Yamaha Motorcycles

Conceived by Embrand, Made in India by Yamaha …succeeded across the world.

In 2004, Yamaha was playing the “Fill it, Shut it, Forget It” game, with forgettable products. But Embrand’s research revealed that motorcyclists in India couldn’t forget the thrill of riding and hearing the RD 350 and RX 100 at speed. Embrand’s solution to revive the Yamaha brand, and its sales, was the CBU import of the RD 350’s spiritual descendant – the R1, and a made-for-and-in India smaller version with the R1’s DNA – the R15. Embrand’s solution included the design brief (Aesthetics, ergonomics & features) for the R15. Launched in 2008, this ‘all-product, zero-advertising’ campaign doubled Yamaha’s sales and market share in three years. Major global brands entered India in the wake of Yamaha’s success.

“Embrand conceptualized two Made-for-and-in-India products – YZF R15 and FZ16 – to restore India’s faith in the Yamaha brand, and reverse its declining market share. These bikes did exactly this – despite being priced 30% above rivals, and promoted with just showroom displays. YZF R15 also proved successful in S.E. Asia, USA and EC.”

A.V. Srinivasan
Sr. V.P. & Director, Yamaha India. (2004-05)


Consumer research and discovery resulting in brand repositioning and new product design.

Yamaha had been consistently gaining market share worldwide. However, in India, despite being present for almost 20 years, Yamaha was not faring well. In March that year, Yamaha India appointed Embrand to analyse this problem and recommend solutions to increase market share.

Early days
In 1983, Yamaha started operations in India, in collaboration with Escorts, a leading Indian industrial group, by launching its flagship international product – The Yamaha RD 350. Priced close to the average Indian car at that time, its sales were much lower than Escorts’ own brand – Rajdoot, a popular motorcycle which was a rural workhorse. The RD 350 created a sensation. Its paradigm-shifting performance, technology and road presence left an imprint on Indian bikers that still endures. The smaller and cheaper Yamaha RX 100 followed in 1986, and volumes and market share of the brand accelerated significantly. The brand had clearly brought excitement in a market used to seeing motorcycles of obsolete European technology and design as utilitarian commuter tools. Yamaha quickly and clearly became synonymous with power, speed and adventure on two wheels, with its aesthetics and aural signature as its leitmotif.

Despite a burgeoning economy and a sizeable, growing educated middle class with a new-found love for style, performance, adventure and social success - Yamaha found itself losing its sheen. Competition was getting fiercer, product differentiation and positioning was getting fuzzy.

Embrand set out to understand the motorcycle market in India, shifts in brand positions over the years, internal and external business influences and other variables through qualitative pilots and use of structured product development tools. The discoveries were several - despite all the new models that Yamaha launched over the many years – there was just one that represented its spirit – The RX 100. The products that succeeded it, however, reflected the fact that Yamaha’s obsession with the competition – mainly Honda (Hero Honda in India), had replaced its
obsession with its consumers. In doing so it had ended up playing Honda’s game without Honda’s weapons – products and service depth & width that strove to reduce rider involvement to the level of a domestic appliance. Honda riders rode motorcycles only because they could not afford a car. Their life was a constant struggle and excitement was the last thing they wanted from their two-wheeled commuting appliances. Yamaha’s equity was built in India, on the other hand, by people whose involvement in motorcycling was all-consuming – they lived to ride! In focusing on products aimed at satisfied Honda commuters, Yamaha had come up against its own legacy - a brand that maximized thrills per litre, and not kilometers per litre. Even though its new products could match equivalent Honda models in fuel efficiency, consumers were unwilling to believe it would. And neither could Yamaha’s dealers, in their worn-out, small (relative to Honda) showrooms, muster the confidence to make a dent in these beliefs. Neither did they have a ‘fix’ like the RX 100 for the increasing number of affluent young moto-assasins (Think Bosozuka http://forums.mightycarmods.com/ showthread.php?958-Bosozuka-Tribes&p=11565), for whom even considering kilometers per litre was beneath contempt. To add insult to injury, even that fix was now available in mildly diluted but in contemporary packaging at the local Honda shop in the form of CBZ and Karizma, or at the local Bajaj shop in the form of the Pulsar.

In short, Yamaha was a cult whose devotees had nothing but fading memories and even more faded icons.

Embrand’s strategic options to Yamaha were simple:

  • Beat Honda in the commuting game with its own tactics – products that offered paradigm-shifting fuel-efficiency performance. Honda had done so with its “83 kmpl, Fill it shut It, Forget it” ethos introduced in 1983 to woo the Indian commuter off his Bajaj Scooter (the Indian version of the original Vespa). But 83 kmpl was a shift then, when the paradigm was Bajaj’s 30 kmpl. Extrapolating this to 2004 meant offering at least 150 kmpl to counter Honda’s 83 kmpl! Offering this in a modern scooter with electric start and water-proof storage space would reduce the commuter’s involvement tremendously (a benefit remember!). However, before doing so Yamaha needed to understand why a 100 kmpl scooter, named Eterno, launched by Honda (vide HMSI, Honda’s solo venture in India that worked in parallel with its other, co-branded, Hero-Honda venture) in 2003, was not exactly a resounding success.
  • Win at its own game and produce a series of latter day avatars of the RX 100 – a 21st century fix.

To use another metaphor, if Yamaha was considering footwear as a business in India, it could either set up Bata shops or Nike shops. Trying to do both in one shop would be disaster, as a look at the history of TVS, another fading local two-wheeler brand, would prove.

Finally, the key questions put to Yamaha were:

  • “Look within – not just at your Indian business, but where your brand emanates from – the culture with Yamaha HQ, and figure out what you are best at”
  • “Why had Yamaha changed its logo a few years ago?” Yamaha had used just its name in a distinctive typeface on its motorcycles for decades across the world, but had recently replaced it with its original symbol – Three tuning forks as the spokes of a wheel. The origins of the logo lay in Yamaha’s original business – making musical instruments.

    It was at this juncture that Embrand played back excerpts from in-depth interviews with almost 1000 motorcyclists in 5 Indian cities. Two quotes summed it up, “You could hear a Yamaha well before you saw it. No motorcycle has ever been able to match that sound.” “A lot of us have chosen to buy and restore old RX 100’s and RD 350’s rather than buy anything else”

    This argument sealed it, and Embrand was given the go-ahead to configure motorcycles that could, once again, produce what it termed “ Yamaha’s moving music for India” – and demonstrate what the logo on the tank meant.

    A little technology is necessary here to understand “engine music”

  • The Yamaha RD 350 and RX 100 were high-revving 2-stroke engines with a distinctive moan.
  • All Honda’s in India have been 4-strokes.
  • The seminal Yamaha in India was the RD 350, which had two cylinders and two exhaust pipes, and could rev willingly to 8750 RPM – this at a time when other motorcycles in India would fall apart at 4000 RPM.
  • While the simplest solution would have been to produce an RD 350 with modern styling, and a RX 100 in a similar vein at less cost for the volume market, Indian law was a deal breaker. Environmental legislation had banned two-stroke engines in the mid 1990’s.
  • The only solution was to launch a 4 cylinder 4-stroke Yamaha as the modern avatar of the RD 350, and with a two-cylinder 4-stroke as a replacement for the RX 100.

However, the cost of either solution would be prohibitive, and their prices would ensure purchase, largely, by sons of corrupt politicians – which would mean about 5000 units at the most. (Good for India, but not for Yamaha !)

A compromise solution was arrived at:

  • Considering the high price and low volumes of the flagship 4 cylinder product, it would be a CBU (Completely Built Up) motorcycle imported from Japan against confirmed orders. This would be the magnet to pull devotees back to Yamaha showrooms. No advertising would be required as auto magazine reviews would do the job FOC.
  • To quench the thirst of the working-class devotee, the lower priced, RX 100 avatar would be a scaled down, built for (and in) India, single-cylinder product with almost all the cutting-edge technology of the flagship.
  • The styling – product clinics research showed a clear direction – Just as a true Harley Davidson would always be a cruiser, a true Yamaha would always be a Nike… err… Sportbike. Valentino Rossi’s domination of Moto GP with a Yamaha was a major influence here.
  • The most recognized Yamaha for its Indian (in fact global – hooray for the Internet) devotees was the R1 – just as the RD 350 was in the 1980’s across the world, and later in India. While it could not replicate the RD 350’s engine music, it would provide a distinctive sound of its own – the new sound of Yamaha power.
  • The scaled down version for local manufacture would be the R15 (150 cc in Yamahaspeak) – India’s first water-cooled, electronically fuel-injected, single cylinder, four stroke, double-disc braked, alloy-wheeled motorcycle with the styling of the R1. The technology and styling, and above all the performance, would be sufficiently radical to compensate for the loss of the RX 100’s own engine music. Once again, no advertising would be needed beyond that required for announcement value at launch – the motoring press – on/offline would do the rest.
  • The above products, aimed at the affluent and the upper-middle class, would be the anchors of the revival of the brand. For the rest, and for generating voumes, Embrand suggested and configured simpler and cheaper versions – but with styling in vein of the emergent ‘naked-bike’ trend in Europe. Yamaha’s international range in this genre was the ‘FZ’ and ‘Fazer’ , and the Indian version would also, therefore, be an FZ or Fazer, but with a cheaper, single cylinder, air-cooled engine.
  • Variations of the above style themes were plotted on a 10 year product roadmap to ensure consistent emphasis of the brand on “Sport” (acceleration, max. speed and handling) and not on “Transport” – which was to be the domain of the competition.
  • The dealer’s job would be to simply stock, sell and service – the products would build the brand and their respective markets.
  • It also felt that, considering Yamaha’s product design capabilities, it would be more cost effective for it to invest in:
    a) Making fast and stylish motorcycles, than on TVC’s that made slow motorcycles look fast, or used film-stars to make dull motorcycles look stylish.
    b) New products, rather than on new paint schemes, new stickers and new advertisements to make old products look ‘new’.


  • The first product R1, was launched in 2007, within three years of Embrand completing its assignment, and the R15 and FZ 16/Fazer followed the R1 soon after. Yamaha’s market share in India stopped its descent and started climbing upward not much later.
  • Each of the above Yamaha products earned rave reviews in Indian motoring media, saving millions in advertising expenditure for Yamaha.
  • Cynics and critics wondered if any Indian would buy a motorcycle for Rs. 12 lakhs, completely missing the point - that a brand had fought its way back from near oblivion to credibility in the world’s largest and fastest motorcycle market.
  • Competing companies, some of which had opposed Yamaha’s pioneering move to import high-priced CBU’s into India, soon followed with their own CBU’s – most of them at equal or even higher prices.
  • In 2009, Harley Davidson used political muscle to enter India with its entire range of CBU’s – the cheapest priced at INR 0.6 million.
  • Mahindra, a new brand in the Indian motorcycle, has followed a similar strategy by designing and launching a sporting 300 cc motorcycle as its anchoring act.
  • Hyosung, the Hyundai of motorcycles, will launch 650 cc motorcycles in the INR 0.5-0.6 million range in Q4 2010 with Garware – an Indian company known for its nylon yarn, fishing nets and shipping line.

Excerpt from a comment by Jaspal Bajwa, CEO of Bausch & Lomb (India) in 1994, to Manoj Berry, then head of R,D,Y&R’s N. Indian operations, prior to the launch of ray Ban sunglasses in India “…Ray Ban seems to be expensive for most Indians today because few of them have experienced the genuine article, or seen such price-tags in the category. But with increasing affluence and product experience, and the entry of more expensive brands, the sticker-shock will fade as the consumer perceives that Ray Ban delivers value commensurate with the price.”