The Past & Future of Badge Engineering!

First of all what’s Badge Engineering/Cross Badging (Source:Wiki)- 

Badge engineering, sometimes called Cross Badging, is the practice of applying a different badge or trademark (brand, logo or manufacturer’s name/make/marque) to an existing product (e.g., an automobile) and subsequently marketing the variant as a distinct product. Due to the high cost of designing and engineering a new model or establishing a brand (which may take many years to gain acceptance), economies of scale make it less expensive to rebadge a product once or multiple times than to create different models.

The term badge engineering is an intentionally ironic misnomer, in that little or no actual engineering takes place.

Cross Badging : Season 2.0

Toyota and Suzuki joined hands in February 2017 for long term partnership to collaborate in the field of upcoming hybrid and electric drivetrain, autonomous vehicle and slew of other futuristic technological areas to remain relevant in future and save cost in future product and technology development. In November 2017 press statement they have outlined the long term plan to introduce EV in India by 2020. Further in March 2018, for India they had short and medium term plan and decided to sell cross badged products in India and put up a compete and collaborate arrangement in place. Initially they have planned to supply vehicle where they don’t have direct presence. So Toyota will provide Corolla (Premium Sedan) to Maruti – as new flagship model, since Maruti has long unfulfilled ambition to go premium. In turn, Maruti will provide its best-selling sub 4m Brezza (C-SUV) & Baleno (Hatchback) to add to Toyota’s bottom end portfolio, and utilize its showroom space.

Cross badging or Badge Re-engineering concept in India is quite old. Hindustan Motor’s Ambassador (50s) was cross badged Morris Oxford (UK), popular Premier Padmini (60s) was actually cross badged Fiat 1100 (Italy). And then there are many like Chevrolet (Subaru, Daewoo, Isuzu, SAIC), Reanult (Dacia) et al.

But the current cross badging concept in India is little different. As in case of Ambassador or Padmini, only Indian badged product were on sale and not the foreign badge simultaneously in Indian market. This concept of cross badging and sale of same vehicle under two different brands in Indian market at the same time, targeting same consumer segment, was introduced by VW with group company – Skoda (2011), and later followed by Renault (2012) with alliance partner Nissan. Their products were identical except for the front facial which usually remains in line with the family looks of the respective brand. Incidentally both were late to Indian car market. Question is, has this strategy really worked as envisaged by the manufacturers. Let us see through the sales number analysis.

Platform sharing within group companies is very common but cross badged products just have cosmetic differentiation, more of a gimmick. Product cannibalization is obvious and is understood beforehand, as real objective is to achieve higher incremental sales, expand product portfolio at lowest possible cost and keep the showrooms busy with some real business.

Advantage

  • Quick to Market : New product development from scratch takes around 3 years, to move from drawing board to finished product at the showroom and new product on older or existing platform too takes at least a year. But cross badged products gets ready in just couple of months, which translate into better return on investment (RoI) at low risk, if product succeeds.
  • Low Product Development Cost : In some of the existing cases it was as low as ₹ 15 Crore as oppose to platform sharing which cost minimum ₹ 150 Crore. Badge reengineering involves minor tweaks in design and minor retooling at the factory and vendor level. So it calls for small incremental investment and improves RoI.

Challenge

Since Product differentiation is very low with no additional functional or emotional benefit for consumer, other than badge appeal; pricing, positioning and selling becomes a tricky task, as potential customer are well informed these days.

Cross Badging Season 1.0 :  Product Performance

VW Vento + Skoda Rapid

  • In short run it worked a little, slightly better incremental sales was achieved with acceptable level of cannibalization, when diesel engines were in high demand.
  • When Honda City came back with a diesel engine in 2014, it decimated competitors except for the new kid – Ciaz which has had a Value for money tag.
  • Within 2 years together, individual and combined market share shrink to half.
  • Together Rapid+Vento had better ranking but still never able to reach #1.
  • After 2017 Skoda Rapid update, it totally cannibalized VW Vento.

Nissan Sunny + Renault Scala

  • Sunny’s market share dropped to half after Scala’s launch.

Scala demanded price premium over the Sunny for not so familiar Renault logo then and it lost the plot in first year itself and later got discontinued due to poor sales.

Renault Duster + Nissan Terrano

  • Duster with all the bulges around looks like a mini Hippo but Terrano was more chiseled and give an impression of mini Rhino and for that it demands a price premium of ₹ 70k+.
  • Terrano though filled the Nissan’s product portfolio gap but was never successful in bringing volumes due to its pricing.
  • First mover advantage faded quickly with the arrival of formidable Hyundai Creta.
  • Duster is still able to hold but Terrano is almost on verge of discontinuation.

Nissan Micra + Renault Pulse

  • In very short run it worked very little as incremental sales was achieved but later very few were ready to pay ₹ 15k extra for Renault’s badge slapped on Micra.
  • Micra’s sales dropped badly after the launch of Pulse.

Platform Sharing

Products sold under different brands but made on same platform having same body shape either to serve same consumer segment at similar price point or to cater to needs of different consumer segment at different price point has actually produced much better results. Though it calls for higher investment but it helps in augmenting market much better.

Conclusion

Except for external design, logo and sales channel, products have had very little differentiation, in short no additional functional or emotional benefit for consumer except for the badge, in case any potential customer has some brand preference or loyalty. Eventually cheaper one did better or as in some cases, rather the one which actually survived.

But VW and Renault were new entrant then and products were relatively new and neither one enjoyed much of brand awareness in Indian market. Toyota-Maruti case becomes more interesting because both are deeply entrenched brand in their own right and product intended to be shared across the brands are best seller in their respective category. Toyota badge will naturally command price premium, so will they be able to sell already successful product at much higher price with mere cosmetic changes and get away with what newbies were not able to do? Also, will Maruti badge do justice to global best seller Corolla or end up eroding the brand image of Corolla, akin to what Zen Estilo did to brand Zen? Moreover rebadged Corolla will be real test for Maruti’s sales channel NEXA. After sales service of both the companies are benchmark in the industry, Maruti for its reach and Toyota for its standards. So providing service for cross badged product could be a challenge. Just imagine that the Toyota has to train service staff to manage the Fiat’s diesel engine too, unless they decide to offer only petrol or hybrid engine.

Well, history is littered with more of unsuccessful stories. So, will Maruti Corolla (Could be called Kizashi?) and Toyota Brezza & Toyota Baleno going to change that? Only time will tell, when products land in real battle ground. Because many a times customer or consumer do not behave in the same way as they state during market research process before the launch and that’s the biggest challenge for marketers and product planners.

Kia needs to be careful with the positioning of their products alongside the parent Hyundai in Indian market. Although their products are highly differentiated in terms of styling in the international market and with no baggage in India, Kia could use this as an opportunity to gain premium positioning in Indian market and fill the gap where Hyundai is not very successful i.e above ₹ 15 Lakh segment.

Different School of Thought

Departing from cross badging concept, Maruti in past has tried little different approach of launching two slightly different product at similar price point. Largely based on Steve Jobs (former Apple CEO) famous saying – “If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will”. Maruti’s idea was to offer variety when potential buyer visits a Maruti showroom, so that there could be a better chance people leave the showroom with a Maruti product, and keep Maruti’s sales register ringing.

Wagon R – Zen Estilo

 

Zen Estilo was first move by Maruti to cannibalize its own product Wagon R by launching it at similar price point with slightly different body styling. Strikingly it was also available in pink color, never seen before in the industry.

Instead of cannibalizing Wagon R, Estilo was able to bring incremental sales and due to platform sharing, unlike old Zen, it was able to achieve cost synergy as well and offer better ROI due to incremental investment on platform. But Zen Estilo was never able to live up to the original jelly bean shaped Zen, in terms of sales. In Spanish Estilo means style, but it was more of a stylish Wagon R, (some sort of! rather than boxy wagon R), but never ‘stylish’ Zen. Original Zen was launched by Maruti in 1993, had first all-aluminum engine block and in those days it was sometimes regarded as first hot hatch.

Some feels that Zen Estilo, till its existence (2013), has had eroded the robust Zen Brand to certain extent, build over a decade. But then, product brand name can be resurrected based on product’s strength and the best example is Baleno. Currently the name plate is used by a very successful hatchback; you may relate to if you do remember the old Baleno name plate was used by not so successful sedan, launched by Maruti in 1999.

2014 onwards Wagon R was joined by similarly priced, Maruti’s guinea pig – Celerio. Since launch, Maruti has kept on experimenting with Celerio, for example – it was first to have AMT technology, now discontinued Maruti’s in-house developed 800cc two-cylinder diesel engine, and also the cross-gimmick called Celerio X. But Celerio doesn’t share platform with the Wagon R, perhaps upcoming next gen Wagon R might.

Ritz-Swift

Ritz was launched in the year 2009 and the approach was extension of Zen Estilo-Wagon R experiment and had more meat. Ritz and Swift were meant to cater two different segments of consumer. It seems Maruti has properly segmented the market based on consumer need and tailored Ritz to address a different segment. To elaborate, Swift was aimed at segment of single-young buyer looking for lively performance (advertisement slogan – “You’re The Fuel”), but Swift had a major shortcoming – small and not very practical boot and claustrophobic rear seat. Practicality of boot and rear seat space was key concern area for young buyers having family and their need was to have ample space for carrying luggage. With the Ritz, Maruti decided to address those needs by redesigning the same platform to generate more space at the back bench and practical boot space. On downside it became slightly boxy at the back, apparently designer tried hard to mask that effect but end result was not that exciting. Thus you will see Ritz in the fleet of Taxi aggregators, but never Swift.

Ritz too brought in incremental sales unlike the cross badged products from other manufacturers failed to. Product planning approach seems to be spot on but when styling became a key decisive factor for customer in purchase decision process, Ritz lost to Swift. So, Ritz was not upgraded when Swift transgressed to newer generation in 2011.

In both the cases Maruti was successfully able to augment the market. With success of Kwid, Renault became overambitious and decided to imitate Maruti’s old approach and take its product portfolio to next level with the Captur, but look where they have landed with overpricing and grown up hatchback styling, a reminder of S-Cross launch. When it comes to SUV, what works in Europe may not work in India, because Indian’s love SUV to have strong street presence just like the Americans. Maruti resorted to quick price cut followed by facial update to save the S-Cross. Hopefully Nissan has learnt a lesson before bringing Kicks to Indian market.

Honda’s Earnest Effort

Unlike Hyundai (i20 Active~15%) and Toyota (Etios Cross~7%), Honda put more effort while developing the cross-version of the hatchback. While Hyundai and Toyota cross-version only had side cladding, redesigned bumpers and roof rails to appear rugged, Honda redesigned headlamps and tail lamps completely along with the sheet metal in the front and the rear to beef up the stance with increase ground clearance.

Result is apparent, WRV is lot more expensive than Jazz but it is selling much better too because it is able to offer emotional benefit of C-SUV styling which consumer do value these day. Honda may bring in a proper 4m-C-SUV in future but currently it is riding on the SUV-craze wave much smoothly with WRV.

Bottom line, cross badging has not turned out be a gravy train as envisaged by the manufactures in the past but there are other innovative ways to augment market.

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