Branding on race tracks, the Tata Motors way

Four years ago when Tata Motors first floated the idea of a truck race, few thought it would be more than a friendly assembly of enthusiasts around the racetrack. But as the third season of the Prima T1 truck race gets underway on March 20, the company's annual show of strength and speed is turning into a giant branding jamboree. Not only has it brought in international attention for premium brand, Prima, but it is also driving buyers to look at its trucks differently.

R Ramakrishnan, senior vice president (Product strategy and planning and customer value creation), commercial vehicle business unit said, "Our international business is hitting almost 500 a month and domestic business is also hitting 500 a month now. Domestic sales three years back was hardly 100 units and international had not even started. The leap that Prima is making in brand identity and technology is huge."

Prima, Tata Motors' flagship truck brand has seen sales go up, albeit marginally, since the time the race began. In 2012-13 (before the races) Tata Motors MHCV sales stood at 125,455 and in the current financial year (April-February) sales are at 125,586. Growth has been slow primarily because of an industry downturn. Also the Prima is an expensive vehicle (Rs 24.63 lakh) and hence sales numbers are not too huge.

However, the impact of the race on the brand goes beyond sales numbers says the company. Ramakrishnan said, "Back then in the face of global players we were successful but a traditional player. We would give out an image of a third world technology." It was important to break this image, especially because this was when Daimler commercially launched its heavy duty truck range, Bharat Benz in India. Daimler challenged the dominion of Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland - the two together controlled 80 per cent of the market at the time.

This was when Tata Motors floated the idea of an annual truck racing championship to be held at the Noida-based Buddh International Circuit (BIC), the venue for Formula 1 races. Such races are popular in Europe but, in India, it was an unheard of concept at the time. Tata Motors saw it as an inexpensive way to engage with the trucking and dealer community. "Compared to any European competition the Prima T1 is 15-20 per cent cheaper," said Ramakrishnan.

Branding on race tracks, the Tata Motors way When Prima was launched in 2009, it helped created a brand for the company's trucks for the first time. "It made Tata and Prima look very different from the conventional image," added Ramakrishnan. But it struggled to make a big dent in the market. By the time the race was launched, the company was struggling to push Prima deeper into the domestic market where it competed against well-known brands like Volvo, Daimler, MAN, AMW and Scania.

Today the truck attracts orders from across the world. The sales run rate of the brand has shot up significantly, the company says, over the last two years. "International distributors were impressed by what the Prima could do. They went back and placed orders and we are now getting repeat orders," said Ramakrishnan. This year, the championship has a total of six teams.

Castrol Vecton, Cummins, Dealer Daredevils, Dealer Warriors, Tata Technologies Motorsports and Tata Motors Finance will do their turn around the tracks. The event has 12 international racers for the first time and 17 Indian racers as well.

The race is also changing the way buyers look at the entire range of trucks from Tata Motors. "The race is a proof of reliability, durability ruggedness of the product." The market reported a growth of 32 per cent in the April-February period this year with sales of 227,224 units, as per data shared by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers. Tata Motors during the same period and in the same segment reported a rise of 27 per cent at 125,586 units in domestic sales. The company has 55 per cent of the market currently, of which Prima constitutes a small percentage.

"South Africa, Middle East, Korea are areas where the Prima is running successfully. The numbers will come but the image, more importantly, is changing," added Ramakrishnan. In the future Tata Motors wants to participate in international races and is exploring possibilities of a race for Ultra or Ace in India. The dust on the Noida race tracks is unlikely to settle down for some years to come.