There are many who believe that Sudhin Mathur’s decision to step down from his twin posts of Managing Director, Motorola Mobility India, and Country Head, Lenovo Mobile Business Group India, could be an indication of the changing relationship between the two brands. While there is a perception that Mathur’s departure might have more to do with the market share of both brands dipping in India of late, the fact is that barring Xiaomi, market shares have been dipping across the board in India. And even at the point of his departure, all said and done, the Moto-Lenovo combine was among the top five smartphone brands in India.
However, recent times have also seen a subtle shift in the relationship between Motorola and Lenovo. Lenovo, for those who might have forgotten, acquired Motorola Mobility from Google, but for quite a while, Motorola and Lenovo’s operations in the phone business in India seemed distinct. Even when they were publicly unified, initially it seemed that Lenovo was at the very least on an equal footing with its better-known phone brand sibling. In fact, for a while, Lenovo even actually outsold Motorola, partly because of having more models in the affordable smartphone segment, and was actually seen by many as Xiaomi’s main rival in the online sales market. Motorola seemed to be a relatively upper middle segment player (the Moto E apart) and had limited handsets, whereas Lenovo had a wider spread.
That, however, seemed to change subtly in 2017. The year saw Lenovo go largely quiet in India for the first half of the year, with no major launches following the extremely popular K6 Power. Motorola, on the other hand, came up with a number of new Motorola devices with new versions of the G, a new Moto M device, and also a new Moto C device. Lenovo did come back in the second half of 2017 with the K8 series of devices (with stock Android), but once again seemingly was made to play second fiddle to another wave of Moto devices, including another set of Moto G phones (the G5s) and the Moto X. Most of the outdoor and media advertising too seemed to largely revolve around Motorola – even when we were asked to give our phones a rest in the rather strange Phone-Life balance campaign. And running right through the year were rumors that the Lenovo brand would be shunted out of the smartphone business in India and instead be totally replaced by Motorola.
That has not changed in 2018, where so far there have been no new phones from Lenovo at all in India, but there have been two from Motorola – a 6GB RAM avatar of the Moto X4, and the Moto Z2 Force. Of course, the company still formally insists that both Lenovo and Motorola are very much part of its portfolio but the stress increasingly has been on Motorola, with the opening of Moto Hubs all over the country.
Now, Mathur was very much the person in charge at Lenovo-Moto when this apparent shift happened and was indeed the face of the brands. But what cannot be denied is that for many people, he also represented Lenovo far more than Moto – he was after all the man who made Lenovo a mainstream smartphone brand in the Indian market, which until then had mainly identified Lenovo with computers. Of course, he was also the man who was center stage at a number of Motorola launches but for a lot of people, he remains the person behind Lenovo’s mobile arm in India.
His departure, for whatever specific reason, therefore could well signal an end of an era of sorts – one in which Lenovo had at least for a while gone toe to toe with its better-known phone sibling. Of course, we have no idea who will step into his shoes, but market sentiment would seem to indicate that whoever it is will be more Moto than Lenovo-friendly. The guard would seem to have changed in more ways than one there.