Ahmedabad: Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani may be household names now, but well before most Indians knew them on a first-name basis, there was another Ambani whose name was synonymous with patriarch Dhirubhai Ambani’s nascent Reliance business empire.
Vimal Ambani was the inspiration behind Reliance’s once ubiquitous Vimal sarees and suitings brand. His father Ramnikbhai Ambani helped younger brother Dhirubhai set up Reliance’s first textile mill at Naroda, near here, back in 1966. Vimal, the fabric, began its existence as a saree brand with the tagline: “A woman expresses herself in many languages, Vimal is one of them”. Vimal suitings were launched in 1980 and the brand is now part of India’s advertising folklore as much as it is an integral part of the Ambani saga.
Meanwhile, Vimal Ambani has kept a much lower profile compared with his cousins, who are now India’s two richest men. These days, Mint found, Ambani is into cars and is eyeing a new segment, especially in used cars.
Ambani is the owner of Tower Overseas Pvt. Ltd, which has become the sole distributor of Belgium’s Auto Fix, a unit of Bemis Co. Inc. that offers what are called “vehicle wraps.”
Vehicle wraps are essentially vinyl laminates that are used to cover vehicles in myriad hues and designs. The wraps are water and rust proof, and can be removed relatively easily without damaging the original colour of a vehicle and in a matter of a few hours.
“The car wrapping market in the US and Europe is huge,” says Ambani. “Here, consumers want quality at the right price. I want to target the used-cars segment first.”
Ambani may be on to something as, according to Vaishali Jajoo, an analyst with Angel Broking Ltd, the size of India’s used-car market is at around 900,000 cars, and is growing well above 15% annually.
“Even if we price our wrapping at, say, Rs15,000 per car, and 10% of the total used cars go in for a new exterior, then the market size could be Rs150 crore,” says Ambani. “Add to this the advertising and branding opportunity that would be available in a nation like ours.”
Tower Overseas is in the process of appointing dealers across India.
Auto Fix says its “wraps” give car and motorcycle owners a lot of flexiblity in choosing the skin of their vehicles rather than simply add a flourish or swirl to a small, existing set of colour options in which most vehicles are sold.
“If you want a photograph of your family, the Taj Mahal, or even your own painting on your car, walk into our shop. Come back after six hours and drive away with the dream design,” says Luc Gieraerts, a marketing manager with Auto Fix, who was here this month to provide basic training to a few vinyl applicators.
“The toughest part is right application of vinyl used to wrap the car,” he explained. “We will train applicators to ensure that the workshops don’t mess with the imagination of the vehicle owners.”
Both Gieraerts and Ambani say they are looking at wider applications of vinyl, noting that the wraps offer a way to brand vehicles with corporate colours or logos. “We recently did over 150 trucks for Coca Cola in China,” says Gieraerts. “It’s quite a hit with advertisers for branding as it can be changed every three to six months without a problem.”
While it hasn’t taken off in big companies, some firms, especially in the US, have offered car owners money if they agree to “brand” their vehicles for a period of time through wraps. Several cities also let companies wrap their public buses.
Not everyone is sure wrapping cars will catch on as a branding tool. “I cannot relate as I have not seen it (Auto Fix wraps) as yet, but I don’t think it could help in branding in a big way as billboards can,” insists Yogesh Lakhani, director of outdoor advertising firm Bright Group of Cos.
It isn’t like Auto Fix is on to a new technology. Even in India, unbranded car wrappings, especially from China, have been around for more than a decade. However, the Chinese wraps offer only one-off graphics on the vehicle.
“These wraps cost Rs50 per sq. ft. But they have a quality problem. You never get any warranty on Chinese vinyls while the Belgian ones offer a three-year warranty,” says Rajeshbhai, an auto garage owner here who goes by one name and has been in vehicle wrapping business for more than three years now.
Ambani says he has already started talking to used-car dealers. “You pay anywhere between Rs20,000 and Rs25,000 to get a car painted and have to wait for at least three to four days,” he says. “Car wrapping is faster and could cost you much less.” However, he declined to provide details on the exact pricing of the service, which will roll out in August.