Earlier this month, work took me to Germany. I spent all of two days in a beautiful little town in Bavaria called Nuremberg. On the first working day, my host took me out for lunch to a quaint restaurant in one of the main squares of the city. Lunch was delicious. We ate Nuremberg sausages, a local delicacy, served with potato salad. The meal was washed down with generous quantities of Bavarian beer. The beer glasses were so large that to toast, their bases had to be clinked rather than their top.
After lunch, we were walking through the main square of the town. I was enjoying myself ' partly because of the beer and partly due to the sunny weather. The host said he would leave me alone for a while and pick me up an hour later. I walked a little and then the beer inside me started protesting. I obeyed and sat down on the steps at the base of a wish fountain.
That is when I noticed them ' a series of taxis waiting in a designated area. All of them were Mercedes Benz. I know Merc is a German car but to see so many offering paid rides was a surprise. I had taken a taxi when I landed in town. I rued not having noticed what brand of car it was.
And then I saw the small truck passing by, the kind we call Matador in Calcutta. This had a similar flat front. Right in the middle of its face was the famous symbol of Mercedes. That was kind of jarring. I checked with my host later. He confirmed that in Germany Mercedes makes cars that span all price classes ' from the cheapest to the most expensive. The contrast was stark.
I was reminded of a chance meeting with the sales chief of Mercedes in Calcutta. He mistook me for a prospective buyer. In his sales spiel, he said little about the car or its capabilities. He just rattled off names of owners of Mercedes in Calcutta. They were all real big shots. He was luring me with undeserved membership of that elite league. All this made me wonder what would happen to this exclusive Mercedes image if they came to India with their full product range ' from minitrucks to minicars as well as the flagships, the E class and S class sedans.
Would its classy image get diluted' The scenario is not all that unreal. A growing Indian auto market could well force Mercedes to consider making India a full portfolio destination. What then' Maybe one option would be to clearly segregate the role of the mother brand Mercedes and the constituent brands for each price category. The mother brand provides the umbrella cover. It concentrates on only emitting functional imageries: precision engineering, safety, dependability, state-of-the-art technology... These are attributes that do not get vitiated by the price of the car. The sub-brands take on the flanks. They get busy creating lifestyle and personality imagery appropriate for the price class in which they are operating. That certainly is a way out, but hardly the optimum solution.
The moot point will remain ' would the mark Mercedes be able to carry the classy image despite being constantly challenged by the presence of its Maruti 800 variants. More so, as the brand Mercedes is being asked to perform a role, that role does nothing to nurture its main asset in the Indian market. It would be like asking Ronaldo to play as a sweeper back.
My return trip started at 5.30 in the morning. It was dark, cold and raining. I took the pain to go to the front of the car. It was a Mercedes. My ride felt a lot smoother. I wondered whether I would have felt the same way if I had taken a Mercedes taxi from Sealdah station.