Renault India has a unique marketing strategy — create an elite club of Duster owners to adventure together all year round. Now a one-lakh strong community hailing from all parts of India, Gang of Dusters (G.O.D) has become a brand capable of drawing as many new customers as the car. Naveen Mishra, Head-Exports & Business Development, Groupe Renault notes, “This (G.O.D) is a brand in itself. Customers see it as something aspirational, they want to own a Duster to become a part of Gang of Dusters.”
Started in 2014 to create brand awareness and familiarise customers with their vehicles, the club now organises over 20 trips a year divided into four formats — ‘aspirational’ drives that can take 10 days or longer, 1 or 2-day off-roading trips around a base city, weekend drives, and half-day outings. In 2016 they held their first ‘iconic passion drive’ to India’s Leh and Ladakh, covering a distance of about 2,000-km by road. Their 10-day tour to Nepal marked their second international excursion, the first taking them to Bhutan earlier this year.
On November 9, 18 families and solo drivers assembled with their Dusters in Lucknow, India to undertake a perilous 1,400-km long journey that would take them through the forests of Chitwan, the hills around Kathmandu and Pokhara and the plains of Lumbini before returning home. Hailing from different parts of India, they met for the first time and found themselves bonding over a mutual love for the open road.
Seventy-four-year-old Jaya Prakash, the oldest member of the entourage, hails from South India and is a farmer by profession. “I had a dream of visiting Manasarovar, but my application was turned down because of my age. But a part of my dream has been fulfilled now, because I was able to see Kailash,” he said, adding that he had no problems with the Duster. “Though I have a petrol vehicle, I found this diesel vehicle very easy to manoeuvre; it is a very friendly vehicle,” he said.
Fifty-three-year-old Uma Kaushik, a nurse by profession and the only solo female driver, found the experience transformational.
“I had a phobia of driving on mountains. Then after Chitwan there was a jam on the main road and we had to take an alternate route that was really adventurous. I loved each moment we spent on it. This trip helped me shed my inhibitions,” she said, though she added that a technician capable of fixing punctures on the spot ought to have accompanied the gang, preferably armed with a compressor.
Fascinated by the unexpected bounties of Nepal, most members listed Pokhara and Chitwan as their favourite destinations, and while some were happy with the overall trip arrangements and cost, others found inadequacies in both.
Rakesh Gupta, a software engineer from Bangalore and a veteran of multiple G.O.D trips, said the price was slightly higher than it should have been. “Some of the hotels they chose were not five star, they were not even four star, but they told customers they will be put in five star properties,” he said. Kaushik added, “Renault can and should reduce (the price) a bit. When you are taking our own car and filling your own petrol, (INRs) 80,000 seems a bit much.”
When asked about the car’s performance across the various terrains, all members interviewed reported being completely satisfied, many additionally proclaiming their love and preference for the model. Col Mandeep Singh, a retired army officer from Delhi with experience driving a slew of other SUVs and 4WDs said, “… I like the Duster better. It performed perfectly through this trip. Even in earlier trips I have never had any problems with my vehicle.”
In this regard Renault has clearly succeeded in their purported purpose of making Duster owners the biggest advocates of the brand. “(With G.O.D) we want to demonstrate that we have created a vehicle that is very capable of driving into different kinds of terrain and condition. We want our customers to experience their own vehicle and fall in love with it, making them our brand ambassadors,” Mishra said at the flag-off event in Kathmandu.
And Renault Nepal is keen to follow their lead. “We will soon introduce a Nepal chapter of this unique initiative to bring together Nepali Duster owners,” said Nikunj Agrawal, Managing Director at Advanced Automobiles, Renault’s local partner.
“We gained a lot of valuable experience during this trip,” said Sandeep Chhetry, Marketing Manager at Renault Nepal, who joined the tour from Kathmandu. “If we organise such a programme, we’d like to go to more exciting locations, since Nepal’s terrain is good for off-road adventures.”
A version of this article appears in print on November 28, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.