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Automotive brands struggle to differentiate themselves in India

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MUMBAI: The automobile industry of India has always been a favourite among consumers, but according to the recent JD Power Asia Pacific 2014 India Brand Influence and Positioning Study (BIPS), very few automotive brands in the intensely competitive India passenger-car market are able to establish a distinct position in car buyers’ minds.

In India, brands with the highest brand influence scores (on a 1,000-point scale) are Maruti Suzuki (837), Hyundai (758), Toyota (729), Honda (723) and Tata (703), while Mitsubishi (565) and Fiat (586) are amongst brands with the lowest influence.

According to the study, strong brand influence may have a positive effect on purchase intent for a particular brand, as brand influence scores correlate highly with brand consideration rates. The study also segments the market using psychographic, demographic and behavioral attributes to help automakers identify and understand who their best prospects are in the new-car market.

“Brand image and reputation have gained significant importance over the last five years for consumers in the Indian auto industry and are key purchase criterion,” said JD Power Asia Pacific Singapore executive director Mohit Arora. “Brand Influence scores measure the impact a brand has in the market, which is critical for automakers to track and measure,” he aaded.

As per the report, in the Northern and Eastern regions of India consumers in India have substantial difficulty distinguishing between many of the larger European and US automotive brands such as Fiat, Ford and Renault. In contrast, Japanese brands, such as Honda and Toyota, are able to more effectively differentiate themselves from other brands.

Despite its Japanese origin, consumers view Maruti Suzuki as an Indian brand, less modern than other brands but distinctly positioned as offering affordable and fuel-efficient cars. Similar to Maruti Suzuki, Tata is also seen as a brand primarily positioned on affordability and fuel efficiency.

Consumers in India perceive these Japanese brands to be more contemporary, offering the latest technology and engineering and perceive them to have a more global image than their European, Korean and US counterparts.  

Explaining the brand positioning, Arora elaborated, “Understanding their current positioning relative to the competition from a consumer’s perspective as well as the type of messaging themes that appeal most to a target segment helps automotive manufacturers sharpen their marketing efforts. Generally, consumers are able to differentiate more effectively on vehicle features they can see, touch and feel than on intangibles.”

The 2014 India Brand Influence and Positioning Study is based on interviews with 8,009 car owners who have owned their vehicles from 30 to 42 months and who were asked to compare two vehicle brands. The study was fielded from January through April 2014 across 30 cities in India, a period when Indian car industry was at an all time low in sales and spirit.

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