Repositioning: The Only Way for Car Designers to Survive in a Crowded Indian Auto Market?

The Big B checks out the DC Avanti

In 1995, you would have found my friends and me literally falling over each other as we grappled to take a peek at a scrapbook of pictures that my elder brother had put together. The images inside amazed us – they were so bold, so revolutionary – and we looked on with eager, 10-year old eyes to see what the next page had in store.

Before you get any ideas, let me clarify that what we spent many Sundays looking at, was a picture book collection of cars designed by Dilip Chhabria. By putting cars that looked like the supercars we saw on TV, on Indian roads – DC broke the monotony of Indian streets for us. We dreamed of taking our Maruti 800s and 1000s to DC’s studios and driving out with a supercar.

However, with time, the intrinsic appeal of DC’s cars has waned for me and my generation. As more global auto firms began to target India with increased segment options – and as access to luxury foreign brands became easier – it became difficult for many to think of reasons why it made sense to have their cars modified to look like supercars. It is difficult to think of any 10 year old in Delhi or Mumbai today who dreams of having their cars modified to their specifications instead of just buying one from the many premium auto brands available in the country.

No one knows this better than DC himself. With the changing sea of cars getting only larger, they have had to reconsider how to position themselves to stay relevant. At the India Auto Expo 2012, DC showcased three cars. The first two were modified versions of a Toyota Fortuner and a Mahindra Thar – indicating that they see the SUV market as their best bet for car modification. But the real star of DC at the Auto Expo – the car that was unveiled by Amitabh Bachchan and had the press most excited – was undoubtedly the DC Avanti.

The DC Avanti (Rs. 24 lakhs, ex showroom) is new for DC because it aims to be their first “original” car – a car that has been entirely conceived, designed, and built by DC Design. According to Rohit Sumant, Business Development Manager at DC Design, the Avanti is being positioned as “India’s first mass production super car,” clearly indicating how they want to be perceived. DC is not only repositioning itself, it is also essentially changing its main “product” – creating mass producing cars instead of car designs.

However, this is not a strategy that is without risk. The Indian auto market is flooded with so many models – offering so much choice to consumers – that DC runs the risk of disappearing into a crowd, by starting to produce their own cars. Consumers may ask themselves if they would be excited to see another car manufacturer throw its hat into the ring. More worryingly, DC may need to consider if they will be able to compete with the much larger, more experienced global firms with their “mass produced” cars. Will putting their established image at risk to shift their product focus be beneficial to them?

But it’s not necessarily all doom and gloom for DC Design’s future. They can look at several examples of companies that have repositioned themselves successfully by changing their primary product focus – and take inspiration from these success stories. NDTV evolved from being a news production company that created content for other channels to ultimately launching, and expanding, its own news channels. Nokia went from producing rubber to targeting electronics to finally focusing only on telecommunications in the 1990s. Closer to the automobile sector, TVS has successfully made the transition from producing auto parts to becoming a market leader for producing two-wheelers.

These examples could inspire DC Design and, if they are optimistic about themselves, take this opportunity to focus on and create a new product line, to compete with the best. For the time being however, the challenges in their way seem abundant. It will be interesting to see if they can emerge as a significant producer of automobiles in India – one that re-affirms its legacy towards design while making the shift towards mass produced innovations for the future. Expansion is undoubtedly the aim of any competitive firm, but this growth should not come at the expense of letting legacy and experience fade away.

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