Jun 30, 2007

22 Why hasn't Honda made a "Big" mark with its Unicorn in India..??

An analysis on why the Honda Unicorn hasn't been a success story so far..

Back in 2004 the market was abuzz with the news that Honda was about to launch its first motorcycle in India. Everyone expected that Honda would make a clean sweep of the motorcycle sales in India. There wasn't any reason to believe that Honda wouldn't be able to pull it off. After all wasn't Honda single handedly responsible for reviving the dying scooter market in India with its "Activa"..??


According to me there are three main reason why the Honda Unicorn failed to make an impact..

>> First: Because Honda is a Japanese Company

>> Second: Wrong "Targeting" and "Positioning" of the Unicorn

>> Third: Maybe because Honda was overconfident

"Overall it was a "Marketing Failure"

Honda has a formidable reputation worldwide not only as the biggest motorcycle manufacturer, but also as a manufacturer which made ultra reliable engines. Consumers in India are no different and always had similar trust in the Honda Brand.

On 08 Septemtember 2004, Honda finally launches its first motorcycle in India, the 150 C.C Honda Unicorn. Along with the ultra smooth and reliable engine it also sported India's first monoshock rear suspension. Magazines carried rave reviews of the latest 150 C.C from Honda; putting it on top of other models of its competitors.


Honda Unicorn

2004 Honda Unicorn


But unfortunately and to the surprise of many, the sales of the Unicorn were dismal compared to the 150 C.C models of its competitors viz. Bajaj Pulsar and TVS Fiero/Apache. Compared to Bajaj Auto’s 150-cc Pulsar, which sells 35,000-40,000 units per month, Honda’s Unicorn manages barely 3,500-5,000 (Source: BusinessWorld).

So what went wrong for the Honda Unicorn..??

Let us try to find some answers...


This is what Mr. Masahiro Takedagawa, Head-South-West Asia, Honda Motor Co. had to say..

The company "made a mistake", said the official (Mr. Takedagawa), in introducing the models and its styling which were quite similar to the existing Hero Honda models (Glamour and CBZ).


So was it really due to the Styling why the Honda Unicorn failed to dent the sales of the Bajaj Pulsar..?? According to me the Unicron was a "Marketing Failure" on part of HMSI.


Majority of people understand "marketing" as "the activity done for PUSHING the product down the customers gullet..!!"

Let me first define "Marketing". Majority of people understand "marketing" as "the activity done for PUSHING the product down the customers gullet..!!" Such a definition would mainly include the Sales and Advertisement strategies and in trying to create a hype in the market about the product.

But according to me "Marketing" covers a lot more aspects of a business. These would be..

    At Pre Production stage:

    • Knowledge of your customer

    • Knowledge of your competitors

    • "Targeting" the right customer segment

    • Selecting the right "Positioning" for your product


    Post Production Stage:

    • Collecting Customer Feedback

    • Customer Relationship Management

    • Managing the Distribution Network

    • Managing Sales & Advertising

Even Selecting the right "Pricing" is a part of marketing. So "Marketing" covers activities starting from preproduction and continues to postproduction activities.

According to me there are three main reason why the Honda Unicorn has not been able to make an impact in the market.

  • First: Because Honda is a Japanese Company


  • Second: Wrong "Targeting" and "Positioning" of the Unicorn


  • Third: Maybe because Honda was overconfident


Honda is a Japanese company, being run by a Japanese Chief. It would take some time for them to understand Indians and the vast Indian market

Let me elaborate the first point. Imagine your are sent to Zambia (you can take any other country for an example) to manage the production and sales of a two wheeler business. What are the problems that you could possibily face there..?? Being an Indian you would first face language problem. The market characteristics of that country would be totally alien to you. Imagine how difficult it woud be to interact with the workers and distributors. So what do you do..?? Simple, hire some local management talent. Let them run the business while you give the orders. Simple Eh..?? Well, the only problem is that if your orders are wrong then everything below you is bound to go wrong.

This exactly is the problem with Honda. It is a Japanese company, being run by a Japanese Chief. It would take some time for them to understand Indians and the vast Indian market. And while planning the Unicorn, they obviously did not understand the Indian market.


To elaborate my second point, let me put a famous quote by Dr. Philip Kotler (the Marketing Guru for management students world over).

"If you nail Targeting and Positioning, the rest will automatically follow"

Let us now see what "Targeting" and "Positioning" actually means..


    Targeting: In simple words "Targeting" means selecting the customer segment for whom the product will be made.

    Positioning: In marketing, positioning is the technique by which marketers try to create an image or identity for a product. For example BMW cars are positioned as Luxury Sports Cars and Volvo cars as one of the Safest Cars. The Positioning essentially brings out the benefits of the product offers to the customer.


The "Targeting" and "Positioning" for a product can be deduced by observing its Advertisements.


A relatively sporty looking but more Commuter Oriented 150 C.C bike was conjured by Honda..

Just try to recall the Advertisements of the Unicorn when it was first launched. The TV Advertisement showed a Young guy riding the Unicorn to his workplace. The Young Rider happens to be a doctor who doesn't pay attention to beautiful girls who plead for a lift on his Unicorn. The Young Doctor would rather be with his patients. The TV Advertisement clearly shows the "Targeting" and "Positioning" of the Unicorn.

Honda'a target customer was the young working executive who was looking more power and style compared to the 100 C.C bikes but who was also sensible enough to look for "Fuel efficiency".

There was nothing wrong with this targeting. Infact any market research done at that time would have given similar results. Moreover everone had clearly seen how the Hero Honda CBZ had failed due to its low mileage. But beyond all these, a young Indian Biker was emerging who was looking for style and excitement more than anything else. But you had to be a bike enthusiast and most importantly an Indian to understand that.

Therefore the Unicorn was to be "positioned" by Honda as a 150 C.C bike with sporty looks but also delivered good fuel efficiency. So a relatively sporty looking but more Commuter Oriented 150 C.C bike was conjured by Honda.

  • The Unicorn was therefore designed to be a sporty looking bike but with upright commuter friendly stance


  • It had a monoshock to show its sporty intent but at the same time had a thin rear tyre to aid fuel efficiency


  • It produced almost same power (13.3 bhp) like its competition so that it could claim to be equally powerful but produced its maximum torque (1.3 Kgm) at a lower rpm (5500) compared to the Pulsar (1.3 @ 6500 rpm) so that it kept the rider in the lower RPM to aid fuel efficiency.

  • The Honda Unicorn was neither sporty enough nor economical enough. It was a classic example of "Confused Positioning".

    Due to this "Wrong Targeting" and "Confused Positioning", a product was finally developed which majority of the 150 C.C buying Indian consumer did not want.



    The Third Point: Honda might have been over confident and decided to go ahead with the "Targeting" and "Positioning". By 2004 it was clear that Bajaj was sweeping the 150 C.C sales with its Pulsar. Honda probably did not take care to study the reason behind the success of the Pulsar.

    If it had done so, Honda might have realized that the target segment for the 150 C.C actually constitutes young guys who are actually looking for a "Hooligan" bike. A bike which should have sexy looks and ample power. If the bike was able to give a better fuel efficiency that the CBZ, then it was a bonus. And yes, they would rather prefer to imagine themself as Hooligan rather than a Gentleman on a 150 C.C.. They would rather dream of cruising with a Hot Chick than going to work.

    The last thing that majority of the 150 C.C buying crowd was looking for is a 150 C.C commuter. And sadly the Unicron turns out to be an execellent 150 C.C commuter. Also the success of its scooter "Activa" might have made honda overconfident. They probably thought that the Indian biker would lapp up anything it dished out.


    Conclusion: So according to me the reason behind the non performance of the Unicorn wasn't because the "Styling of the Unicorn was similar to the CBZ or the Passion". But it was because Honda did not understand us (the Indian "Desi" Bikers), it could not give what we wanted. And since marketing starts by "Knowing your Customers". Overall it was a "Marketing Failure".




    The opinions expressed above are my personal opinions. If you agree or disagree with them or if you have your own opinions, then please share your comments with us.








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    Disclaimer:

    This is to remind that the Views or Opinions in the blog are entirely mine unless explicitly stated. The Views and Opinions published in this blog should in no way be related to any other person or organization associated -- directly or indirectly -- with me.




    22 Comments:

    first_synn said...

    Hmmm..

    Interesting insights there, payeng.. Can't say I disagree with you. The Unicorn was indeed, a classic case of confused positioning.

    If you ask me, They still haven't learned their lesson. I mean, they call the bike Unicorn SPORT, and it features commuter footpegs? What BS?

    This is at a time when the competition is adding features like digital everything, power upgrades and hell, even clip ons.

    I really wish that the proposed new Yamaha would come and demolish Honda from the performance end, so that the embarrassment is complete.

    Matt said...

    Hello! We have featured your blog at www.idrive.in, just wanted to let you know. Feel free to become a member and post Indian car and bike news on your own.
    Best of luck,
    Matt

    Arun Murali said...

    My dad wishes that i buy a Honda!!! But i am not sure what was this bike for in the market. They must make sure what they want from the bike and then go on that route in a steady fashion.

    Design, i do not buy bikes for its looks so as long as it is smooth and driving position is comfortable I think it is ok.

    The monoshok is good but nothing substantial over our dual shocks. Infact they tend to vibrate(bounce) a lot after some time.

    I already have a Dio, all i can say is that the After sales service can at the best be called pathetic. This has run only 6000 kms and already feels so old, with shuddering and body noise every where. They cannot even tune the breaks. We have to give that as a complaint for them to do so.

    All the while i was thinking the Japs are better than Indians in engine department but It turns out there are some issues there too. This is too disappointing as i do not know what to look for if I buy this bike as my dad wants me to.

    Payeng said...

    Synn,

    the Unicorn Sports is just an excersise to buy some more time for Honda.

    I think Honda should scrap the Unicorn and design an entirely new bike for India.



    Arun, Honda generally have a very good reputation of manufacturing reliable bikes.. You might have been unlucky in your case. Still get your bike serviced at some reputed Service Center.


    Even bikes from other manufacturers sometimes can give problems.

    Utpal Das said...

    Hi Payeng,
    Just wanted your thoughts why Activa was such a success then and now? Was some different marketing strategy applied or was it just a case of perfect timing?
    I am not a Honda INDIA (HMSI) fan, but they bought the Activa when experts said that the scooter market is dead and they did prove them wrong.
    I have been also driving my sis Activa for 3 years or more now and its an EXCELLENT product.
    But it doesn't mean that an exceptionally good product has to sell well or the Unicorn should have sold better. (I have nor hard drived a Uni, but my guess is its a GREAT product).

    So why was Activa a success while the Uni & Shine failed?

    Payeng said...

    Utpal, Here are my views on the success of the Activa..

    >> When it was launched, there were hardly any good scooters being produced in India

    >> It was better than any other scooter in terms of Handling, Ride Quality, Fuel Efficiency, Power Delivery, Refinement and also in Durability.


    Whatever might have the strategy of Honda, the fact was that.. The Activa was the "Scooter that Indians wanted"



    Whatever strategy works, that will be called a successful Strategy. Unfortunately for Honda, its strategy for the "Unicorn" and "Shine" has not worked for them.

    Both the Unicorn and the Shine inspite of being good bikes have turned out to be the Motorcycles which majority of Indian Bikes don't want."

    Anonymous said...

    From Menas Ahmed...

    hello everyone!
    nice dsicussion and some very interesting VIEWS and REVIEWS. i must confess honestly that most of it are true. But there is a different perception to this as well. My views do not discriminate any bike manufacturer in india but yet i would just tell what i feel to it. first of all... i would disagree the unicorn to be a "CONFUSINGLY POSITIONED" product. i would rather think it is indegeniously designed and finely balanced as a dual performer. I do very long rides, race safe on curved and challenging roads, tilt real acute and scratch my footrest everyday on the curves in Jubilee Hills, Hyd (on the way to office). But, when i am able to FLY LOW.... i am also able to SAIL smoothly when i take my wife out occasionally. The engine which did a 110 kmph in the morning would simply add a silent symphony to the romance in the evening, when i am taking my wife out. I LIKE IT!! But yet there are very high reasons of unicorn not becoming a hit. I still remember when i suggested Unicorn for my friend when it was launched first, he said that the Mono suspension would become very weak and break in time and the HONDA had done it to reduce the costs. Not only he convinced himself with a compromise.... but he keeps negatively influencing others not to buy it. The point here is, there are hundreds of thousands of such customers in india who would not accept a new concept very soon. It takes time and in india it takes a lot. But things are really improving now and more people are becoming aware of the performance aspects of any automobile what they are gonna buy. I am sure 8 out of ten people buying a automobile would first ask abt fuel economy. and the remaining 2 people look at the quality of spares and the ride quality and performance and the reliability of the engine. I am sure about 8 out of 10 people would not recognize the terms torque, gear ratio, horsepower, oil grade or even RPM. so one can wonder what impact does it have on product sales? To name it, Bajaj Pulsar sales is high because of several reasons:-
    1. Because some people trust bajaj as they trust Maruti
    2. Pulsar was the first bike in india which was powerfull enough to beat the then cbz.
    3. They had top of line 180 cc.
    4. Totally new styling concept...street fighter like and a bit resembling to ducati dark monster.
    5. The right timing of the launch of product.
    6. a few funky and some useless features provided.

    My Questions are:-
    1. Why bajaj is panicking about honda?
    2. why are they providing all fancy features which atracts many orthodox customer lineup?
    3. Why do they provide backlit switches for pulsar? not even 1/1000 riders will see the switch and then operate. I would agree it if there are that many switch controls like the Honda Goldwing :)
    4. They and even people say that the speedo instument is the most fault free.... then why is the rpm needle responding late. check it out... for quick throttle raise n release the rpm needle goes up after the throttle is closed.
    5. Why is the LCD display too much bright orange lit in the night condition? my eyes are getting strained. And i am sure that 8/10 pulsariance would say "wow! amazing!!"
    6. Why was P200 fork faulty? why wasnt it tested at all before its launch?
    7. Why does the rear fenders which is designed new for UG3 dancing with every bump on the road? did they test it when they changed the existing design? The same goes with front forks as well.
    8. Why are other manufacturers so obsessed about LED tail lamps? so why does the people?
    9. why bajaj is not improving on its quality of bike? (please dont judge quality by just looking at the petrol tank paint job finishing)
    10. Why bajaj does not improve on its gear box? why is there a lot of slippage in lower gears?
    11. Why is the front suspension of pulsar too soft than required? Compare the suspension response of that of a HONDA.
    12. why people give priority to LED tail lamps rather than the main powerplant of the bikes?
    13. Honestly, how many pulsarians are having a smooth ride after 2-3 years of owning the bike?

    These questions are not asked in an intention to make fun... but they are just to read and wonder :)

    out of all the people who i know having pulsars... all of them are unhappy about the ride quality after a year.. and some even after 4-5 months. and out all the people who i know and own unicorn, none are upset about the choice of vehicle.
    It was a tough job for honda to play they game in india. and i trully agree the after sales service are truly not upto the mark. but even i can see that improving a little bit now. The unicorn's main plus points is its ultra refined power plant and the state of the art monoshocks, providing it top-notch handling and very competitive performance compared to pulsars. the difference is when pulsar screams out unpleasantly the unicorn does it silky smooth. I would not like honda if it hits the PANIC button and starts providing a few gizmos like its competitors... just to be ahead in the competition. I would anyhow welcome it but I am sure if they do it... then pulsar would provide something extra and useless, for example:- A Weather Forecast Instrument on the LCD,etc :))) and it would defenitely become hit and people would expect the same from other bikes. Irrespective of my comments, i would heartly welcomed these features.... Had they improved on the engines, performance, handling and quality.

    Honda will defenitley climb up.... but with a time and progressive improvement. For sure people will understand the value of product in time.

    Note:- out of all races i had against pulsar, not even once did i lose.

    And before any critisizes just imagine how bajaj would have handled the situation if they start a new bike in some new country like ZAMBIA????

    And what ever the cases are... i still applaud to the bajaj coz they have achieved success but a huge scale... and made pulsars which is a big hit in INDIA!!

    Regards,
    Menas Ahmed

    Hrishi said...

    Hey i'm intrestwed in buyin a new bike of 150c. But Still confused which bike should i buy The Pulsar 150cc or the Honda Unicorn...
    I cann't decide this... will u plz guide me in this matter... Plz plz...

    Payeng said...

    Hi Hrishi,


    The Unicorn is a very good product from Honda.. If you want a totally commuter friendly 150 cc then the Unicorn should fit the bill perfectly for you.


    The Pulsar 150 is more sporty in nature. You can even check out the Apache RTR 160.


    In the end its your personal decision that matters and it should not matter what I or any other guy might say..

    but I will strongly suggest you to personally take test rides of the bikes shortlisted before you buy them.

    Anonymous said...

    Hi Payeng,

    Thanks for such a good article and the discussion. I own Unicorn and I feel I made a very good decision. Infact after riding my bike 3 of my friends have actually purchased the Unicorn.
    I purchased Unicorn in Jan 2006 after going thru lot of study and test rides. I found this is really the best combinations:
    This bike offers a very good basic bike - No fancy cosmetics but a performance engine & comfortable ride.
    I have driven this bike on highways and on very bad roads. Whatever I am mentioning here is all my experience.
    Try racing with this bike on old Mumbai Pune road specially in the ghat section. Unicorn remains aheads of it's competitors. This bike effortlessly climbs the ghat. I was actually racing with Pulsar…. Better torque.
    The engine is very smooth and makes less noise compared to other bikes. So for long rides it does not cause fatigue.
    The ride is very comfortable specially long runs, Thanks to its sitting posture. I did Pune – Bangalore on this bike with first day ride of 600km till Davangere. There was no strain or fatigue. The petrol tank is perfectly shaped to give grip when you ride.
    The monoshocks is real comfort experienced on poor roads in the Sahyadri range. Punites can try the road going to korigad from the Tamhani ghat. Roads in Pune city are the best test track for this. Or even try it on Bangalore – Makedhatu road. It’s long seat gives good space for pillion rider compared to other bikes. If you are going for a couple of days outing with your friend and if carrying sack on your back you need long seat.
    The road grip is great. If breaks are applied on high speeds the bike will not skid.
    No bike can match smooth gear shifting of this bike. Fuel consumption is always good. Spares – you need them rarely.

    I think one important reason of lower sales volumes of this bike is that many customers give importance to some fancy features and styles rather than performance. And as you said overconfidence on part of the Honda Mgt. The Honda mgt’s view is clear, ‘We are giving a very good product. If you like, you buy it. If you want cosmetics get lost.’

    Thanks & Regards

    Anup

    Payeng said...

    Dear Anup,

    >> I don't recommend racing on streets leave alone at the Ghats..!!


    >> No doubt the Honda Unicorn has proved to be a very Reliable and Comfortable bike. absoutely no second opinion on that.


    >> You said, "The Honda mgt's view is clear, We are giving a very good product. If you like, you buy it. If you want cosmetics get lost." Well, actually the new 2007 Unicorn is nothing but an excersice in cosmetic surgery..!!

    Anonymous said...

    Only once did i rode the unicorn.Most of the time i ride as pillion on my friend's bike.I am amazed at the bike's stability,good riding comfort and smooth power delivery.The gear shift is soomth.I dont know why the unicorn is not a commercial sucess.Everybody goes after the pulsars,merely becase of its looks and impressive specifications.But the pulsar is no match for the unicorn as far as comfort,reliability and smooth performance is considered.I admit that unicorn lacks looks.But you are not spending 60000+ money for looks.When you buy a 150cc machine all you need to look at is performance,reliability and comfort.Honda's machines are the most reliable in India.No doubt friends.

    Payeng said...

    To the one who commented above..

    I don't think you are actually reading the article before putting down your comments..??

    Bhaskar said...

    Hi,

    Firstly I would like to thank for all the reviews given here specially to payeng and Menas Ahmed.

    I, myself, own a Honda Unicorn.
    I was suggested about this from a friend
    of mine who also owns one and who has
    also great regards for Honda and this bike in particular. I have been riding for the past 4 months. And honestly I have been thrilled by the stability and smooth ride of the bike.

    I am sure the sales of Honda will improve drastically from now onwards as
    people will come to know more about
    the good Unicorn.

    Anonymous said...

    y the unicorn look is not on par with its competitors ? I been wondering for long time ,what went thru' the honda engineers mind while designing it ? will they release new model uni that was shown in auto expo 2010 ?

    Anonymous said...

    I agree with the article.
    I own a Unicorn and am fully satisfied with it.
    however, it is true that Honda failed to be aggressive and sensible in marketing. Apart from this they also left out some gizmos initially like Auto Start and alloy wheels.
    They made a half hearted attempt to capture the Indian market which was lapping up Pulsars which had a distinct positioning and customer base.
    I think they got stuck in the scooter mindset.
    The idea is if you have a 150 cc bike with monoshocks (first in indian market) they should have really targeted the corrected audience.

    Anonymous said...

    y the unicorn look is not on par with its competitors ? I been wondering for long time ,what went thru' the honda engineers mind while designing it ? will they release new model uni that was shown in auto expo 2010 ?

    Anonymous said...

    Hi Payeng,

    Thanks for such a good article and the discussion. I own Unicorn and I feel I made a very good decision. Infact after riding my bike 3 of my friends have actually purchased the Unicorn.
    I purchased Unicorn in Jan 2006 after going thru lot of study and test rides. I found this is really the best combinations:
    This bike offers a very good basic bike - No fancy cosmetics but a performance engine & comfortable ride.
    I have driven this bike on highways and on very bad roads. Whatever I am mentioning here is all my experience.
    Try racing with this bike on old Mumbai Pune road specially in the ghat section. Unicorn remains aheads of it's competitors. This bike effortlessly climbs the ghat. I was actually racing with Pulsar…. Better torque.
    The engine is very smooth and makes less noise compared to other bikes. So for long rides it does not cause fatigue.
    The ride is very comfortable specially long runs, Thanks to its sitting posture. I did Pune – Bangalore on this bike with first day ride of 600km till Davangere. There was no strain or fatigue. The petrol tank is perfectly shaped to give grip when you ride.
    The monoshocks is real comfort experienced on poor roads in the Sahyadri range. Punites can try the road going to korigad from the Tamhani ghat. Roads in Pune city are the best test track for this. Or even try it on Bangalore – Makedhatu road. It’s long seat gives good space for pillion rider compared to other bikes. If you are going for a couple of days outing with your friend and if carrying sack on your back you need long seat.
    The road grip is great. If breaks are applied on high speeds the bike will not skid.
    No bike can match smooth gear shifting of this bike. Fuel consumption is always good. Spares – you need them rarely.

    I think one important reason of lower sales volumes of this bike is that many customers give importance to some fancy features and styles rather than performance. And as you said overconfidence on part of the Honda Mgt. The Honda mgt’s view is clear, ‘We are giving a very good product. If you like, you buy it. If you want cosmetics get lost.’

    Thanks & Regards

    Anup

    Payeng said...

    Utpal, Here are my views on the success of the Activa..

    >> When it was launched, there were hardly any good scooters being produced in India

    >> It was better than any other scooter in terms of Handling, Ride Quality, Fuel Efficiency, Power Delivery, Refinement and also in Durability.


    Whatever might have the strategy of Honda, the fact was that.. The Activa was the "Scooter that Indians wanted"



    Whatever strategy works, that will be called a successful Strategy. Unfortunately for Honda, its strategy for the "Unicorn" and "Shine" has not worked for them.

    Both the Unicorn and the Shine inspite of being good bikes have turned out to be the Motorcycles which majority of Indian Bikes don't want."

    Utpal Das said...

    Hi Payeng,
    Just wanted your thoughts why Activa was such a success then and now? Was some different marketing strategy applied or was it just a case of perfect timing?
    I am not a Honda INDIA (HMSI) fan, but they bought the Activa when experts said that the scooter market is dead and they did prove them wrong.
    I have been also driving my sis Activa for 3 years or more now and its an EXCELLENT product.
    But it doesn't mean that an exceptionally good product has to sell well or the Unicorn should have sold better. (I have nor hard drived a Uni, but my guess is its a GREAT product).

    So why was Activa a success while the Uni & Shine failed?

    Santanu Samanta said...

    dear payeeng sir, i am leaving guwahati to barpeta. i have to commute thru villages of lower assam. should i go for unicorn for that? pls suggest.

    S.P - Biker Next Door said...

    Dear Santanu,

    you can go ahead with the Unicorn

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