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Bajaj stretches the Pulsar effect

With eight models under its name, Pulsar is Bajaj's most hard working brand. Besides three launches in quick succession this calender year, Pulsar's sales volumes grew 5 per cent to 6.31 lakh in 2014-15 as against 6 lakh in 2013-14. This is even as two-wheeler industry volumes grew by 2.5 per cent to 10.74 million units from 10.48 million units, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM). But the company wants more: it wants Pulsar to prove that a single brand can straddle different price points and tap into different markets without diluting its positioning, value and relationship with customers.

Earlier this year Bajaj Auto launched not one but three new models under its Pulsar brand. The launch of RS 200, AS 200 and AS 150 was done after a three year hiatus to take the number of models under Pulsar up to eight. Pulsar now has the biggest portfolio under one umbrella brand; Discover has five models while Platina has two.

What has made the company place so many bets on one brand? And is it possible that Pulsar could go the Discover way, which is fighting to get its positioning right after multiple launches drove consumers away?

Rajiv Bajaj, managing director, Bajaj Auto outright rejects the premise that Discover did badly because it launched too many models too fast. It was a communication failure, he believes, that led to Discover's downfall. As of last financial year, sales of Discover, with less than 125cc engines, plummeted 56 per cent to 4,29,299 units as against 9,85,610 units sold in 2013-14.

Bajaj said, "With Pulsar we first started with the 150 and 180. It did well, in fact it became the market leader. Then it became 200, then 220, then 135. No problem anywhere. So it is proof that a brand does not get into difficulty when there are multiple SKUs (stock keeping units)."

Managing the brand image
The one thing that Bajaj did right with Pulsar was that it never advertised the cheaper models. This strategy is unlike the one adopted for Discover when the company decided to come out with a 100cc variant to challenge Splendor and Passion, which were in the same category, from market leader Hero MotoCorp. "There is one mistake we did with the Discover in terms of positioning which we have not made here (with Pulsar). In the 14 years of the brand with the exception of one print campaign we have never advertised the Pulsar 150. It has always been 180. Because a Hero Honda CBZ since 1997 and a TVS Fiero since 1999 existed before we brought the Pulsar 150. We always advertised the bigger one (be it) 200, 220, AS and RS", added Bajaj.

Through its advertising, the company reinforced the image of Pulsar 180 as a sporty, performance-oriented brand, which it has been consistent with through all its campaigns. Interestingly, despite the fact that the Pulsar 150 is not advertised, it remains the largest selling model for Bajaj followed by the Pulsar 180. Bajaj may have taken a leaf out of the marketing book of German heavyweight Mercedes-Benz where it promotes the E Class more than the more affordable A Class.

Strategising the extensions
The objective of the multiple launches is to expand Pulsar's reach and to position Pulsar as a brand straddling different segments across varied price points. Consider its launches this year, for instance. While the racing inspired RS 200 is targeting the young buyer, offering an alternative to the Yamaha R15 or Honda CBR150, the AS 200/150, are touring bikes suited for long rides, pitted against the Yamaha Fazer.

Some of the existing Pulsar range, best-sellers like the 150 and 180 got mid-life facelifts last year. There are at least two more Pulsars - Pulsar 400 SS and 400 CS - coming up in later months. Like the others in the stable, the new models will help the company pitch itself to customers at different price points while retaining the promise of the Pulsar brand.

Learning from the past
"The good thing about Discover was when we introduced it in 2004 it was just above Splendor and Passion. And people said to themselves by paying Rs 1,000 more I can move up in life. After the success of the Discover we tried to enter the M2 segment by making the Discover 100. It became more about mileage. The reason for difficulties of Discover is not too many or too few Discovers, it is because of the dilution in its position from being a fun to ride 125cc bike to becoming another 100cc mileage bike", said Bajaj. Consumers were left confused with the positioning after the brand straddled 100cc to 150cc segments with a variety of derivatives and models. This resulted in a free fall of volumes sold.

"All successful brands try to create more sub-segments and enlarge. I don't see any proof that by introducing more variants you create a problem for yourself. Discover tried to straddle multiple positions it tried to be 125cc bike which was an alternative to 100cc bike. It also tried to be 100cc bike which everybody buys. You can't be both the things", Bajaj added. Now that is one road that Pulsar will not be going down.