Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Great Indian "Superbike" Dilemma

Every couple of weeks I open a newspaper or magazine in India, to see these gorgeous photographs of superbikes (like the one above), with accompanying headlines like "the superbikes are coming!" and alternately "the big bike question" (ET AutoMania, 2nd November 2006).

Enticed enough by the visuals, I end up reading the article, only to discover either:

1. The "superbike" planned by some company or the other is a 180cc or at best a 220cc (!) wannabe superbike.

2. The article interviews half a dozen top executives from Bajaj, Hero Honda, Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki about them introducing real superbikes (500cc and above), only to conclude that Indian roads (!) are not ready for these superbikes, and they will not be successful (?)

Give me a break! Being a superbike fan, I am not even going to address the first point, because you have to be daft to put "220cc" and "superbike" in the same sentence (yuck, it hurts to even say that!).

As for point 2) the conclusion that Indian roads are not ready and they won't be successful, shows either a complete lack of understanding of the market/consumer insights, a lack of guts and something lower, or simply reflects a case of "sour grapes"!

Let's consider each element of the case against the launch of superbikes in India, one by one, and see what makes sense, and what does not:

1. "Indian roads are not suited for superbikes"

- It is not about the road, silly! It is about the bike and the passion to ride one!

- Indian roads are as good or as bad as roads in Bangkok, Johannesburg, Lima, Mexico city and Rome, to name just a few. And we haven't heard them complaining, have we?

- The point is, these bikes will never be used for day-to-day-commutes to places like Chandni Chowk or Lower Parel. But they will be used for thrill seeking and statement making.

- For the thrill seekers, places like Delhi-Gurgaon Jaipur highway, the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, the Hyderabad-Secunderabad Tank Bund will do. For some, even two spins through Phoenix Mills and the malls in Gurgaon will give the desired satisfaction!

- Anyway, most of these bikes are best enjoyed at night, when the toy bikes and cars have gone home to bed, and every street becomes a super-highway!

2. "won't be successful"

- How do you define success? Compared to the 100cc, 100kmpl motor-bicycles that are consumed by the millions in this country?

- You've got to be more realistic. Even in the rich countries they don't sell as many superbikes as perhaps one Hero Honda dealer would sell in New Delhi!

Now, for my perspective, on what would help - not rocket science, but a little common sense!

1. Belief Systems: First and foremost get your own mind in order! Anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

2. Honesty: The problem isn't the roads, it's the numbers - if it does not make business sense for you, say that. If taxes and laws are killing, explain. Don't blame the roads and other irrelevant aspects. If you identify the problem correctly, you will always find relevant solutions.

3. Understanding your audiences: You have two kinds - the passionate money-bags and the passionate money-lacks.

- With the passionate money-bags, eliminate the fears (put there yourself, and by your peers) of bad roads, and sell the bikes which you have so lovingly created.

- For the passionate money-lacks, just organise the finance! I rememember, the BMW 650 launched many years ago cost as much as 3 cars at a time when people couldn't even afford 1! And when I went to a Yamaha showroom last year to see their proposed Royal Star, I was told I would have to cough up around 900,000 rupees without any chance of finance! I may be bike looney, but ain't bloody loaded, so help me out here!

India is a vibrant dynamic country. The economy is booming. And the kids here (18 to 40 year olds) are ready to take on additional financial EMIs, if you promise enough social and emotional ROI.

If this gets the wheels in your head moving, puts serious superbike plans into gear in your company, I along with plenty others will be delighted. And if you decide to give me a call to help out with the strategy, I'd be ecstatic!

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