At face value, pulling a rather well-performing brand off the production line and introducing something new (albeit better, but the customer never knows that up front, right?) in its stead must either seem very gutsy or very stupid. You wouldn't therefore be blamed if, when Honda SIEL and Hyundai yanked the Honda City and the Santro (respectively) off the roads, you credited the people who carried out such decisions with possessing either gonads of steel or brains of breakfast cereal. I sure did: in most cases with the latter. Well, as it turns out, they did know better, judging by the showing that the two cars made in the relaunches category at the Ninth Annual Business Standard Brand Derby.
Honda SIEL's decision to pull the plug on a car that was clocking sales of over 10000 units every quarter and introduce a powered-down, and in public opinion, not really better-looking avatar of the City was met largely with facial expression-altering surprise. But Honda says their reasons were clear - they needed to make the car more affordable and be more of an option to people looking to upgrade from their hatches to the sedan segment. And their thinking seems to have won the endorsement of the discerning Indian consumer. The new, improved Honda City was adjudged the most successful brand relaunch at the Derby, garnering an unbeatable 94% of the votes. (Also read: Automaticity!)
Similarly when Hyundai decided to phase out their segment-redefining hatchback, the Santro, and introduce the smaller looking Xing, they insisted that it was based on customer feedback and an internal strategy to 'keep the brand fresh' in the mind of the consumer. Backed by a genuinely better product, good advertising and VFM pricing, their gamble seems to have worked too. The Xing outsells the earlier edition of the hatch by about 2000 units every month on an average. Of course, as is now history, it has since then gone on to achieve even bigger things. The result: the Xing bags second place in the 'best relaunches' hall of fame.
Which brings us to the joker in the pack. Fiat India was hoping that the launch of the Petra sedan would get it out of the morass that has been it's performance in India of late. But it's seems like it's a monkey they just can't get off their back. What worked against them? Something as basic as the fact that the customer didn't perceive the Petra as anything more than its predecessor, the Siena, with a new name. Remember that in case of both the City and the Xing, there was a definite enhancement in the product itself, whether via better fuel efficiency, more state-of-the-art technology or more features. That this was the case with the Petra too is what didn't seem to sit too well with the consumer or the respondents at the Derby. Only 1% of them thought the Petra was a successful relaunch.