A rally for fun

Written by John Sarkar | Malabika Sarkar | Malabika Sarkar | Updated: Feb 21 2010, 03:58am hrs
Along the French Riviera in the south-east region of France, the Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo takes place every year. Since its inception in 1911, this rally, under difficult and tough conditions, was a great way to unravel the potential of new automobiles. Winning it meant a lot of credibility for the car and its maker.

Almost a century later, despite a sea change in motorsport, the objective of a rally still remains the same. In India, however, it is taking on a brand new shape. In contrast to popular motorsport events around the world, where participants are professionals, rallies here are increasingly being tuned to gratify the needs and desires of car buyers.

For instance, every year, utility vehicle maker Mahindra and Mahindra (M&M) organises around eight to ten motorsport rallies around the country. There is one being flagged off in Jodhpur this weekend. Called the Mahindra Great Escape these are non-competitive events. Existing customers of M&M are invited to join in for a day or two of dune bashing or mud plugging at various locations. The route is chalked out carefully to reduce the possibility of a vehicle getting damaged. We prefer to call it an adventure, says Vivek Nayer, senior VP, marketing, automotive sector, M&M.

The company expects the positive buzz created by word of mouth publicity, social media and online forums to rub off on its brand image. Most of our events are overbooked and we are getting requests to organise the Great Escape from as far as Sikkim now, says Nayer. He attributes the proliferation of rallieserradventures such as these to the changing lifestyle of the Indian consumer. He is no longer satisfied going out for a movie during weekends. He is bold, restless and wants something different. For us its a great way to engage our customers and dealers, Nayer explains.

Hindustan Motors, which has tied up with Mitsubishi Motors here, organised three full-size rallies last year. The Pajero Heart in Mouth started in May in Chandigarh. The second one was in Bombay in September and the third one was in Jaisalmer in December. The criterion of participation was clear from the start. Only existing Pajero customers and special invitees were allowed to take part. And during the last leg in Jaisalmer, the organisers invited the top 25 CFOs of the country. There were no winners, points out Pritam Saikia, head of marketing at HM-Mitsubishi Motors.

Everyone took home gifts ranging from BBQ grills to car accessories.

The second rally organised by the company in 2009 was the Great Driving Challenge and it was done mainly to create a buzz around the Mitsubishi Cedia sedan. A top prize of Rs 10 lakh saw participants covering 3,000 km in 10 days during which they shared their experiences through videos, blogs and updates on various forms of social media.

Raj Kapoor, VP of Northern Motorsport, organiser of rallies such as the Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm and Raid de Himalaya, feels that pseudo motorsport events such as the ones mentioned above are not too bad for the sport in the country. There are perhaps a lot of people out there who might not be ready for extreme events such as the Raid. They might like to engage in something a little more toned down, he says. According to him, these events expose more amateurs to the sport, and some among them might even think of taking it to the next level in due course of time. And in hindsight, carmakers are leaving no stone unturned to make this happen.

Maruti Suzuki India, the countrys largest carmaker by sales, has been hosting the Raid de Himalaya, the mother of all rallies here, for almost 20 years now. Over the years, the company has added more such events such as the Maruti Suzuki Autocross to its annual calendar to egg on fresh participation. Says Shashank Srivastava, chief general manager, Maruti Suzuki India, While the Raid De Himalaya and Desert Storm have extreme categories meant for professional drivers, they also have the non-competitive categories for amateurs. About 11 years ago, the Raid the Himalayas had only 16 participants. Last year, it had more than 150 participants. Even in the Desert Storm rally, which was flagged off from the capital last Sunday, the number of participants is around 250.

Srivastava feels that the Indian consumer today is younger and wants to experiment. By younger I dont just mean younger demographics but also younger psychographics, he explains. According to him, Maruti Suzukis communication strategy has also changed in terms of content and the platform of communication, with increased spends in the digital media. According to industry experts, the basic cost of organising a rally like the Raid de Himalaya is around Rs 2 crore. The cost of leveraging it is extra. Though its an open event, around 90% of the vehicles participating in the Raid are made by Maruti Suzuki.

But Kapoor of Northern Motorsport feels that unless there is more involvement by other automobile manufacturers, the chance of this branch of motorsport growing is bleak. The development of motorsport in a country is directly proportional to the growth of its automobile industry. We havent seen this happening here so far, he says.

Does that explain why the price of a single participating car in the World Rally Championship is around Rs 5 crore, while organising the biggest rally here sets the organiser back by a mere Rs 2 crore