Aishwarya Ramesh

"With less travel, OOH becomes more important; people will notice more": Vivek Srivatsa, Tata Motors

A chat with the head – marketing, passenger cars, Tata Motors, on safety, marketing challenges and the road ahead in a post-COVID world.

Tata Motors has launched its premium flagship SUV – the all-new Safari. It is now available for purchase at a starting price of Rs 14.69 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi) for the 6/7 seater variant. With a long format ad that shows a contrast between a corporate life and that of a traveller, the company has announced the launch of the all-new Safari with the tagline 'Reclaim Your Life'.

The new Safari variant includes features such as all disc brakes and electronic parking brake. It will be available in nine variants. In a press release, the company states that SUV is the fastest-growing passenger vehicle segment in India.

The release claims that the company has seen an increase in SUV sales, resulting in a growth of 20 per cent YTD when compared to the same period last year. The release also claims that the company has successively made over 23,000 unit sales every month since October 2020.

Furthermore, in Q3 FY21, the PV business of Tata Motors posted its highest sales in the last 33 quarters. The release mentions that the rising demand can be attributed to the BS6 range, which was launched last year.

Over a Zoom interview, Vivek Srivatsa, the head of marketing in the passenger cars division of Tata Motors, reveals that the company had to phase out the Safari Storme a year-and-a-half or so ago because of regulations. Tata Motors was not keen on the gap between the phase out of an old product and the introduction of a new one. But because of COVID, the company faced a gap in the launch timeline. The company decided to launch it now, keeping the saying 'better late than never' in mind.

"We brought back the Safari in its updated version. It continues to be our flagship model in product hierarchies and the kind of technology it delivers."

Vivek Srivatsa
Vivek Srivatsa

When asked about the challenges he faced as a marketer because of the pandemic, he reveals that the biggest one was to keep the brand in the minds of the customers. "If you recall, in April 2020, buying a car seemed to be the least of people’s priorities. And, keeping an auto brand on top of mind for consumers at a time like this was, indeed, challenging. We had to stop focusing on selling and more on building awareness around wearing masks, using sanitisers, etc."

Srivatsa tells us that the media mix will undergo a change post-COVID. "We’ll be focused more on digital, in terms of media and experiential marketing. Social media and online reputation management becomes more important. Being seen on a screen – whether it’s a mobile phone or a TV or a laptop, becomes important."

He theorises that COVID brought about this fear of physical media consumption and that newspapers may not be a relevant medium for the car brand, going forward. "OOH will remain important. With lesser travel, OOH becomes more important because when you go out, you tend to notice these things more. It doesn’t become a blind spot."

Srivatsa mentions another challenge. The company also had to get the customers back into its showrooms. And, to do that, the company had to take safety measures to give the consumers the confidence to step in again.

"Test driving a car has also changed because it’s a high contact point in the showroom. The biggest change that COVID brought about is digitisation. Today, you can sit at home and do practically everything. The traditional means of going to a showroom and checking out a car is changing. This includes using platforms like virtual reality, augmented reality, etc., so that the customers can view the entire car from the comfort of their own home." He adds that digitisation also saves time, money and is more convenient overall.

According to Srivatsa, the element of human safety inside a vehicle has also become very important. He adds that COVID has brought around greater awareness on safety and the fragility of life among the consumers.

"If you go back five years, we had something called a new car buyers survey. Interestingly, the top five reasons to buy a car did not feature safety at all. Global NCAP testing for cars rates the safety of cars off the assembly line. COVID has accelerated the need for safety and right now, four out of five cars have the NCAP rating."

He adds that working from home has also changed priorities in a consumer's mind. "All of a sudden, people don’t have to go out as much and they'd probably be more focused on getting a more comfortable workspace for themselves or how to achieve work life balance, etc. It was a challenge to make auto, as a sector, relevant to the audiences at this time. Fortunately, people now are also realising that travelling in their own cars provides for a much safer way to commute."

Once the first phase of Unlock began, Srivatsa recalls, there was a surge of communication from all the brands and the challenge was to maintain their so-called 'differences'.

However, that's not the only challenge. Petrol and diesel prices have hit an all-time high. Srivatsa agrees that the high cost will definitely make people think twice about purchasing a car.

"The way around this is to create more fuel-efficient cars and possibly moving to electrification. That completely circumvents the need for fossil fuel altogether. Tata Motors also has options for petrol and diesel cars and the latter are a lot more fuel-efficient. This can soften the blow of the fuel price increase, in that sense," Srivatsa signs off.

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