The full picture behind Hero's 15 bike Diwali bonanza
Wow, you all didn't like the news emerging from the pre-festive season Hero gala show with 15 new bikes at all. The comments were uniformly scathing and critical. I think apart from one chap who actually liked the new Karizma, all of the numerous comments, whether on our website, on Twitter or on Facebook, were impassioned appeals to stop this juggernaut and make it change direction.
But I think there is more here that meets the eye and that Hero is like a supertanker. It is a huge organisation with considerable momentum. Even if they agreed with each and everyone of you, changing direction would take time. And sometimes, it occurs to me, that in our world of instant gratification and constant connectivity, time is the one constant we lose sight of.
Pawan Munjal with the repertoire of new Hero bikes
The Indian Chief turns out to be a spectacular motorcycle, but when you think of it as the fruit of just 27 months of development work, everyone seems to think the motorcycle is absolutely incredible. So is it fair to expect Hero, who only stood up on its own feet fully less than three years ago, to start rolling out sweeping upgrades and new platforms already? It isn't. Indian (via Polaris and Victory) already had fully life cycle product development capability in some form or another, Hero has just started from scratch.
And think about this. Hero is the world's largest motorcycle maker with no history of serious R&D. But we still do expect them to match and beat their own products on reliability, features, efficiency etc from the word go. These products are ex-Honda platforms that have been refined and honed over years and years. Can Hero match these? I think they can. Can they do it by 5 pm tomorrow evening? No. And I don't think anyone can. Even Honda cannot. If Honda are to build from scratch a replacement for the Karizma, you can be sure that it will take them at least two years. This is not a defence of Hero's 15 bike announcement. This is just the perspective. You don't have to like them or their strategy, but let us be fair.
I don't think expecting a three-year-old organisation currently building R&D capability as fast as they can to roll out a massive upgrade to the Karizma this soon is fair. It will come, but for now, until that point, minor upgrades will be the order of the day.
I will say this though. Hero has been a marketing-led organisation and their propensity for equating new stickers to all-new bikes is known. But this is a strategy that has led them to becoming the world's biggest motorcycle maker. So it isn't an accurate strategy as far as product goes. It may actually be a tone that alienates the motorcycle enthusiast. But the enthusiast, so far, isn't Hero's core audience, so the enthusiast really doesn't matter. Their voices may be loud, but they're a small group of people at the very back of the room shouting. They are drowned out by the appreciative clapping of a vastly bigger group of less informed motorcyclists, who only see them as transport appliances.
Make no mistake, the enthusiast is going to be important for Hero. It is the bigger machines that make bigger margins and capture the aspirational end of the market, whether in terms of mindspace or in terms of sales. Hero intends to play in every possible playing field and that has to include people like you and me. To talk to us, Hero will have to talk our language. Which means a side stand switch or an immobiliser is just an additional feature not a technological triumph. I think if Hero had just upped and let it be known that motorcycle development takes time and unlike a pizza order it cannot be delivered in half an hour, we would all have had a quiet laugh and felt a lot better.
It would have also marked a change in tone for Hero. Indian enthusiasts would have finally heard a language they speak and that would have been the start of Hero's new relationship with the premium motorcyclists.
Personally, I did hear something I deeply liked. I did manage an informal chat with Pawan Munjal as he came off stage. I asked him how the post-Honda adventure was going. His answer was illuminating, "It's a big challenge. And it makes me feel younger." In these two sentences he's covered incredible ground if you think about it. He knows what he's up against and that he has a plan that excites him.
We are motorcycle enthusiasts and that drives us. What if he is passionate about growth and that drives him? It's the same ice cream, just different flavours.
Ultimately, Hero didn't have 15 new bikes to show. They had three new features and a string of minor upgrades that swept their whole line of bikes leaving out the Impulse. But for the intended customer, this was a show of force. A sign of life, as the spy novels like to call it. What we're really looking for, and I think we will get, are other signs. Indications that they understood that the enthusiast in India still feels for the Karizma, but hates what it has become. That a Karizma that can hold its head high in today's market is not a pipe dream. And that Hrithik Roshan's ability to recover his hat in a tornado will not be the measure of what is to come.
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