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A Brit (via China) in India

Take a wild guess as to where Benedict Cumberbatch is from. You don’t even have to know he’s a famous actor, has starred as Sherlock Holmes in the hit series Sherlock, interpreted the controversial Julian Assange in The Imitation Game and was in Avengers: Infinity War as well as Avengers: Endgame. The guy is a bonified Hollywood star, and his name is also entirely … British.

Yep, Benedict Cumberbatch is as British as they come. If you had to invent, off the fly, a British name, this one would appear top of mind. And like most things British, the guy is revered. Auto companies know a thing or two about latching on to revered figures for the betterment of the brand. So, it should come to no surprise that Cumberbatch is a spokesperson for MG, specifically the new MG Hector, a SUV from the Chinese holding group SAIC Motor Corp. The Hector is making its formal launch in India, a country with plenty of demand but one where traditional U.S. brands have historically floundered. SAIC is betting that a Brit in Cumberbatch over say George Clooney, will have more success.

In India SAIC will be competing with Hyundai and Suzuki. Combined, these two brands control two-thirds of the market, a market that is the 4th largest in the world with over 3.4 million vehicles sold. The key to India according to multiple analysts is moving volume, be highly localized to the Indian reality, and contain lots of segment-first features. SAIC is keyed in on the previously mentioned points with Cumberbatch positioning the Hector as the go-to vehicle for cutting edge features such as remote vehicle control and voice assistance, two features that do not exist in India apart from a handful of luxury models. Another strategy is mentioning SAIC as little as possible, and MG as much as possible. Chinese products have an inferior perception in India so playing up the British angle lies at the forefront.

Many still point to American failures and wonder what SAIC will do different. One advantage a Chinese company might have in India is the two countries find themselves on a similar growth path. From a consumer perspective, purchasing power and expectations are much more aligned than say India and the U.S. SAIC’s models also compete well with Hyundai and Suzuki as they are closely aligned. Over the long-term SAIC will need a strong network of dealers and service centers which is exactly what Hyundai and Suzuki count on. Volume, as we mentioned, is also key, so an overly aggressive focus on SUVs (a premium category) could hinder volume movements to the point where the numbers don’t justify their presence any longer.

Another “time will tell” case, but don’t bet against the Chinese. They’ve succeeded nearly everywhere else for a reason.

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