WagonR The Journey of a Leader

07 Sep,2011

Company: Maruti Suzuki India Ltd (MSIL)

Execution period: 1999-2010

Aim and Objectives: To establish WagonR as the market leader in the Indian passenger car

In the year 1999, the first tall boy design was launched from MUL (MSIL Udyog Ltd, currently MSIL Suzuki India Ltd. – MSIL). The product offered the Indian car buyer great utilitarian benefits and practicality along with best-in-class space and good mileage. Hence, keeping in line with the product promise, the brand was positioned as a car full of ideas highlighting the brand’s practicality and versatility. MSIL invested in a series of TVCs (television commercials) that were built on the same proposition.

From its inception, WagonR was ahead in many aspects. It was the first tall boy design and also the first to offer safety features in its class. It also was a first in offering consumers the flexibility in the choice of fuel; it gave the Indian car buyer the dual fuel option.

And while the brand has faced tough challenges over the years, it has successfully overcome them in its journey to becoming one of the leaders in the segment. A case in point was the uniqueness of the design which posed a challenge for WagonR when it was launched. The Tall Boy Design was the first in the Indian compact car segment which at that time was considered to be ahead of its times. Initially the shape took time to get accepted by car buyers. However, brand WagonR looked to create relatability with the audience in order to communicate the benefits of this uniqueness in shape and the overall value the car offered to the consumers. WagonR was positioned as India’s first Multi Activity Vehicle (MAV). This followed the roll out of two brand campaigns Challenge Boredom and Feel at Home in the years 2000 and 2001 respectively.

The Multi-Activity Vehicle positioning gave the brand some traction in terms of highlighting the product’s versatility but it was still some distance away from being relatable to the consumers. The brand slowly started getting accepted by the very rational Indian consumer. However, the brand’s potential in terms of sales was yet to be realized fully.

Being a pioneer, MSIL looked towards a product makeover and a change in stance in the way the brand was talking to its audience in order to keep pace with their needs and expectations. A new campaign was launched in 2002 Interesting People  Inspired Engineering; marking the first time any car brand tried to tap into the buyer psychographics.

A minor model change hit the roads in 2003 and successfully managed to meet the expectations of the changing consumer and addressed his needs in terms of style and sophistication. This became the inflection point in WagonRs history and the brand never looked back. Not only did the brand gain great traction in sales it also garnered high positive disposition in the consumer minds. Further research into the Brand buyers indicated that those who bought the brand were buying it after a careful research basis their needs and other market offerings. Essentially, the buyers were smart when picking the car of their choice  WagonR. This prompted the change in the positioning plank from being a Multi-Activity Vehicle which was functionally led, to a car brand For the Smarter Race, which was emotionally led.

This positioning was sustained from 2004 to 2006 till a facelift of the product was introduced. Also WagonR portfolio got a new variant in the form of the LPG Duo, during this time, marking the birth of the first dual fuel option in India. WagonR had a great ride since 2003 with sales increasing at an above industry average of 40% CAGR till 2007. (Please refer to the chart II below). WagonR became one of the industry leaders clocking highest sales in the passenger A2 segment and could assume leadership position with its pioneering stance in several aspects.

The key idea that emerged after discussion: In the rapidly changing Indian car market, there was an influx of brands coming in. By the year 2008 there was increasing competition in the A2 segment which offered more choices to the Indian consumers. The new age consumer wanted to experience superior products. WagonR, on the other hand, continued to take forward MSILs legacy of being a trusted brand. Trust and reliability were not associated with the newer players in the market. This fact won WagonR many loyalists.

However, it also became imperative for a leading brand such as WagonR to stay ahead of the competition and continue to be a pioneer brand. Also, despite the increasing competition, the brand never lost ground, in terms of sales, the brand continued to be consistent (refer to Chart II) only reinforcing the voice of the customer. Nevertheless, for a brand that achieved good numbers, and steadily rose, it was important to create a distinct appeal and imagery.

Solution: To counter the rising competition, the brand positioning was strengthened further by leveraging the leadership aspect, highlighted by sales. Therefore, the new communication plank for the brand became Smart Leader.

The brand continued to retain its core value of being Smart while confronting the challenges on the consumer front

a) To make the brand more aspirational

b) Consumer needs evolving beyond rational benefits to appeal value;

and the brand/product front

a) Contemporary offerings

b) New product launches.

It was now essential for WagonR to maintain its leadership position and the brand standing in the market by reinforcing the core brand values and sharpening its positioning. Clearly, WagonR was the largest selling car in the segment. Hence Leadership was added as a new dimension to the core promise of the brand -Smartness. The Leadership stance was extended beyond just numbers. This was also, true to its pioneering spirit. A shift was seen from a fact based leadership to thought based leadership with the intent to move to a more sustainable brand platform Thought Leadership. To reinforce this platform, MSIL did interesting outdoor activities across major cities and at airports and followed it up with similar messaging in magazines and placards.


Innovations: To further the brand assets the 3 new initiatives were deployed

1) Brand Ambassador – Shashank Srivastava, chief general manager, Marketing, MSIL, said that the target group was the middle or upper middle class families, who look for space and sound engineering, as well as buyers looking for a rational and performance-oriented vehicle. As the brand ambassador, Madhavan was seen as a geographically neutral face, and WagonR’s contemporary, pragmatic and balanced brand values were seen to resonate well with his personality.

2) Brand Mascot  Mr Wizer becomes the first mascot in the Indian Passenger Car Industry

3) Think Big Challenge  A national property created on the lines of Thought Leadership, furthering the stance of the brand as a smart leader.


Challenges and impediments: The Tall Boy Design of WagonR was the first in the Indian compact car segment which at that time was considered to be ahead of its time. Initially the challenge was to get the shape accepted by car buyers.

By May 2010, WagonR had sold 8.5 lakh cars to the Indian consumers and stamped its authority in the A2 segment. At the same time the Brand and Engineering (product) teams were aware of the fact that consumers are fast evolving with rising aspiration levels, esteem and status needs, growing demand for experience and indulgence, coupled with the fact that they were becoming more self-expressive day by day.

An all new WagonR with a complete facelift on a technologically advanced platform was conceived. Following were the findings of an exercise conducted to gauge the perception of the product in the market

1) The new car seen as a more contemporary offering.

2) The pleasure points of the old WagonR were carried forward in the new model  (Comfort, Safety, Space and Reliability) – Smart Understated Performance.

3) The key difference is in the level of detailing and finishing.

4) The additional dimension of a luxury feel was there, but, at the core it was still the Smartest Choice.

Expected key deliverables: For the launch of the ‘All new WagonR’, the challenge was to infuse newness into something one has always known. With a Full Model Change (FMC) and an all New WagonR, the marketers had the following broad objectives.

  • Retain leadership position and consolidate market share
  • Make the brand contemporary – Highlight the dimension of SMARTNESS which is contemporary and create an aspiration for the brand
  • Reinforce the brand values by building an imagery to suit the evolving consumer while making the sustainable and distinctive brand positioning to thwart competitive launches

The All New WagonR was launched with a new campaign, keeping the inherent brand associations of Leadership, Smart and Popular intact. The new campaign, the Blue-eyed boy, leveraged the popularity of the car (favourite car) and the need to build aspiration which was now being supported by the added dimension of luxury in the product.

The Blue Eyed Boy campaign highlighted the All New WagonR and announced the arrival of the new avatar of India’s favourite compact car. It also described the feeling of being the centre of attraction and adulation that the consumer experiences because of the smart choice that he has made. The Blue Eyed Boy was also a salute to consumers who contributed to making the WagonR a celebrated and the favourite car brand in the country.

Learnings: Today, India is home to more than 40 million passenger vehicles (Source: SIAM & Industry Excerpts). The Indian Passenger Car and Commercial Vehicle manufacturing industry is the seventh largest in the world, with an annual production of more than 2.6 million units in 2009 (Source: SIAM & Industry Excerpts). Naturally, global manufacturers are increasing their investments across the various automobile category to tap into the growing demand. Very evident from the fact that India has witnessed more number of passenger car brands and models in the last decade than over the previous 5 decades. The table below gives the basic segmentation of the passenger car industry.

The passenger car market in India is one of the fastest growing markets of the world, and from the car buyers perspective it’s a market which offers plenty of choices across all segments (especially A2) and a wide range of brands. Please refer to the chart I below for the sales in the overall passenger car market as well as individual segment sales.


Analysis: WagonR is the pioneer in terms of its tall boy design in its category, and getting accepted by consumers was not an easy task but it managed to do so by constantly understanding what people wanted thus refreshing its communication strategy from time to time. It began positioning WagonR as India’s first Multi Activity Vehicle (MAV) and then moved on to the positioning of For the Smarter Race to the Blue-eyed boy when it underwent a full model change thus conveying its newness yet maintaining its leadership stance.


*This case study is sourced from MSIL



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