and CBR 650F.

The Africa Twin is aimed at an older age group, 35-45 years, HMSI says. “We have a good response and so far the company has 50 bookings for the vehicle,” says Yadvinder Singh Guleria, senior vice president, sales and marketing, HMSI.

Guleria says that the new product is being positioned as a rival to high-end bikes such as the Harley Davidson, Trumph and others. The leisure bike segment is still a very small percentage of the overall two-wheeler market in India, but companies perceive a high value in associating their brands with the segment.

Guleria says that the objective of launching the Africa Twin is to showcase the company’s technology and create a better skill set within the organisation.

This is all part of the Mission 2020 goal, the year the company hopes to make India a manufacturing hub for its developed and developing markets.

HMSI plans to open 400 new touch points, of which around 70-80 per cent will be in rural areas. The company wants to take the total points to 5,700 by March 2018.

A new campaign around the Africa Twin has been planned and promotional activities are being stepped up at all touch points. Currently the company has a campaign for Activa 4G on air.

The company’s distribution and marketing thrust was to carve a separate identity for itself after it split with Hero Motors in 2011.”The market has started identifying the Honda brand now and it is visible in the increase in market share,” says Guleria.

HMSI’s two-wheeler market share in 2010-11 was 13 per cent, of that the scooter market share was 43 per cent, while in motorcycles it had only seven per cent.

In April 2017, Honda’s overall market share was 18 per cent. While in the scooter segment its market share was 63 per cent, in motorcycles it was 18 per cent. In the months to come, the motorcycles segment is likely to see an advertising blitzkrieg as the company pushes promotional offers to build market share.

In the scooters segment, the challenge will be to ensure that the brands reach new geographies and appeal to different age groups.

T E Narasimhan in Chennai
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