Abid Hussain Barlaskar

Chat with Shashank Srivastava about Maruti Suzuki's tech facelift

Maruti Suzuki's latest brand campaign ‘People Technology’ highlights the benefits of brand’s new and existing technologies.

A car isn’t really the first thing that pops up when one thinks of technology. But with automobile OEMs stressing on the ‘tech’ aspect of their products, this is likely to change in the coming years.

Leading auto brand Maruti Suzuki has just launched ‘People Technology’, a brand campaign that throws light on the new and existing technologies in its vehicles. The campaign highlights the brand’s seven recent technologies - Smart Hybrid, S-CNG, K-Series Engines, HEARTECT safety platform, Suzuki Connect telematics solutions, Smartplay infotainment system, and range of Automatic Transmissions.

The benefits feature in the brand’s latest ad film and are divided across categories like safety, environmental friendliness, comfort and connected vehicles.

Shashank Srivastava, executive director, sales and marketing, Maruti Suzuki India, says that the ‘tech’ factor is translating into convenience for the consumers in a way they never thought of. He mentions the Suzuki Connect, a feature which includes sensors on the vehicle that analyse the vehicle’s condition. It could be as simple as GPS being used for tracking children, or several aspects of driving - if the driver is going too fast, or using the brake too many times, or fuel efficiency.

Srivastava says that this aspect of automobiles is actually making a difference in the decision making criteria of buying cars. He reveals that there is a mix of consumers today. There are people who are knowledgeable and tech-savvy and know what technology is available. There are some who aren’t too concerned about technology. And then, there are others who ask about it because they have heard of it somewhere, but don’t really know how it affects them.

“Through our dealers and the campaign, we are telling the consumers not just about the technology alone, but how it will actually enhance their lives and makes a tangible difference. They might ask for a hybrid vehicle, but won’t know how it benefits them.”

Srivastava mentions that the manufacturers generally highlight how great the technology and its features are, but do not talk about how it will affect the consumer. “There is a disconnect there and we are trying to bridge it.”

He, however, mentions that the appetite for technology varies across geographies, product segments, pricing, and even brands. He says that features like infotainment, automatic transmission, etc., have better acceptance in bigger cities. A possible reason for this is the severe traffic congestion there.

Shashank Srivastava
Shashank Srivastava

“The penetration of auto transmission is much higher in bigger cities. A lot of people seek that convenience of driving without hassle in the congested cities.”

Again, the hilly states have different requirement from the plains. Similarly, coastal areas have a focus on the material and paint technology since the vehicles are prone to rusting due to the sea breeze.

“The consumers there are more conscious of the paint technology. You may not have that issue in Kashmir.”

We asked Srivastava if the ‘tech’ factor actually played a role in promoting the consumers to higher priced segments and get them to pay more.

"As long as you can convey the benefit of the technology to the consumers, they are willing to pay for it."

Responding in the affirmative, he says, “Technology is definitely aspirational. As long as you can convey the benefit of the technology to the consumers, they are willing to pay for it. The consumer will, therefore, stretch to access the upgraded technology.”

He, however, opines that the consumers’ appetite has changed significantly over the last several years. Srivastava says that previously, the buying criteria used to be the price. The criteria today, even for the entry-level customer, is not just price, but also technology and the benefits attached.

He says that it is mainly because of the increased awareness around technology across product categories. That is where the environment of technology acceptance has also come in. He also credits it to the improving access to automobile technology.

“I remember that in the early 1990s, even the seatbelts were not there. Technologies, like ABS (anti-lock braking system), have become the norm today. The awareness of the benefit is seeping across vehicles categories.”

Asked if innovation starts at the consumer demand end, or the company labs, he says that it is a bit of both.

Quoting Apple’s (late) Steve Jobs, Srivastava says that there are certain occasions when consumers don’t realise what they actually want. “But once you show them, they say that it is something they want.”

He puts forth the example of streaming giant Netflix, which emerged from the consumers’ desire to have control over when to watch the content.

Equating with Netflix’s scenario, Srivastava says, “The AGS (auto gear shift) feature is good for those who are learning to drive. The fact that it was extremely expensive, prevented the consumers from affording it at the early stage. When Maruti introduced AGS with Celerio, it became the norm, with other manufacturers following it.”

Speaking on tech gaining strong influence on auto purchases, Srivastava says, “We are moving towards a time when technology will become basic hygiene. Going forward, we could have connected/autonomous cars, or other technologies which seem futuristic at the moment. Currently, technologies like hybrid, S-CNG, ABS, etc., have already become attractive from the perspective of all markets.”

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