In the mid-1990s, the Indian automobile market had opened fully allowing a host of global automakers to enter the market. It was the era of sedans and hatchbacks though and the era of urban utility vehicles (SUVs) was still a decade and a half away. Utility vehicles (UVs) were perceived as crude and relatively uncomfortable vehicles meant to navigate rough rural roads.
Mahindra's presence in the passenger segment was limited mainly to utility vehicles which had a fan following in the countryside but were not perceived as 'good enough' for the urban buyer. The Mahindra management team wanted to play a bigger role in the urban market but designing a vehicle from scratch would take a lot of time and investment. Was there an option of coming up with a product to attract urban buyers by modifying an existing UV? The management decided to simply upgrade the Mahindra Armada Grand.
A newly recruited two-member design team, hired by Pawan Goenka who was heading R&D at that time, was given the task with a strict deadline. And they did work wonders. To the untrained eye, the resemblance with the Armada wasn't prominent. At the same time, Mahindra had just set up its Tool & Die workshop. With limited R&D capabilities and funding, a decision was taken to create the Bolero in-house with a mere investment of INR 20 crore (approximately USD 6million at the time).
In 2000, the Mahindra Bolero was born. The strategy was to provide a fully loaded vehicle, high on visual appeal and at an attractive price (INR 4.9 lakh), something that Mahindra continues to do across all its products. Built like a tank with an all-metal body, the Bolero was the first vehicle from Mahindra to get an independent front suspension that enhanced comfort, ride and handling. Its promise to customers was 'Break Free' — a UV with car like comforts and features.
"Mahindra then was known for its soft tops and rough ride and handling. Bolero's launch campaign was designed to redefine Mahindra's image – of a modern brand with refined features," said Rajesh Jejurikar who was heading marketing at that time. "The 'Roadrunner' TVC with a carefully chosen protagonist and an intriguing chase sequence with a female driver was well-received. Its print ads also showcased features you wouldn't expect in a Mahindra vehicle like smooth ride quality over bumps, teeth chattering air-conditioning, power steering etc.", said Jejurikar. The brand met with tremendous success and enabled M&M to compete in the urban landscape as a serious contender.
However, with the entry of the Mahindra Scorpio in 2002-03, new benchmarks in comfort, ride quality and handling were set. The category was yet again redefined. Suddenly, the Bolero was now looked upon as a basic utility vehicle and the sales volume began to dip (approx. 5000 in FY03). In order to give the brand a boost, new Bolero variants were launched between 2003 to 2004, targeting the personal and contract segment in urban and semi-urban markets. The market dynamics were still rapidly evolving, and the Indian customer was exposed to higher levels of style, luxury and comfort. There were discussions about whether the Bolero should be discontinued altogether. However, instead of giving it the axe, the management team decided to revitalise the product brand.
In 2006, after tremendous consumer research and competitor analysis, the Bolero was repositioned as an 'Entry Level SUV' with a tagline 'Take on Anything'. "Thanks to the clutter-breaking 'Water Scooter' TV ad, Bolero was now repositioned as an exciting, stylish, vibrant and affordable option for the youth and upwardly mobile consumers," said Jejurikar. This campaign was complemented by 360-degree print, interactive, and on-ground activations. The print campaign reiterated various product upgrades. "Reversal of fortunes of Bolero was primarily contributed by the repositioning of the product. This entire campaign became the turning point not only for the Bolero brand, but for Mahindra as well," said Goenka. The DI engine in the Bolero made it a mass Indian product. Click here to watch the TVC. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJrxC81HPHQ>)
But it was not the advertising alone that was different. The product was also evolving rapidly and becoming more refined with each iteration. “Since its launch, the Bolero literally took on anything. From emission norms, technology features, to fit and finish, we kept evolving Bolero to meet the changing demands of Indian customers. During all its refreshes, we were always conscious not to deviate from its tough and rugged DNA while maintaining a smart blend of style and heavy-duty performance,” recalls Goenka.
Important milestones as the Bolero kept becoming better:
At the core of the Bolero promise was the fact that it was a true off-road vehicle capable of tackling even the trickiest terrains. It championed the 'adventurer in you' and beckoned Indians to explore the unexplored. It dominated every road and quickly became the popular choice for rural and semi-urban India.
Both rural and urban customers have been extremely passionate about their Bolero and made it an integral part of their lives – even an extension of their personality. Many customers went on to customise their Boleros and shared their adventures online. Bolero videos showcased everything from unconventional modifications to saving lives and crossing rivers are trending till date. From Bhojpuriya, to Haryanavi, to Sambhalpuri, to remixes and many more, YouTubers and local artists have creatively showcased their love for Bolero. A simple YouTube search will reflect the fan frenzy in rural India. Check out this (https://www.facebook.com/MahindraBolero/videos/521338988444772>)
Road to success
At the time of its launch, there were less than ten vehicles that the Bolero could call its rivals. Today, it faces competition from around 40 brands. "Despite these new entrants, Bolero remained the 'highest sold SUV in India' and was the 'highest selling SUV for ten years' in a row and touches 5,000 units a month even today," said Goenka. Close to 12.5 lakhs Boleros were sold since F2001 (till January F21).
Two decades after its launch, auto experts remain baffled as to why Bolero still appeals to customers. Bolero's ability to take on anything – any terrain, any condition – evokes trust in the brand. In addition to its classic design, which appeals to the true Bolero loyalists, the value it offers to customers is unmatched. Its road handling, road grip, low cost of operations, warranties, 24x7 roadside assistance at 3000+ touch points across the country and longevity despite lakhs of kilometres on its odometer, make it a brilliant value proposition for its customers.
According to Goenka, Bolero's key to success is its simplicity. "Bolero is considered practical, affordable, reliable, has good fuel efficiency, doesn't break down, can be repaired anywhere in India and has low repair cost because of its local parts. And we can't be prouder of this humble beast." .
The perfect combination of a functional and emotional brand, Bolero has managed to cover many tough roads in the past successfully — and it is likely to surmount the path ahead as well. Commemorating its 20th anniversary is the highly anticipated launch in Q1 F22 and its fans can't wait to see how Bolero will take on the future.
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