India's largest car manufacturer Maruti Suzuki has launched a major new national advertising campaign for its mainstay car, the Maruti 800, which is aimed at converting some of India's huge two-wheeler population (estimated at more than forty million) to car purchase.

The Maruti 800 - based on a 1980s generation Suzuki Alto - is the cheapest car in India and commands an overall market share of over twenty percent in the Indian market. This is the first advertising campaign for the 800 in many months and an important one as Maruti is aiming at expanding the A-segment - where the 800 is the sole player.

A recent market research exercise conducted by Maruti revealed that a vast population of two-wheeler owners in India wish to convert to cars but stay away because of the high prices. Average two-wheeler prices in India are around INR 38,000 (approximately US$840) while the Maruti 800 costs around INR 190,000 (approximately US$4,195). The research revealed that most two-wheeler buyers felt that the cost of buying and maintaining a car was too high, even when the car was purchased under bank finance.

Maruti's new ad campaign is aimed at highlighting the low monthly payments possible under the finance packages now available on the 800. The company says that if a customer buys an 800 then they have to make a down payment of about INR 30,000 (approximately US$662) and the rest can be paid through monthly instalments of around INR 2,599 (US$57), spread over seven years.

The company hopes that the campaign will hit the spot with two-wheeler customers and reverse widespread misperception over finance packages and especially the size of monthly repayments (many incorrectly perceive the Maruti 800's monthly repayment under standard finance packages to be as much as INR 4000 (around US$88).   

The large-scale advertising campaign appropriately termed '2 se 4' (from 'two' to 'four') is one of the most ambitious from Maruti in recent times.

The campaign is a pan-India multi-pronged programme with two new TV spots highlighting the aspirations of average middle class families and how easy finance scheme can help achieve their dream of owning a car.

These TV spots are being highlighted during the highly watched ongoing India-Pakistan cricket series.

Print advertising is also part of the campaign with the monthly repayment of INR 2,599 on finance from the State Bank of India (Maruti has a tie-up with SBI - the largest bank in India) being the highlight. 

The campaign extends to the use of billboards (across 66 cities in India) and mobile vans in metropolitan areas carrying the same message. The company has also planned events by dealers in high two-wheeler density areas.

Maruti claims that since the start of the campaign, enquiries for the Maruti 800 have grown by more than eight times at Maruti Customer Response Centres.

The Maruti 800 is the largest selling car in India with an overall market share of more than twenty percent. It was first launched in 1983 and since then has been Maruti's bread-and-butter car with a high percentage of the company's profits being accounted for by the car. It has long been speculated that the model faces replacement, but it has continued to defy those predictions and lower excise duties applying to car purchase, coupled with Maruti's State Bank of India finance tie-up, appear to have given Maruti's entry-level model a new lease of life. 

Deepesh Rathore / Tilak Swarup


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