Voltas Topples LG, Samsung In Consumer Electronics; Grabs No 1 Spot In ACs

Voltas Topples LG, Samsung In Consumer Electronics; Grabs No 1 Spot In ACsKOLKATA: Voltas established a clear lead in air-conditioners sold through multi-brand outlets in the past fiscal year, dethroning LG, the first time in almost 14 years that a local manufacturer was able to topple South Korean companies in any major segment in the fiercely competitive Rs 50,000-crore consumer electronics market.

This follows a year in which Voltas emerged as a front-runner in the category, fighting LG for ascendancy. The performance by Voltas came in the face of scepticism that success in FY13 had been a flash in the pan and that no domestic brand could make a dent in the dominance of the multinationals in multi-brand outlets, where 90% of total industry sales take place.

The ACs made by the Tata Group unit had a 20% share in multi-brand outlets followed by LG at 18% and Samsung at 10.8% in the April 2013-February 2014 period, according to the latest data from market researcher GfKNielsen that tracks sales in the durables industry. Voltas is ahead by value as well at 18.9%, followed by LG at 17.9% and Samsung at 10.6%.

This was the first full year in which Voltas sustained its leadership throughout, with LG having fought back to the top in some months in FY13.

However, LG is still the market leader when counting sales in multi-brand outlets and its own exclusive stores.


As per GfK-Nielsen, LG India has a 22% share by this measure, with Voltas at 18%, followed by Samsung at 14%. Since multi-brand outlets account for the dominant share of AC sales, it's a fair measure of competition, said Pradeep Bakshi, president and COO, unitary cooling products business group.

“We are targeting more than 25% share this year. For this, we have launched more than 90 models,” he said. LG India seemed to reject the reasoning offered by Voltas.

“We would like to mention that LG is market leader in AC segment and figures mentioned in the mail are representing manipulative and incorrect form of market share,” it said in an email without responding on other queries sent as part of a detailed questionnaire.


To be sure, as a delayed summer gets under way, LG will be more than ready to unleash the might of its vast marketing machine. Voltas will have a tough task as LG has been pushing back hard with higher margins this season, said a senior executive of a leading electronic retail chain.

“Another area where Voltas has not worked hard is to increase the appeal of the brand among younger consumers, for whom Hitachi and Daikin are the preferred brands and may settle for a LG or Samsung if budget does not permit,” he said.

Still, the turnaround at Voltas is big news at Bombay House, the Tata group headquarters, considering the many Indian brands that lost out after LG and Samsung entered the Indian market in the late 90s.

Homegrown brands such as BPL, Videocon, Onida, Godrej and Voltas lost lustre starting 2000-01, with the South Koreans kicking off their marketing thrust. IFB was one of the few Indian brands to maintain its grip on the market in the niche front-loading washing segment until about four years ago, when LG took over as leader.

LG India has built the country's largest network of company-branded exclusive stores in the durables industry, with more than 1,800 such franchisees. As per estimates, such stores account for around 20% of LG India's sales, the highest contribution from this category in the industry. However, AC makers including Hitachi, Daikin, Voltas and Carrier have not focused on setting up exclusive stores since most AC sales take place in multi-brand stores such as local outlets, regional chains and modern retail.

The executives most credited with the Voltas turnaround are Bakshi and managing director Sanjay Johri. The process started eight years ago when Bakshi was given the task of turning around the air-conditioner business by the board, with the condition that if he failed, the business may be sold. At the time Voltas was at a negligible 6-7th position in the market, with accumulated losses of Rs 140 crore.

“Regaining market leadership has indeed been a Herculean task, considering LG was a tough market leader and the AC category has been one of the most penetrated with more than 25 international and domestic brands jostling for their share of the wallet,” said Bakshi, who joined Voltas after stints at Electrolux and Godrej Appliances. Bakshi’s strategy involved launching India’s first energy efficient air-conditioner in 2007, three years before the government made energy ratings mandatory, pricing the models Rs 2,000-3,000 higher than LG and Samsung. Advertisements said energy efficiency would lower electricity bills.

He also shut two factories that could not produce such models. In 2012, Voltas launched its biggest success to date -- the all-weather AC range. He also employed one of LG's strategies to great success. “The AC business was traditionally done by dealers who would specialise in this field. LG had changed the game by selling AC in the general trade and we too decided to follow suit. We currently have more than 9,400 such outlets where our products are sold. This changed the game for us too,” said Bakshi.

The air-conditioner business is now the highest contributor toward profitability for Voltas, encouraging Bakshi to draft a blueprint to expand the brand into household appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines with a target to expand revenue to Rs 5,000 crore in five years. The business is the second-largest revenue contributor for Voltas, after electro-mechanical projects and services, with sales of Rs 1,835 crore in 2012-13 with a profit of Rs 173 crore. Total net sales for Voltas in 2012-13 amounted to Rs 5,514 crore .

The brand lends itself very strongly to the domain of air and water, said Deba Ghosal, head of marketing and key accounts. “If you add our pedigree of cooling expertise, leadership position, and the trust factor of a Tata brand, the possibilities to expand into other categories are immense,” he said.

Bakshi acknowledges challenges ahead such as increasing appeal to younger consumers. “But we are on the way. For instance, this year we have launched a smartphone app to control the AC and are also targeting social media,” he said.

Bakshi is also betting on his new team, which consists of seasoned talent from the industry. This includes Rahul Jain, who joined from LG to head service, Ghosal, another ex-LG India executive, and Manish Desai, who moved from Onida to head finance.