Malo Le Masson, Head, global product planning, Hero MotoCorp, on his new challenging role, potential evolution across the product line-ups and the company's future growth strategy.
Malo Le Masson, the latest high-profile inductee into Hero MotoCorp’s senior leadership team, has come from Infiniti, Nissan’s premium car brand. Hero MotoCorp's recently appointed Head of Global Product Planning spoke to Autocar Professional's Amit Panday about his new challenging role at India’s largest two-wheeler manufacturer, its wide product portfolio, his priorities, the potential evolution across product line-ups andthe company's future direction among a range of topics.
Can you detail your new role at Hero MotoCorp?
My role basically consists of three parts – to overlook the product cycle plan, which two-wheeler(s) are we going to launch and in which segment. The second function is to create a concept, which goes through intensive customer interviews, understanding the key attraction points that we can bring to life in the form of new products.
Once that is done, tremendous work begins with our engineering colleagues about setting the right product packaging with the right volumes and price targets. The aim is to give the value proposition to our customers at the right price and at the right time.
The role of a product planner is to overlook this approach from a portfolio perspective. But at the same time it also includes deeply looking into what the consumers want.
Are you speaking to customers and understanding their expectations from Hero MotoCorp in each segment ranging from mass commuters to the premium categories? What are your priorities?
The priority is to look at Hero MotoCorp as a brand. We are a dominant player. People know us a lot for the commuter segment. At the same time being the leader in India, we have an ambition to grow even further. The Indian market is evolving a lot. We have seen scooters taking off within the last five years tremendously. This is one shift.
The second market shift is happening towards the premium (motorcycle) side. The top-end bikes now seen in the market were not seen before. We are also seeing the commuters evolving in terms of 100cc to 110cc and 125cc. Hero MotoCorp is the leader in the 125cc motorcycle segment. So we are seeing the marketplace changing.
That said, we need to come in and set our priorities. We have renewed one of our core models with the Splendor iSmart 110, and we will be looking at the portfolio in the same way. This means we will be prioritising about our next model – whether it be a renewal of our core models or should we tap into a new segment altogether.
While Hero MotoCorp’s brand image is perceived as the largest manufacturer of commuter bikes, its future direction looks at evolving to bigger, higher-displacement motorcycles. As a product planner, how do you plan to transform and bring this change to the brand’s market image?
The starting point for me is to see how the Indian market has evolved recently. Here we are not only talking about scooters but also about the 150cc and above motorcycle segment. These are the segments which barely existed in the past and, over the course of the last 5-6 years, have changed drastically.
We are known as a company that moves people. We now want to not just move people in terms of commuting but also move them in terms of what they want in their hearts. So coming from the commuter segment, we now want to become more aspirational.
There are some steps involved in this transition. We have to bring our customers with us in this journey. We started doing this with the scooter segment by launching the Duet and the Maestro Edge. We will be looking at further expanding that.
On the premium side, we showcased the Xtreme 200 Sportsat the Auto Expo 2016; it gives a hint of what we are looking at. So we will just follow these steps. It’s a matter of time and we want to be cautious. We want to be sure that we can renew our current portfolio, bring new technologies such as i3S (start-stop tech in Splendor iSmart variants), new engine, new chassis and others, and at the same time start to enter segments where either we are absent today or where we do not have full-fledged model line-ups.
When the Hero Xtreme 200 Sports is launched, it will directly compete with some very able rivals that are not just popular today but have also set tough benchmarks. What parameters (performance or practicality) are you looking at while working on the product packaging?
The existing 200cc premium motorcycles became popular following a trend in the Indian market where riders are shifting from commuter motorcycles to lifestyle products. Notably, as this trend has started, we are not looking at any direct competition with existing player(s). Since we are the leaders in India, we are looking at the consumers directly. This means that we are looking at possible price range within the given territory depending on what the consumer wants.
That’s where we want to be competitive, as we want to offer our customers an aspirational product in terms of a sporty bike, refined delivery that the Hero brand permits such as trust, confidence, fuel economy and other parameters in a higher displacement category.
Do you plan to add new products under existing brands? For example, like the all-new iSmart 110 has been inducted under the Splendor brand. It looks like the Xtreme series will have an Xtreme 200 Sports. Similarly, will we see other brands like Achiever, Hunk, Karizma and others adding new products under their umbrella?
Yes, we have models under the Xtreme brand. Product positioning-wise, the Achiever 150 is a great product, which addresses slightly different needs. It is a commuter but brings a sense of prestige, pride and achievement to its owners in the 150cc segment.
Moving on, my job is not only on the product side but it also includes the positioning and history (of the product). We have a model promise, which is what the Splendor delivers with trust, reliability and confidence. We are looking at the upper segments the same way. We are looking at what the consumer wants from the product promise, and the Xtreme Sports is about that. It is the sports, performance segment, and we will build on that.
What happens to the 200cc-plus Karizma brand?
The Karizma brand, in a certain way, created the premium segment in the Indian two-wheeler market. I am not going to comment on how the course of history has changed and the premium segment has evolved because we already know that.
I can just say that Karizma is a brand that we are deeply attached to, and now it’s just a matter of schedule. With that I mean that we started off with the scooters (Duet and Maestro Edge launched last year), then launched the all-new motorcycle Splendor iSmart 110, which is another category. We are going to come with new product offers in the future.
Hero MotoCorp commands an overwhelming 70 percent plus share in the mass commuter (up to 110cc) motorcycle market. However, there has always been a large product overlap in the 100cc segment. How would you differentiate between the Splendor and the Passion brands?
The Splendor is a fantastic product in itself. Whenever we try to see how the consumer in this segment has evolved, we see that there is capacity to bring something new to the market such as the iSmart 110 based under the Splendor family, but at the same time there are still certain sections that come back to us and ask for the Splendor / Splendor Plus. For them these bikes give them a notion of trust and confidence. At a certain point, the brand also brings a sense of pride for them. For a lot of them, the Splendor is their first bike. Many see the bike as a capable resource for growing their business.
At the same time, a certain section of those customers are more focused on their identities and individual characters. These are the customers of the Passion brand, who want to project who they are instead of their businesses. The Passion customers are estimated to have less functional requirements from their bikes such as load capacity than the Splendor customers. They are more inclined towards style and flow.
What is the difference between the product positioning of the Glamour and the Super Splendor in the 125cc commuter bike segment? While the Splendor brand is more popular, the Glamour outsells the same in this category.
The Super Splendor as a product is working well for us, and the demand is more regional. However, there are two factors that contribute to this. Firstly, the higher we go in the category, the more the requirements evolve from the typical commuter functionality to reflecting individual style statements and characters.
This is seen when you study the psychographics of the consumers. This is why the Glamour is seen as a fantastic product, and is the same as the iSmart in terms of being another success story. We are going to build on this and reinforce it.
But at the same time we won’t let the Super Splendor go because the same customers that are today reaching the mobility world (buying their first bikes) and are establishing their businesses (using Splendor Plus) will be upgrading to the Splendor iSmart 110 and Super Splendor. This upgrade or shift will happen when their (Hero’s customers) businesses will grow and they would like to continue owning a similar proposition but with a sense of pride.
Maestro as a brand saw a very smooth transition with the Maestro Edge model using its name to shift the customers of this brand from the old model to the new one. While this was a very clever strategy to consolidate the existing customer base with a superior product, how will the Maestro brand evolving in the future?
We have this capability to be able to do that. It was a great opportunity. It was coming from two things – one was to phase-out some of the old products and secondly use the brand asset and build on that. Of the two scooters that were launched recently – the Duet and the Maestro Edge, it is difficult to say as of now which one is stronger than the other. Our primary focus as of now is to ensure that the two models sell well in the market.
Later when we will be looking at scooters for different needs or different segments, then I think it would be a natural approach of any bike maker to look at those assets (brands) that we have. I cannot reveal too much but unless if we have a completely radical offer, we will be trying to build upon the brand asset that we have.
Are you evaluating the need to start-off an all-new two wheeler brand consolidating Hero MotoCorp’s solo journey in the future?
We could but it would all depend on which category we would want to enter. The same way I described the approach that we will be taking in building up the brand(s), renewal of our core models, and exploring new segments will apply here.
We were earlier talking about stepping into premium segments based on our showcase (at Auto Expo). It’s a matter of cadence and priority. There is only so much that we can all do in 24 hours.
So this is what we are looking at. But surely if there would be a need, we will be looking at a different brand name. Hero MotoCorp already has a very wide product portfolio in terms of offer that we want to first focus upon. We need to grow those brands before coming up with something radically different.
Do you think that shifting to BS VI emission norms brings a huge global export opportunity for Indian two-wheeler manufacturers?
Exactly! When you’re an outsider and you look at the industry, you see convergence in the (legislation) norms, and think there would be more stress and sweat. However, it’s actually the opposite. I believe if you ask any expert within the bike manufacturing industry or across the automotive manufacturing industry, the ability to have common norms at the global level can only benefit the consumers. This means that we, as the powerhouse mobility provider, can focus only on what they want at the most optimised price.
Ultimately this is what everybody wants but we have been struggling with longer lead times, making up for local adaptations (catering to market-specific legislation norms). Removing these (hurdles) will only make the fundamentals clear.
BS VI emission norms will be a huge burden on the industry in terms of costs of development and investments to be done for sure. We also have to be clever in terms of not passing this onto the consumers and consider what they are ready to pay for. Somewhere we hope that by having common norms, we can save by catering to several markets at one time.
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