Indian Lead Battery Industry
It is a comparative study of Indian Lead Battery Industry in recent years
The Indian Starting, Lighting & Ignition (SLI) Lead Acid Battery Industry has seen tremendous changes in the last 2 to 3 years in the passenger cars, utility vehicles, light and heavy commercial vehicle segment with some commendable and bold steps being taken by some of the leading manufacturers trying to alter the perception of the battery as a commodity to the battery as a brand. Factors driving this change could include the sluggishness of the Indian auto industry over the last 2 to 3 years, the entry of new battery manufacturers into the market and the increased knowledge base among the users.
This revolution is led by Amara Raja Batteries Ltd., a relatively new entrant to the automotive battery segment which has a Joint Venture (JV) with the leader in the automotive battery industry, i.e., Johnson Controls Inc. USA. Interestingly, the lead taken by this relatively unknown company of the industry has been lapped by all so as to capture a sizable share of the lucrative replacement market due to the margins and the visibility of the brand.
Historically, the Indian automotive battery market was original equipment (OE) driven by one dominant player, i.e., Exide Industries Ltd., in the organized segment followed by many manufacturers from the unorganized segment especially in the light and heavy commercial vehicle segment. Exide at a point of time controlled nearly 100 percent of the Indian auto OE market and was the biggest name in the Indian automotive battery industry.
All this was changed in the late 1990s with the entry of battery manufacturers like Amara Raja Batteries Ltd. (ARBL) (JV with Johnson Controls Inc. USA) and Tudor India Ltd. (the Indian arm of Exide Technologies). Both entered the market with technologically advanced products and ARBL became the first company to launch the Zero Maintenance Free Batteries for the automotive segment.
ARBL completely repositioned the product with innovative marketing and distribution strategies that have taken the industry by storm and are credited with creating a separate category for the product. This initiative of educating the consumer was quickly grasped by the other manufacturers and a very aggressive marketing program was unleashed. This move saw the otherwise dull industry flush with a lot of action and enthusiasm that generated a lot of interest among the consumers and the dealer distributor network which is an important link in the chain.Today, the battery is being spoken of in the industry in the same breath as the passenger car which exhibits the visibility and awareness that the strategy has created.
The total Indian storage battery market is approximately estimated at US$ 500 Million with the automotive battery segment contributing 60 to 65 percent of the overall market value. In terms of volumes, the overall consumption of automotive batteries could be around 6.3 million units with the OE segment comprising around 1.2 to 1.3 million units per annum, according to an interview with the Executive Vice President of ARBL that was published on the website chennaibest.com.
This being the case, the aftermarket is definitely attractive with its sheer size and is lucrative due to better price and credit realization. The late 1990s also saw a surge in the sales of the passenger car segment for around 2 years due to certain factors like the software boom, lowering of interest rates, etc.- which increased the overall sales of batteries. The automotive sector did not see any significant growth during the early part of the new millennium and is slowly showing signs of growth during this financial year. This factor also adds to the demand in the aftermarket as more number of cars were sold around 2 to 3 years back which is generally the life of a lead acid battery. The replacement automotive battery market is expected to grow at a healthy rate in the coming years.
The SLI market in the Indian subcontinent is a highly fragmented industry with a few manufacturers in the organized segment and a lot many belonging to the tier 2 / tier 3 categories which have a regional presence and thrive especially among the semi urban and rural areas. These companies mainly cater to the replacement market of tractors / farm equipment and heavy commercial vehicle segments which is a price sensitive market. The market share occupied by the companies belonging to tier 2 and tier 3 categories could be as high as 50 to 55 percent of the replacement market which is a significant share in volume terms. Also, this is a high growth market as the batteries and the vehicles generally will be abused and the rate of replacement in this category is generally high compared to passenger car segments.
Role of Technology
With the advent of newer more advanced technologies, the consumer is getting the best of both worlds; a superior product at an affordable price. ARBL sells its automotive battery under the brand name Amaron which is the country's first Zero Maintenance Free Automotive battery while the competitors had only maintenance free batteries that needed topping up of distilled water. Today, all the leading manufacturers are also offering a similar product with focus shifting towards offering a technologically superior product. Amaron was also the first to talk about what goes into making a great product. It spoke of having silver inside which is used as an alloy mix that actually increases the battery life and this was the first attempt by any battery manufacturer to educate the consumers
The interest level shown by any car owner to a battery revolves around only when the car fails to start. Amaron therefore realized the need to make the consumer think about automotive batteries, because thinking before a purchase will definitely lead to a comparison among the brands available in the market.
Amaron thus went ahead with its "Chicken Leg" media campaign that created a storm in the advertising industry and made people look to this relatively new player in the battery industry. Over the years, the creative bent of all its campaigns starting from the media blitz, to below-the-line campaigns have been towards educating the consumer about a battery.
The lead shown by ARBL was quickly followed by the others, with Exide Industries sponsoring a cricket series in India for the first time with the campaign "India moves on Exide" becoming a major success.
All this action in the automotive battery industry did not go unnoticed. An automotive battery manufacturer (Amaron) for the first time was in the same league as mega ad spenders like Coca Cola, Times of India, and others and won the Creative Advertiser of the Year, which was a shot in the arm for the entire automotive battery industry.
For the success of any aftermarket product, availability of the same is as important as the product quality and competitive pricing which go a long way in increasing the visibility and creating a network across markets. Here again, the leading automotive battery manufacturers became aggressive in extending their reach to the nooks and corners of the country and also moved away from the traditional distribution network and instead appointed dealers and distributors who were the first timers to the battery business like service outlets of some of the automobile majors like Maruti, Hyundai, Telco, Ashok Leyland, Hindustan Motors etc, roadside mechanics and lube shops etc., which went a long way in increasing the reach and visibility.
There has been certain uniqueness that has been brought into the business by establishing exclusive outlets with some flashy names like "Pitstops" and "Terminals" which was never seen earlier in this industry. All this, resulted in taking the smaller / regional manufacturers head on and helped in building better brand recall and awareness among the end users.
The consumer has always been familiar with the usual 12 month warranty on the automotive batteries, extended either by the automotive OE or the battery dealer down the road. Today, the scenario is not the same as battery majors have realized the potential of the aftermarket and are offering pro rata warranties of up to 3 years which has been the normal life of any lead acid automotive battery. There are a few takeaways from this interesting move by the battery manufacturers. One, the consumer is being made to realize that he / she is getting a better bargain by luring him / her to go for a replacement from the organized sector and two, the battery manufacturers want to retain the customer from the moment he / she makes the first purchase, forcing some manufacturers to offer a life time warranty with some caveats thrown in which can spoil the market in the long run.
As an extension to the warranty being extended, after sale service has become an important differentiating factor with respect to providing excellent after sales support to the customer. This has resulted in the manufacturers launching new service programs with some interesting terminology's to capture the attention of the customer
All these strategies have only resulted in the consumer becoming educated enough to make intelligent comparisons among products to get a better bargain which in turn, has led to the erosion in the market share of the unorganized sector and cheaper imports. This move towards branding a low interest product, will go a long way in setting some standards for the industry, increasing the entry barriers and making quality products available at affordable prices.
The results are there for all to see. Exide Industries has more or less doubled its dealer network and has also increased its share with the acquisition of Standard Batteries some time back and a slew of new products thus making it the number one in the replacement market. Amaron is the second largest selling brand in the country today with Prestolite of Tudor India following it really close. In the coming months, there is bound to be more action in the battery industry with an increase in the number of cars filling the Indian highways and with the upturn in the economy.