On Thursday, Datsun India unveiled its compact crossover car, the redi-GO, in New Delhi. Even though its price has not been announced, the redi-GO, which will be powered by an 800cc petrol engine, will directly compete with Maruti’s Alto 800 and Renault’s Kwid. The sales of the redi-GO—the third product from the company in two years—will begin in the first week of June and bookings start from May 1. The company had earlier launched the Go hatchback and the Go+ MPV, but both of them have not been able to attract enough buyers and, in market parlance, are failures.
Guillaume Sicard, the president of Nissan India, who also leads business development operations for sub-brand Datsun, says that, in the entry-level car space, the redi-GO will help Datsun take on Maruti and Hyundai. A tall statement, indeed. But Sicard has reasons for this optimism. “The car has been developed, engineered and made in India. Its fuel-consumption—which we will declare soon—is best in class, as is its shoulder, front and back roominess,” he says. In an interview with FE’s Vikram Chaudhary, he adds today Datsun is in a much better position as far as brand recall is concerned, and that’s why “the redi-GO has very good chances of succeeding.” Excerpts:
Why is the redi-GO important for Datsun India?
We call the redi-GO India’s first urban compact crossover. Even though the redi-GO is a small car with an 800cc engine, it has a high ground clearance and enough capability to handle all kinds of Indian roads. In fact, while the redi-GO is not a 4×4 vehicle, it can, to an extent, handle even offroad conditions. It has been tested enough. Further, its fuel-consumption—which we will declare soon—is best in class, as is its shoulder, front and back roominess.
Can the redi-GO turn around the fortunes of Datsun India?
Among other things, the redi-GO will help Datsun directly take on Maruti and Hyundai, in the small car space. We are targeting young Indians, especially those who currently own a two-wheeler and want to graduate to a car, and who have a budget between R2.5 lakh and R3 lakh. Now what we have to do is earn their confidence and offer them good value.
Datsun India is about two years old. To what extent have you been able to take the brand closer to Indian consumers?
The Datsun 1S outlet concept is helping us increase our retail presence nationwide. As of now, there are 51 such outlets. While Nissan India has about 215 dealerships in 165 cities—and Datsun cars are available at every Nissan showroom—these 51 (and growing) are exclusive Datsun sales outlets. We are aggressively developing our presence in tier-2 and tier-3 towns. The good news is that our partners are willing to expand; and now that they have seen the redi-GO, they believe that the car has a huge potential in India. As far as only Nissan is concerned, we plan to grow to 300 sales outlets by March 2017.
Will Datsun cars always be sold through two separate sales channels—Nissan showrooms and 1S outlets?
Not always. In future, Nissan and Datsun—once the latter reaches enough sales volumes—would function as different business entities.
Why couldn’t the Go and the Go+ sell as per your expectations? Do you think dated design was one of the reasons?
To succeed in India, first of all you have to win the consumer’s confidence. A prospective customer may like the design, but if she hasn’t heard about the brand, why will she buy it? Two years ago, nobody knew about Datsun. Even today, we are still in the process of brand-building. Having said that, I strongly believe that we are in a much better position as far as brand recall is concerned, and with the redi-GO, we not only have far better chances of succeeding, but also have a very strong product in terms of design, features, fuel-efficiency and driving dynamics.
Has the Datsun brand now been well-established?
Not yet. The level of awareness is still not where we want it to be. However, going forward, as we keep coming out with relevant products, which are specifically made for India and have the right design, features, fuel-efficiency and pricing, it will help us quickly build the brand. The redi-GO, we have reasons to believe, will massively increase the awareness of Datsun brand in India.
What learnings do you gather from Renault Kwid’s success?
In the Indian entry-level car segment, two players enjoy 95% marketshare, and suddenly there is a third car that is making a mark for itself. It is possible to break the tradition.
Of late, the Go is being seen running as a taxicab. How big is the institutional sales market for Datsun, and will you have any specific focus on fleet sales?
While institutional sales help increase awareness about the brand, it is not our main focus.
Did the industry expect major sops from the Union Budget?
In terms of safety and emissions, the government is being increasingly stringent. We respect that. But we also believe that it will have a huge impact in terms of cost. We are working out ways to manage that. The industry also seeks more support on zero-tailpipe emission cars. There are countries which are really picking up on electric vehicles and associated infrastructure, but the governments in those countries also provide huge subsidies—in some cases these can go up to $10,000 per clean car. While the FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid & Electric Vehicles) is a good initiative, it is still not at a level where it can make a major difference to the Indian automotive ecosystem.
Are you launching any hybrid car in India?
This year we will launch the Nissan X-Trail Hybrid; it will be India’s only hybrid SUV.