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   MARUTI SUZUKI INDIA

LIMITED




After India opened up its economy in the early 1990s, the Indian automobile industry witnessed intense competition. Maruti Suzuki India Limited (Maruti) had been a dominant player in the Indian automobile industry since it began operations in 1981. Maruti was so popular that in India people had long used the word "Maruti" as a synonym for "car." Maruti had experienced a dream run for three decades, achieving the largest market share in the passenger car industry in India. But for the first time after 28 years of consistent growth, Maruti experienced a fall in sales volume in 2012 (see Exhibit1). Even in 2014, after two years, it had not yet recovered. R.C. Bhargava, the chairman of Maruti, was concerned with how to turn things around. He knew that Maruti had little control over pricing, given the fierce competition in the sector. Despite the price of cars remaining stagnant over the last decade, Maruti and its competitors were experiencing declining sales. Prices of fuel had adversely affected demand. Input costs for manufacturing were increasing year after year. With such a dismal outlook for the automobile industry and with poor price maneuverability, how long could Maruti sustain profits? The chairman knew he had to decrease the costs of manufacturing and he was considering building a state-of-the-art plant in Gujarat. Would this reduce costs enough to help Maruti become more profitable?


INDIAN PASSENGER CAR MARKET


The Indian passenger car market was the fastest growing in Asia, driven by India's large population of

1.28 billion and a low penetration of fewer than 12 cars per 1,000 people (see Exhibit 2). Prior to the 1990s, the Indian automobile sector was in poor shape compared to the automobile sectors in other

countries, largely because of demand-side constraints such as the low purchasing power of the average

Indian consumer. Before India's economic liberalization, the majority of India's population could not afford to buy a car, and car penetration was less than three per 1,000 people. After liberalization, with rising income levels of middle-class families, the demand for passenger cars went up steadily over the next 20 years. However, car penetration was still very low compared to in Brazil, Russia, China and developed countries (see Exhibit 2). From a supply-side perspective, the automobile industry had greatly benefited from liberalization, as international automobile manufacturers took advantage of India's affordable yet highly trained engineers, establishing manufacturing operations throughout the country. Due to India's huge pool of talent and rising income levels, India's passenger car market had grown in terms of production and sales and was expected to grow further in coming years.


Passenger vehicles in India could be broadly divided into three segments — passenger cars, utility vehicles and multi-purpose vehicles — with passenger cars contributing around 80 per cent of total sales volumes. As of 2014, this segment was expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 15 per cent for the next 15 to 20 years. Apart from domestic growth, automobile exports from India were predicted to grow at 12 per cent. It may be noted here that, in a low per capita income country like India, two-wheelers (motorcycles and scooters) constituted a major mode of transportation for the lower middle class, who would eventually graduate to the small-car segment. In most cities and towns, due to the poor quality of roads and excessive traffic congestion, motorcycles were the first choice for daily commutes. However, a car was considered a prized possession for a middle-class Indian family, even though it was not used on a daily basis. With rising income levels, this held great promise for car manufacturers, as fewer than 12 people per 1,000 owned a car in India, reflecting huge market potential.


MAJOR COMPETITORS OF MARUTI


There were many players in the passenger car segment in India. Some of these players were domestic, such as Maruti, Tata and Mahindra. Others such as Hyundai, Honda and Toyota were from other Asian countries. The two companies with the largest market share in India were Maruti, at 49 per cent, and Hyundai, at 21 per cent (see Exhibit 3 for trends in the market share of Maruti and its competitors). Although there were many players in the luxury segment of the market such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi, there were few buyers who had the income to support such purchases. There were other competitors for Maruti such as Ford, GM, Nissan, Renault, Škoda and Volkswagen that competed in mini- and mid-segment cars. These companies had taken considerable market share from Maruti in recent years.


MARUTI: THE COMPANY

Established in 1981, Maruti enjoyed the largest market share in the Indian passenger car segment. In 2014, Maruti, with two production facilities at Gurgaon and Manesar (both in the National Capital Region of Delhi), had a production capacity of more than 1.4 million units per year. The production facilities had

more than 12, 000 employees and produced more than 16 automobile models, each with multiple variants Examples of Maruti's product offerings included small cars like the Maruti Alto, Wagon R and A-Star. Small cars made up 41.2 per cent  of Maruti's total sales units. In the compact car segment, Maruti offered cars such as the Swift, Estilo, Ritz and Celerio. This segment made up 24 per cent of Maruti's total sales. In the mid-size segment, the company offered the SX4 and Dzire, which contributed

19.1 per cent of sales. The sport utility vehicle segment made up just 5.8 per cent of sales and contributed less to Maruti's profits than small and mid-segment cars. Finally, in the vans segment, the company was known for the Omni and Eeco, which contributed 9.6 per cent to its overall sales. The remaining sales came from other models of Maruti cars. From the Maruti 800 in 1983 up to the launch of the Celerio in February 2014, Maruti had rolled out model after model and exceeded customer expectations in terms of quality and value for money.


Maruti focused on three key strategies to generate sales. First and foremost, its pricing strategy was very competitive. For example, in the small car segment, the Maruti Alto was priced 10-20 per cent lower than competing models such as the Hyundai Santro, Tata Indica and Chevrolet Spark (see Exhibit4). Second, Maruti  spent  a  great  deal  on  research and development  to  create  more  fuel-efficient  engines. This decreased the cost of owning a car for a consumer; Indian customers were very sensitive regarding the fuel efficiency of vehicles, since fuel costs were high relative to average income levels. Third, Maruti offered reliable after-sales service, backed by its extensive service networks. There were more than 15 competitors in the market and it was never easy for a company to retain more than 40 per cent of the market share. But Maruti had done it consistently over three decades. Maruti cars enjoyed a unique position in the Indian consumer's mind. Maruti scored higher than its competitors in terms of price, fuel efficiency and reliability, and its sales were boosted by the promise of efficient after-sales service. The uncertainty of getting stuck on Indian roads due to machinery failure was effectively exploited by Maruti. As Maruti had a network of 3,053 service stations in 1,449 Indian cities, its promise of reliability wasunmatched by any of its competitors. In terms of fuel efficiency, Maruti cars provided an average of three kilometres more per litre of petrol/diesel compared to its competitors. The resale value of Maruti cars was also far higher than that of any of its competitors. Maruti offered its True Value used-car business, with more than 454 True Value outlets in 255 Indian cities, reassuring its customers that they would attain the highest resale value from any Maruti brand. For an Indian middle-class family planning to buy a new car, Maruti was the first and most obvious choice.



COMPETING WITH MARUTI CARS


Maruti had implemented very few price increases in its passenger car segments over the last 10-12 years.

Nonetheless, competitors had emerged in each of these segments. Out of Maruti's 16 car models, each



model had anywhere from one to seven close competitors from Hyundai, Tata Motors, Volkswagen, Toyota, Honda or Chevrolet (see Exhibit 5). However, despite intense competition, Maruti had retained its leadership position in most segments. In fact, it was so pervasive a brand that some of its models competed among themselves. For example, its Alto model competed with the Maruti 800, and the Wagon R competed with the Ritz. Maruti had maintained its "people's car" image since its inception by strategically keeping prices low and positioning entry-level cars for first-time buyers. Mini-segment cars, which constituted more than 80 per cent of Maruti's total sales, carried price tags that were at least 20-30 per cent lower than those of their nearest competitors.


The bestselling mini-segment models of Maruti were the Alto and the 800. The prices of these cars had remained stagnant for a long time. In fact, in many instances, the prices of these cars had been reduced. For example, the launch price of the Alto LX model was INR299,000 in 2002, and the price was subsequently reduced year after year until 2009, when the price was INR257,000, a reduction of approximately 14 per cent after seven years. The price of the 800 model was INR281,000 in 2002, which was reduced to INR221,000 in 2010, a drop of 21 per cent. The price of the Wagon R was reduced from INR359,000 to INR338,000 during the same period. However, Maruti was able to increase the price marginally for the compact and mid-size segment cars over this period, which boosted the revenue of the company.


The passenger car market in India had witnessed intense price competition. It was so intense that not a single price change by any of the players had gone without a reaction from rival firms. If one looked carefully at all the models of the different brands, the intensity of the price war was evident. Specifically, in the case of the Maruti Alto, even Maruti's close competitors — Hyundai and Tata — could not raise the prices of their cars over the years; they had to reduce the prices of their models to retain market share. For example, in April 2004, when the price of the Maruti Alto fell by around 7 to 8 per cent, the Hyundai Santro price correspondingly fell by 4.6 per cent. Similarly, in June 2009, when the Maruti Alto price fell by 8.8 per cent, the Hyundai Santro price fell by 7.7 per cent, while the Tata Indica price fell by 9.8 per cent. Though it was never easy for car manufacturers to reduce prices, they were left with no choice but to sell their products at reduced or stagnant prices. Even for the mid-size and compact segments, Maruti could not increase price when it wished to due to price competition. Though the company had been able to retain its leadership position, its market share had fallen over the years due to the intense price competition.


In 2001, Maruti had total revenue of INR70.21 billion, which included other income with net sales. There was a steady rise in Maruti's revenue even though sales volumes fell from 2011 to 2014. In 2014, Maruti registered sales revenue of INR445.43 billion, a rise of more than 500 per cent in 14 years (see Exhibit6). Even though Maruti could not raise the prices of its mini-segment cars, the rise in sales revenue was mainly due to a rise in unit sales and marginal increases in the prices of its compact cars.


INPUT COSTS


The prices of raw materials for cars had risen significantly since 2001. Basic metal prices had increased sharply, except for the price of aluminum. Steel was the major raw material for cars, and the price of steel had increased by at least three times (see Exhibit7) since 2001. Apart from steel, other inputs for automobiles such as copper, lead and rubber (see Exhibit7) had gone up in cost by at least 240 per cent.


Even the price of aluminum had experienced a marginal rise of 7 per cent. The only raw material for which there had been no significant price rise was palladium, but its usage in car-making was relatively negligible. Apart from these materials, the prices of other materials and inputs such as electricity and fuel had gone up during the same period. The rise in input prices had been as much as 300-400 per cent. Specifically, steel and rubber prices had significantly raised the cost of production.


Labour Costs

The cost of labour had gone up significantly due to the rise in general price levels (inflation) in India. Though Maruti depended heavily on contractual labourers to cut down on labour costs, it had to keep pace with the market in terms of compensation and perks in order to retain employees. The wage disparity between Maruti's regular employees and contractual employees in the past had led to HR issues that had given Maruti much bad publicity. The tragedies of the Manesar plant had forced Maruti to revisit the compensation packages given to its employees. This had resulted in further rising employee costs. The employee cost had been a mere INR1.99 billion in 2001, but had risen to INR10.69 billion in 2013-2014 (see Exhibit6). It may be noted that along with Maruti's costs, the labour costs per unit for its competitors had also risen accordingly during the same time period.


Selling Costs


With the automobile sector being so fiercely competitive, Maruti needed to spend a lot on promotional activities. The distribution and channel costs had also risen with the rise in fuel prices. For Maruti to retain its market share, it had to engage in extensive ad campaigns on television and through other promotional avenues. The cost of advertising on television had risen each year, resulting in increased spending on promotion. The promotion and television costs had risen from INR6.33 billion in 2001 to INR64.99 billion in 2014 (see Exhibit6). In per capita terms, expenses had risen from a mere INR18,069 to a whopping INR56,266 per car during the same period.



KEEPING DOWN COSTS


The automobile industry was at a crossroads where the costs of raw materials and operations continued to increase substantially without a corresponding rise in the prices of the products sold. For companies in this sector, it was very difficult to sustain profit levels that met the expectations of stakeholders and the market. It seemed that the solution lay in the implementation of more efficient production. As prices had remained sticky for an extended period of time and costs kept rising, firms needed to innovate to bring costs down. Manufacturers continued to add new features to their products and in the process discovered cost-cutting measures.

Maruti had been doing this successfully for more than two decades. However, in the scenario of rising costs, the company faced major challenges, as there was no cushion allowing it to pass on the burden to consumers. Any attempt on Maruti's part to raise prices was met with a price cut by its rivals. Yet the rival firms were also facing the same challenges; in fact, the challenges were worse for them than for Maruti. The only alternative for the manufacturers was to keep the costs of production down through


increased efficiency. As increasing the price for most Maruti models was out of the question, the only solution lay in achieving technical efficiency and economies of scale. The gap between the average cost and the price was quickly shrinking for each model. Therefore, to remain relevant in the market, Maruti had to innovate constantly to cut down costs and achieve the right scale of production. Achieving economies of scale was the only solution in the face of rising input and labour costs.


FUEL PRICES AND DEMAND FOR PASSENGER CARS


The rise in the price of crude oil had not helped the cause of the automobile sector in India. Fuel prices had increased, which significantly impacted the growth of the sector. In 2014, while addressing the media, Maruti chairman R.C. Bhargava in fact put the blame for declining sales squarely on increases in the prices of petrol and diesel. These prices had increased by 20 per cent in the last two years, adversely impacting car sales. The price of petrol was deregulated in India and was linked to crude oil prices. The price of crude oil had increased from $25.64 per barrel in 2001 to around $110 per barrel in 2014 (see Exhibit7). Apart from the rise in crude prices, local taxes on petroleum products were very high in India, which further raised the prices. The diesel price was regulated and kept low through subsidies. This helped car manufacturers like Maruti to charge a premium on diesel cars. However, the price of diesel was slowly being deregulated in India. With a new union government that was firmly focused on reforms, the diesel price would soon be deregulated. Once this occurred, diesel variants of cars would lose their edge over petrol variants. The deregulated diesel price would further adversely impact the demand for automobiles in India.

PROFITABILITY

Maruti had been able to maintain a steady rise in profits despite challenges that were beyond the control of the company, such as increased costs and fuel prices that affected the demand for cars. In 2002, it posted a net profit of INR1.04 billion, a mere 1.5 per cent of net sales. In 2014, Maruti's net profits had risen to INR27.83 billion or 6.3 per cent of net sales (see Exhibit6). Maruti remained focused on maximizing shareholders' wealth despite the competitive market environment. Each year, Maruti's financial results exceeded market expectations.


DECISION TO ENTER GUJARAT


Maruti had been contemplating entering Gujarat and setting up a plant with an installed capacity of 300,000 units per year with an investment of INR60 billion. It was expected that any new facility would be more efficient, as it would use the latest technology and subsequently the cost of production would be lower. Therefore, once operational, the facility would help Maruti achieve better economies of scale so that it could compete better and sustain its profits. However, setting up a new plant was a messy affair in India, with regulations related to everything from land acquisition to obtaining clearances from several ministries. The Tata Nano's Singur plant debacle was still fresh in everybody's memory. Bhargava had various questions to consider. Could he find a way to increase prices to achieve higher profitability, thus avoiding the capital expenditure of building a plant? Would the building of a new plant really sustain profits or would it take so long that it would not be worth the initial investment?































EXHIBIT 1: DOMESTIC SALES, EXPORTS AND TOTAL SALES (UNITS) OF MARUTI CARS







2013-14


2012-13


2011-12


2010-11


2009-10


2008-09


2007-08


2006-07


2005-06


2004-05


2003-04


2002-03


2001-02


2000-01













792167


764842


674924


561822


536301


472122


362426


352404


350814


1155041


1171434


1133695


1271005


1018365





















Total      Exports      Domestic









Source: Various annual reports of Maruti; "Our Financials," Maruti Suzuki, www.marutisuzuki.com/financial.aspx, accessed September 12, 2014.



EXHIBIT 2: MOTOR VEHICLE PRODUCTION, CAR PENETRATION AND PER CAPITA INCOME OF SELECT COUNTRIES


Country

Motor Vehicle

Production (in 2014)

Automobile

Density (Cars per 1,000

People)

Per Capita

Income

in US$PPP in 2013-14

India

4,145,194

12

$3,843

China

19,271,808

44

$9,055

Brazil

3,342,617

178

$11,747

Russia

2,231,737

233

$17,518

U.K.

1,576,945

457

$36,569

France

1,967,765

481

$35,295

U.S.

10,328,884

423

$51,714

Japan

9,942,711

453

$35,855

Germany

5,649,269

517

$38,666

 

Note: Per capita income (PPP) refers to how many U.S. dollars are required to buy a pre-defined basket of commodities in different countries. It is different from the official exchange rate conversion of per capita income. It differs from country to country, based on the purchasing power of a currency in the domestic economy. For example, if one requires US$100 to buy a predefined basket in the United States, and if the same basket can be purchased in India for INR4,000, then the PPP exchange rate is INR40/US$1, whereas the official exchange rate is around INR60/US$1. Per capita income in US$PPP is a better indicator of the affordability of buying a car than nominal per capita income.

Source: The World Bank, "Passenger cars (per 1,000 people)," http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IS.VEH.PCAR.P3, accessed September 12, 2014.




EXHIBIT 3: TRENDS IN MARKET SHARE OF MARUTI AND ITS COMPETITORS IN INDIA

 

(Market Share in Percentages)


Year

Maruti Suzuki

Hyundai Motors

Tata Motors

Mahindra

& Mahindra

Toyota Motors

Others

2002

50

13

13

7

4

13

2003

46

15

15

7

4

13

2004

46

14

16

8

5

11

2005

46

13

17

8

4

12

2006

46

14

17

7

4

12

2007

46

14

16

6

4

14

2008

46

14

15

8

4

13

2009

47

16

15

8

3

11

2010

45

16

15

8

3

13

2011

45

14

14

7

3

17

2012

44

14

13

8

6

14

2013

49

21

6

7

3

13

Note: Figures were rounded off.

Source: Data compiled by the author from Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, www.siamindia.com/; ICRA Limited, www.icra.in/Files/ticker/PV-Industry-201103.pdf; Shally Seth Mohile, "Maruti Suzuki's Market Share Rises to Highest in

Three Years," Live Mint, January 13, 2014, www.livemint.com/Companies/z2zcAjzlyOe1IlqMiRfkwJ/Maruti-Suzukis-market-

share-rises-to-highest-in-three-years.html; and Ravi Kishore Oakuri, "Market Share of Automobile Companies in India 2013: Top  Player  in  Industry,"  July  6,  2014,  www.currentweek.com/market-share-of-automobile-companies-in-india-2013top-

players-in-industry/. Sources accessed September 18, 2014.


EXHIBIT 4: EX-SHOWROOM PRICES OF MARUTI CARS AND COMPETITORS

 

(INR in hundred thousand)



Year

Maruti Alto LX

Maruti 800

Hyundai Santro

Tata Indica

Chevrolet Spark

Maruti Swift

Dzire LXI

SX4

VXI

Aug-02

2.99

2.81

3.36

3.19

**

**

**

Apr-03

2.99

2.56

3.36

3.17

**

**

**

Nov-03

2.87

2.56

3.46

3.14

**

**

**

Apr-04

2.65

2.26

3.3

3.14

**

**

**

Aug-06

2.81

2.24

3.24

2.75

**

**

**

Sep-07

2.81

2.2

3.28

3.38

3.09

**

6.18

Oct-08

2.82

2.29

3.48

3.65

3.17

4.89

6.54

Jun-09

2.57

2.06

3.21

3.29

3.17

4.54

6.36

Feb-10

2.5

2.21

3.44

3.38

3.19

4.6

6.68

Oct-11

3.01

2.22

3.76

3.24

3.54

5.32

7.73

Apr-12

3.01

2.22

3.76

3.24

3.75

5.3

7.73

Sep-13

3.12

2.42

3.76

3.4

3.57

5.38

7.73

Apr-14

^^

^^

3.66

3.85

3.45

4.85

7.15


EXHIBIT 5: MARUTI'S COMPETITORS BY MODEL


Model

Launch Date

Competitors

800

1983

Tata Nano

Omni

1984

Tata Nano, Tata Venture

Gypsy

1985

Mahindra THARcRDe, Tata Sumo, Mahindra Xylo

Wagon R

1999

Nissan Micra Active, Hyundai i10

Alto

2002

Hyundai Santro, Chevrolet Spark, Tata Indica

Swift

2005

Tata Vista, Hyundai i20, ŠkodaFabia, Volkswagen Polo, Toyota EtiosLiva

SX4

2007

Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Verna, Honda City, Škoda Rapid, Volkswagen Vento, Renault Scala, Nissan Sunny

Swift Dzire

2008

Honda Amaze, Hyundai Xcent, Mahindra Verito, Toyota Etios, Ford Classic, Chevrolet Sail, Tata Manza

A-Star

2008

Chevrolet Beat, Nissan Micra Active, Ford Figo

Ritz

2009

Tata Vista, Hyundai Grand i10, Honda Brio, Nissan Micra, Renault Pulse, Toyota EtiosLiva

Eeco

2010

Tata Venture, Tata Winger

Alto K10

2010

Chevrolet Spark, Tata Indica, Hyundai i10

Ertiga

2012

Toyota  Innova,  Mahindra  Xylo,  Nissan  Evalia,  Tata  Sumo  Grande, Chevrolet Tavera, Chevrolet Enjoy

Alto800

2012

Tata Nano, Chevrolet Spark, Tata Indica, Hyundai Eon

Stingray

2013

Chevrolet Beat, Chevrolet Sail

Celerio

2014

Hyundai i10, Chevrolet Beat, Honda Brio


EXHIBIT 6: YEARWISE REVENUE, COSTS AND NET PROFITS FOR MARUTI


(As of March 31 of each year; INR in billions)


Year

Total Revenue

Raw Materials

Employee Cost

Selling & Administrative

& Other Manufacturing Expenses

Net Profit

2001

70.2

58.8

1.99

6.33

-2.69

2002

75.3

58.3

2.27

6.95

1.04

2003

73.6

55.6

2.17

6.78

1.46

2004

94.8

69.7

2.93

6.07

5.42

2005

114.6

85.6

1.91

6.72

8.53

2006

126.8

93.3

2.11

8.09

11.89

2007

150.5

107.3

2.26

10.95

15.62

2008

190.6

137.9

3.46

13.39

17.30

2009

211.7

157.6

4.63

18.08

12.18

2010

301.2

223.6

5.38

24.31

24.97

2011

375.2

285.5

7.03

35.22

22.88

2012

364.1

282.3

8.43

32.67

16.35

2013

444.1

305.7

10.69

64.99

23.92

2014

445.5

313.14

13.68

59.22

27.83

Source: Capitaline Databases, www.capitaline.com, accessed September 12, 2014; and various annual reports from Maruti, Maruti Suzuki India Limited, "Our Financials," www.marutisuzuki.com/financial.aspx, accessed September 12, 2014.



EXHIBIT 7: TRENDS IN COMMODITY PRICES (MAJOR RAW MATERIALS), 2001-2014


Year

Aluminum US$/Tonne

Copper US$/Tonne

Lead US$/Tonne

Rubber US$/Tonne

Palladium US$/Ounce

Brent Crude

Prices

$/Barrel

Iron, Steel &

Ferro Alloys (Index)

2001

1,615.65

1,787.05

477.89

693.70

1,041.55

25.64

137

2002

1,368.59

1,503.60

512.84

647.90

409

19.48

137

2003

1,378.28

1,647.35

444.78

1,011

255.32

31.29

150

2004

1,606.49

2,423.11

758.82

1,371

216.58

31.18

201

2005

1,833.94

3,169.18

953.61

1,329.40

186.03

44.28

244

2006

2,377.45

4,733.67

1,256.62

1,932.40

274.32

63.57

237

2007

2,808.34

5,668.69

1,665.11

2,110

337.05

54.30

271

2008

2,445.08

7,060.10

2,608.47

2,705

374.20

91.45

337

2009

1,412.79

3,220.20

1,134.64

1,607

188.63

44.86

307

2010

2,234.84

7,385.67

2,370.22

3,202.40

434.10

76.37

310

2011

2,439.13

9,554.75

2,597.44

5,591.90

793.10

96.29

349

2012

2,143.82

8,042.97

2,093.74

3,856.90

659.14

110.99

386

2013

2,037.70

8,048.76

2,339.82

3,271

712.59

112.93

405

2014

1,726.20

7,299.46

2,150.20

2,365.90

734.14

107.57

412*




1.     What is the market structure prevalent in the Indian Automobile industry? What are the Maruti's competitive advantages? How can Maruti sustain its profitability in the future?

2.     Explain the challenges and opportunities for car manufacturers in Indian Market?

3.     Outline the important determinants of demand for automobiles. How are cross and income elasticity of demand relevant to Maruti's managerial decisions?

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