“Cutting-edge technologies like AI should not be compromised at the cost of “EI" or expression-to-impression,’ Yadvinder Singh Guleria, Sr. Vice President, Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India, tells Shubham Raheja in an interview during Brand Studio Live. Edited excerpts:

The Honda CB Shine recently crossed the 7 million mark in India. How did it attain that kind of popularity in a market that has well-established players like the Hero Splendor and Bajaj Discover?

The Honda CB Shine happens to be the second motorcycle that was launched by Honda 13 years ago, in 2005. Over the years it has really gained popularity. If you have to ask “which is truly a mass model from Honda’s stable as of now?", it has to be the CB Shine. We have been very successful in having a good brand recognition in Tier II and Tier III towns, even though it’s a 125cc bike. The popularity of CB Shine is growing day by day.

There have been months when the Shine series crossed one lakh (in monthly sales)—that has never happened with any 125cc motorcycle in this country.

What’s the mantra behind creating iconic vehicles like the Honda Activa, Dio and even CB Shine?

It is simple as well as complex. We like to go to the market first, see what the consumer needs, (and know) their aspirational wish list. The challenge is always to correctly find out those future needs or the wish list. Everything cannot be packed in a single product.

There are two things we look out for—one is practicality or the immediate needs we need to satisfy through our products. Second is what goes to the future—sometimes value comes at a cost and that is where the brand differentiation comes in. You need to take that risk of coming out with some additional features, or first in the segment features which will, in the long term, pay back and give some additional uniqueness to the consumer.

When we launched the Activa in 2001, we came with a tuff up tube, which didn’t exist at that time. It had double tubes with a liquid inside and if something pierced the tyre, immediate deflation of the tyres wouldn’t happen. So our customers had the chance to go to the nearest tyre puncture shop and have it repaired.

There were several other features like convenient lift up covers—you could open the covers off an Activa like the bonnet of a car, which was easy to maintain. The introduction of tubeless tyres literally took the additional tyre on the stepney away.

It has to be a complete package and you have to understand the customer. You have to be at the pulse of the market to become the pulse of the market.

There are several superbikes from Honda sold in the European and American markets. When can we expect to see them in India?

See, India is definitely evolving. Income is increasing, more enthusiasts are coming in and becoming consumers of two-wheelers. In a growing economy, there is always a sub-segmentation in any industry, whether it is two-wheeler or automobile. More multinational companies have come in and IT infrastructure has evolved. The five-day week culture is also starting and we are even seeing higher disposable income. So the two-wheelers are now not only being used for your daily commuting needs, but they are also used for fun and adventure.

The number is very limited right now, because of the restraint of infrastructure—we still do not have paved winding roads that are well-maintained, where these bikes can really perform. But we do see some new townships, hill stations and weekend getaways coming up near the metros, so people have started using performance two-wheelers. We can expect more superbikes to come into the Indian market soon.

What are some of the cutting technologies you’re currently using to maximise volume and efficiency?

In today’s world, most of the consumers are connected digitally and they have very high consumption of the digital database. So we have a mix of both—technology and humans. During the 18 years of our operations, we already have our hands on a 39 million user database.

We have come up with a very innovative, first-of-its-kind loyalty programme which is completely app-based. We want most of our consumers to come on to this platform and we can see AI at the back end of this.

But AI should not be compromised at the cost of “EI" or expression-to-impression.

We are talking about artificial intelligence and the internet, but what about “inner connect"?

The thing with run-of-the-mill loyalty programmes is that “earning and burning" of reward points takes place with the same brand family. We have gone out of the way with our B2B partners— from digital wallets to online bookings. Any Honda customer enrolled in the “Joy Club" can utilise their points at a Shoppers’ Stop or even Levi’s.

We are also using technology to maintaining our existing dealers, as well as the next generation of dealers who are more tech-savvy. We can always utilise their enthusiasm and their updation of the latest technology. So we evaluate the digital well-being of the dealership and make sure they can easily connect with us with cutting edge technology.

More than 20,000 people work at our dealerships and it’s impossible to go to each and every one of them. Further, they are the first point of contact with our customers. So we have come up with an e-learning programme whenever a new product or software comes up. We can also monitor how many people have actually downloaded the programme and how many of them went through it.

So we are employing several technologies that are increasing the efficiency of our operations and volume.

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