Maruti 800 – the Legacy Brand

MARUTI 800 – The legacy Brand MARUTI 800 Born: 1983 History: Launched as a joint venture between the Indian government and leading Japanese automobile company Suzuki Motor Co. The government eventually sold its stake to Suzuki. Now, the flagship brand is Maruti Suzuki India Ltd Status: Maruti 800 has a 4. 5% share in India’s 1. 5 million passenger car market and is no longer the car that sells the most in India.

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However, it was responsible for making its company India’s largest car maker Brand story: Much before Ratan Tata unveiled the Nano in January this year, India had its own unique people’s car—the Maruti 800. Introduced in 1983, it still zips across Indian roads, making it one of the longest surviving automobile brands here. Maruti 800 captured the imagination of a nation that had gotten used to expensive, fuel guzzling vehicles of World War II vintage.

A small car that was within the reach of middleclass households, the Maruti 800, or “car” as it is still known within the company, introduced a whole generation of customers to four-wheelers. Within a couple of years of its launch, it became India’s largest selling car, a position it held for almost a decade-and-a-half before being overtaken by Alto, a larger, more spacious small car from the same company. Till date, around 2. 5 million units of the car have been sold in India and 180,000 units exported.

For any brand to survive so long, “expectation and product promise should match”, says Mayank Pareek, executive officer, marketing and sales, Maruti Suzuki. “This car came as a breath of fresh air and almost immediately be came the first choice of its target consumers. It has evolved from an aspirational product to a common man’s car,” he adds. While Maruti Suzuki India Ltd has tweaked the positioning several times, the underlying theme remains unchanged—an affordable, fuel-efficient vehicle, easy to run and maintain.

It was, and remains, a car for the first-time buyer though rising disposable incomes, cheaper loans and the introduction of other slightly apsirational brands have started eating into its market share. The car, however, still remains in the Top 10 list of automobile models sold every year. Introducing new variants and facelifts—four so far—and targeting new, first-time buyers have been the driving strategy behind this.

The communication—especially the television commercials—has been aimed at getting across the value proposition of an affordable and fuel-efficient car. Maruti has targeted twowheeler owners with promot ional offers. Still profit able, it could be a key weapon for the company in the battle against the Tata Nano. “One would assume that with a fully depreciat ed plant and proper cost allocation, a Maruti 800 with a little facelift could come in at a similar price as the Nano,” says Arvind Sahay, professor of marketing at the Indian Institute of Management.

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