Last year when Hyundai India launched the Venue and MG Motor launched the Hector, both carmakers promoted these as a ‘connected SUV’ and an ‘internet SUV’, respectively. Almost equally ‘connected’ even the Kia Seltos was, but it was path-breaking in so many areas that merely promoting it as, say, a cyberspace SUV or an infobahn SUV may not have done justice to the other things it excelled in. The Seltos, launched last year in August and unveiled a year ago in June 2019, set a new benchmark for SUVs in India (see ‘Has the Seltos set a new benchmark for SUVs?’ FE, June 22, 2019; https://bit.ly/3eUzxPr), and sales numbers prove that. On the eighth day of the Seltos being launched, it made Kia Motors India the seventh-largest carmaker in the country; in the third month fifth-largest; and in the seventh month third-largest (see table).
The Seltos comprehensively outsold Hyundai Creta—the Creta was anyway due for model change, which happened this year—and during some months it even outsold the far more affordable Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza, India’s largest selling SUV overall. Until now, 83,535 units of the Seltos have been sold (this includes the lockdown period of zero sales), and if you calculate only the entire-month normal-market condition sales (September 2019 to February 2020), these stand at 68,078 units in six months, i.e. an average of 11,364 units every month—more than what behemoths such as Volkswagen and Nissan sell in India with their many models. Well-planned strategy There are many reasons for its success. One, there has been an increasing demand for SUVs, and Kia was able to project the Seltos as an aspirational SUV.
Two, the design stands out. Three, the Seltos takes premiumness onto a different plane—the quality of the material used in the cabin matches what you see in some cars from BMW or Audi. Four, Kia offered a range of engines and gearboxes and trim levels and so on, practically keeping the entire Rs 10-20 lakh passenger vehicle segment to itself. Brand image helped, too. Since its participation in the Auto Expo 2018, Kia was able to create the image of a premium carmaker, whose products are the one people aspire for, says Harish Bijoor, brand guru and founder of Harish Bijoor Consults. “Kia, the brand, now has a very high-quality image. An image it has carefully nurtured to be two notches ahead of existing mass-market players,” he says, adding, “the company has also maintained a tone and tenor of advertising creative that has helped it position itself uniquely.”
At the same time, it can be argued that, until now, the Seltos didn’t face stiff competition within its segment (the old Creta was on its way out; and both Nissan Kicks and Renault Captur failed to generate enough buyer interest). The all-new Creta, launched just before the lockdown started, could change that. In fact, in May 2020, the new Creta became India’s highest selling model overall, with 3,212 units sold. It was primarily due to the pre-lockdown bookings getting converted to sales.
“The Creta will regain its ground,” says Gaurav Vangaal, associate director at IHS Markit, the global information company. “The novelty factor hugely influences car-buying decisions in India; Hyundai is still a stronger brand in India; Hyundai has a bigger service network; and the Creta has a loyal customer base and there would be many who would want to upgrade.”
Vangaal, in fact, is cautiously optimistic that the Creta will take back the top-selling SUV crown from the Seltos. This week Kia launched the updated Seltos, with new features and pricing, and a more advanced connected car tech—called UVO Connect, which can now be accessed by the voice command ‘Hello Kia’. While it’ll be interesting to see which SUV comes out tops, what the Seltos did was unprecedented—just one model helped a brand new car company become a country’s third-largest within seven months of market operations.
(While Kia India and Hyundai India are separate entities, globally Hyundai owns a part of Kia, and so they share product development. The Seltos and the Creta share the platform, engines and gearboxes, but the design and everything else is different.)
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