Ashok Leyland banks on new launches to stir up flagging CV market

Nitin Seth, executive director, & V Sumantran, vice-chairman, Ashok Leyland, with the Stile The Hinduja Group-owned commercial vehicle manufacturer and the second-largest truck maker, Ashok Leyland, has not been able to avoid being hit by the slowdown much like its peers. But it stands out in planning a slew of launches to infuse some buyer-interest back into the brand. It is about to launch the Boss, which is an intermediate commercial vehicle (8-15 tonne), based on a platform of its Czech subsidiary, Avia, and expected to secure 20 per cent of the market according to the company.

The Chennai-based company had earlier joined hands with the Japanese auto major Nissan to launch LCVs in India. The first launch was in September, 2011 - that of the small commercial vehicle, Dost - which now has a customer base of over 55,000 in the country. The latest from the JV's stable is Stile, a multi-purpose vehicle (MPV), in the form of a van. More LCV launches are expected before January 2014 - the Dost Express, a 13-seater passenger vehicle by October-end, followed by the Dost Ambulance by November-end and a 6-tonne Partner.

Vice-chairman V Sumantran says, "We are sure these products will create excitement among customers and will help in our sales," mentioning that the company will target selling around 500-1,000 units of Stile every month.

In recent years, Ashok Leyland took up brand-building as a veritable part of its strategy. It started by signing the skipper of the Indian cricket team, M S Dhoni as ambassador, and then moved on to change the look and feel of dealerships, nomenclature of its new launches and leveraging the social media. Sumantran says, "We are not an old elephant now, this elephant can dance and is more dynamic, responsive, progressive and proactive."

To modernise its look, earlier the company did away with excess information accompanying its branding, and opted for a simple white board, with big blue letters.

With the new set of launches, led by its Nissan JV, it is now keener to modernise its branding, not to mention its connect with an increasingly miserly consumer set, that analysts predict will continue in the same vein for some more quarters to come.

For its range of LCVs, it is taking to the social media. But more importantly, it is not foregoing the one-on-one interactions with prospective customers for products which are decidedly much lower in ticket size than its usual bread-and-butter segments in commercial vehicles.

"We are building relationships one on one. So, while I may or may not go heavy on full-page advertisements or TV commercials, my focus will still be on how will I build the brand connection with the customers one-on-one for the LCVs," says Sumantran.

Sumantran mentions that the parent's brand has had a positive effect on the LCV business, with customers in its new markets such as Chandigarh and Ludhiana evincing confidence in the products due to the core brand's association. Sumantran credits the brand ambassador's connect in the north with bolstering the brand in those parts.

The company launched Stile, an MPV for private and commercial use in the form of hotel shuttles, taxis etc. last week. It is based on the NV 200 platform showcased by Nissan in the Tokyo Motor Show in 2007 that was chosen to be the next New York City cab, on which Nissan's premium Evalia is also based.

The MPV segment is estimated to be around 43,000 units a month. At the higher-end (around Rs 12-15 lakh), there is the Innova (from Toyota), the Aria (Tata), the XUV 500 (Mahindra) and the Safari Storm (Tata). In the Rs 9-12 lakh bracket, there is the Evalia (Nissan), the Tavera (GM Chevrolet), the Xylo (Mahindra) and the Scorpio (Mahindra). The lower-end (less than Rs 9 lakh) is populated by the Enjoy (Chevrolet), the Ertiga (Maruti Suzuki), the Sumo Gold (Tata), Rhino, Bolero (Mahindra) and the Grande (Tata). The Stile is priced between Rs 7.50-9.30 lakh.

Sumantran bets "a 50 per cent better mileage and a price tag that is less by Rs 3 lakh than the nearest competitor" as the Stile's differentiators.