Hindu Business Line: The Adventurous Indian

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Going by the number of SUV launches at AutoExpo2016, carmakers clearly think that the outdoor sporty Indian has arrived. Are they on track?

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We have heard of the argumentative Indian who, from the comfort of his or her armchair, engages in wordy debates. But are we now seeing the rise of the adventurous Indian? One who is willing to sacrifice comfort and take the rough and tough of the great outdoors, braving drives on non-existent roads to go hiking, biking and camping?

Going by the launches at the recently concluded Auto Expo, it looks like carmakers think the next big opportunity is in promoting a weekend spent driving over rugged terrain in a premium priced 4-wheel drive. Globally, automakers are launching more SUVs and trying to drive in this trend in India too.

Fun in the air

There was Japanese commercial vehicle maker Isuzu launching its gigantic D-Max V-Cross and calling it India’s first Adventure Utility Vehicle (AUV), stressing that it scored over the Sports Utility Vehicle for outdoor activities. Never Stop was Isuzu’s brand promise as it showcased its AUV, depicting families travelling with bikes and camping gear stowed in the open deck vehicle. The Isuzu D-Max V-Cross will start upward of ₹15 lakh.

Then there was the iconic brand Jeep — the original 4-wheel drive — finally announcing its big entry into India with three models, Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT. Though the company did not officially disclose the India price, indications are they will be high priced. In the US, the models showcased retail for $50,000-67,000.

“We see this segment expanding in India, “ said Jim Morrison, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Director-Jeep Product Marketing, describing how they had been watching with interest the country becoming a more SUV-centric market. “From 1.2 million units we see this market helping us to grow 2 million units between now and 2018,” he said.

A study by global research firm J.D. Power says that SUV sales in India will touch 9.08 lakh units annually by 2020 — up from 3.8 lakh units sold annually today.

A host of other auto brands, including Mercedes Benz with its GLC 300 and Hyundai with its Tucson, were showcasing premium priced SUVs with humungous wheels and peddling the great outdoor dream. Significantly, the Hyundai Tucson made its India debut as far back as 2005 but was pulled out because of poor demand. Now the third generation of this model re-enters the country, showing that the Korean firm is confident of this category this time around.

Meanwhile, Mahindra, which literally owns the adventure positioning with its fleet of macho machines, showcased its Thar Daybreak Edition — a step ahead of its earlier Midnight edition. With monstrous off-road tyres, the Thar certainly had a rugged imposing presence and the promise of taking on the most challenging of road conditions. The Mahindra Pavilion simply said Adventure.

“We have created the category,” said Bijoy Kumar Y, Chief-Adventure Initiatives, Senior General Manger-Auto Division at Mahindra & Mahindra, pointing to the number of events the company conducts to inculcate the spirit of adventure. “We do 25-26 events ranging from offroading to motosports to expeditions,” he said.

The big vehicles are here, the communication is all here; remember the Duster campaign — Adventure is just a Drive Away? But is there really as big a community of adventure seekers as the number of SUVs in the market?

“There is a trend of the Indian lifestyle changing. See the number of adventure clubs springing up here. The average age of acquisition of cars is coming down as the financing capability is there much earlier. There is a spirit of great fun in the air,” says Isuzu Motors India Senior General Manager Brand & Marketing, Capt J Shankar Srinivas. “Look at the number of start-ups coming up — that alone shows people are becoming adventurous,” he says.

But there are sceptical voices too. “The average SUV owner in India will probably take it offroading once in the entire car’s lifecycle,” says Giraj Sharma, brand consultant.

A matter of anticipation

The aspiration is there but, hey, how often do you encounter scores of SUVs with bikes loaded on them, at the city border as you do in any European town, he asks. Having said that, Sharma says even if the reality of the SUV on Indian roads is from work to back and no more, the adventure positioning taken by the car brands is not a bad one. It is no different from the one perpetuated by the Woodland brand or more recently the Myntra private label Roadster brand. “It is playing up to the desired self-image for most Indian guys — an image of a fitter guy who loves adventure sports.”

In terms of positioning, adventure is hot. And a number of brands are taking a largely anticipatory position — tomorrow, when the community of affluent Indians going hiking and camping and biking grows, the brands have to be on that road.