There is a pattern to how multinational auto companies function in the Indian market. Thanks to an FTA agreement that exists between India and Thailand and also due to similarities in the two markets (they are both right hand drive for starters) products that are launched in Thailand find their way into India as well. Another driver of this strategy is volumes that auto makers look at by clubbing markets together. For some years now most products launched in Thailand have slowly found their way into India. It actually started with Honda and the first generation City. Other auto manufacturers were quite happy to follow Honda’s lead here.
Now that this pattern has been established all Indian automobile publications on the net and in print look at launches taking place in Thailand and predict new launches in India. And it is that time again since GM has launched the Chevrolet Trailblazer SUV in Thailand. The Trailblazer does not blaze any new technological trail. In fact, it is a good old fashioned SUV built on a ladder chassis just like the Ford Endeavour and the Toyota Fortuner are. What this means is that the said SUV is big and imposing, something that we Indians like. The nouveau riche in the country usually use big SUVs to signal that they have arrived in society. So one must assume logically that the Trailblazer is an automatic choice for the Indian market, right? Not quite is what I would like to say.
Despite the fact that automakers, especially Honda would like us to believe that Thailand and India are similar markets, the similarity is confined only to the fact that both are right hand drive markets. Not much else is similar. The good people of Thailand for example prefer what Americans call trucks and what we Indians call pick ups. Despite efforts by Tata and Mahindra to market the Xenon and the Scorpio Getaway as life style vehicles in India they met with almost zero success. But SUVs are okay for us because they reflect like I have already said a status that says “I have arrived in life” and since they are also humongous they are very effective tools to bully your way on roads. The good people of Thailand have more respect for road rules and other road users than most of us Indians do. So the reasons why SUVs sell in Thailand are not necessarily the reasons why they sell in India.
Another thing that has to be kept in mind when it comes to the two markets is that Thailand like most South East Asian countries has similarities with the United States of America while we Indians have more in common with Europe. Honda and Toyota will try to sell their American spec Accords and Camrys because in Thailand they work and to make economies of scale happen, they also force the same products in India and we know that these models do not sell in huge numbers. So the question then is will the Chevrolet Trailblazer come to India?
That is not an easy question to answer, but as an auto journalist it is one that needs to be dealt with head on, since so many people are saying it will come to India. My well considered and honest answer is that the Trailblazer will not come to India anytime soon. In fact, if I was anyone in GM India I will make sure that the product is not brought here in a hurry. Having said such controversial things now let me spell out my reasons. GM already sells the Chevrolet Captiva in India. The Captiva is a pretty butch looking vehicle that is getting butchier still (I can’t say butcher can I?) with the big two tier grille that is really in your face. And the Captiva comes with a monocoque construction that makes it so much more easier to drive as a vehicle than a body on chassis vehicle would be to drive. It also is getting an engine upgrade to a 2.2 litre direct injection common rail diesel engine that incorporates a variable geometry turbo charger that will make it more powerful than the present model which comes with a 2.0 litre engine. So when Chevrolet is making so much of an investment in the Captiva why bring in the Trailblazer in a hurry?
Apart from the above mentioned factors there is yet another factor to consider. I have said that SUVs are mainly for the nouveau riche who have to announce their arrival. I would ask you to remember that this class of people also attach a huge significance to the badge that a vehicle carries, meaning the name of the manufacturer. In India when it comes to badges nothing beats Toyota and to a certain extent Honda. When I say this I am excluding Mercedes Benz and BMW which are not for the nouveau riche but for the traditional ultra rich who want snob value. Now if we were to take into consideration the value of Chevrolet as a badge it is not difficult to see that it is not a badge that is desirable for the nouveau riche. Let us go back a few years into the new millennium and we will see that GM changed from the Opel badge to Chevrolet to get into the mass market space. So for some inexplicable reason for the Indian nouveau riche Toyota and Honda pass muster as premium brands despite Honda making sub Rs.50,000 scooters and motorcycles, the way in which Sony is considered premium in the electronics space. Chevrolet would be more like Akai is in the electronics space.
To me all this means that the Indian SUV buyer whom I have unashamedly and unabashedly profiled here is not going to be in a hurry to get himself a Chevrolet Trailblazer when the Toyota Fortuner and the Honda CR-V are available (yes the latter does not have a diesel engine but still people buy the CR-V but that could change with Honda going into diesel engine space after having eschewed them for years). In my opinion therefore, Chevrolet has nothing to gain by introducing the Trailblazer, for it will probably go the Ford Endeavour way (seriously how many people do you know own an Endeavour?). It probably makes greater economic and business sense to concentrate on the Captiva which is a very capable vehicle and whose sales do not tell the true story of what it is. If I were anyone in GM I would only look at the Captiva and not beyond since GM has a history of not being able to sell capable SUVs like the Forester (the wonderful SUV from Subaru that GM badged in India as a Chevrolet and could not sell at all). GM’s focus to me seems as if it is looking at inexpensive cars and MPVs and that is a sound strategy. SUVs are best left alone by GM, that is what I believe.