“We will be seeing EVs with Jeep,” confirms Aditya Jairaj, deputy managing director, Stellantis India and the head of Jeep’s India operations
Jeep may have the Compass and the Meridian on sale in India today, but the brand hasn’t had it easy. Petrol engines were discontinued from the Compass lineup, and despite the Meridian offering a very well-rounded experience – mixing luxury and capability – it hasn’t picked up in the way Jeep would want it to. The Wrangler is still on sale in India, in its pre-facelift guise and the Grand Cherokee is attacking the luxury segment. With this spread of SUV offerings and its iconic brand, sales should have been better in our SUV-obsessed market.
In comes Aditya Jairaj, deputy managing director, Stellantis India, and the new head for Jeep in India. He has been in charge of the company for just 110 days so far and the word on the street is that he’s putting in some very real changes to turn things around. We caught up with him on the sidelines of the launch of the 4x2 diesel AT Compass and Meridian Overland. He tells us about how these two variants are just the start and plenty more is in store. He gives us his reading of what needs to be done differently for the products to pick up better, is ready to deliver on petrol drivetrains if the market wants it, reveals a little about the plans for an all-electric Jeep for India and hints at the launch of the facelift Wrangler soon. He also clarifies how Jeep and Citroen – the two Stellantis brands in India – work together, in terms of product development, purchasing and after-sales to ensure economies of scale. Read on for the full conversation.
As told to Sirish Chandran
Sirish Chandran (SC): 110 days with Jeep India – what is your reading of where Jeep is in the country?
Aditya Jairaj (AJ): Jeep is a very aspirational brand in India, and overseas but India-specific specific is very aspirational. Customers are very passionate. Actually, it's not just customers, different stakeholders, customers, employees, and suppliers, are very passionate about the brand. And I think Jeep has established itself here, quickly rising, we've been here since 2016-17. So it's not that we've been here for decades. Very quickly it has established a unique place for itself, within this Indian market. And the future that I see for Jeep is very strong in India, for a couple of reasons. One, what surprises me in a very pleasant manner, the most about, let's say, India at this point is the consumerism, consumerism, and, people have become increasingly impatient, they don't want to wait for 10 years to enjoy their lives, they want to enjoy their life now, and maybe COVID has also contributed to that. So with Jeep, you get the ability to go anywhere, at any point in time. Freedom, adventure, and passion are the core tenets of the Jeep brand. And we see more and more consumers wanting to embrace this. So, I see a huge potential for Jeep in India. Now, it is upon us to make sure we increase the accessibility of the brand, to consumers, it is upon us to showcase to them what the Jeep brand is about. It is not just about a single purchase, it is about the experience, it's the Jeep community, it's the sense of going anywhere at any point in time it imbibes what you do. So, great potential, and we have to make sure that we continue to build on the strong base that exists here.
SC: It’s no secret that Jeep sales aren't where they should be. What are the main ways in which you're going to address that?
AJ: Starts with the launch of the 4x2 automatic diesel that we'll see at the heart of the segment. It increases our segment coverage in the C segment by four times. We'll showcase exactly how with the numbers but the segment coverage increases four times so that obviously will give us a huge grip. On the Meridian, we have another special edition coming out of Meridian which is untamed sophistication, if I may call it premiumness. And the ability, the usual Jeep ability is a standard. So we're taking the premiumness to the next level. So when we launched Meridian a year ago, we took this feedback from consumers. And you'll see in person what this new edition is about. It's across the lineup, we're doing something on Compass, and we're doing something on Meridian, to make sure that we continue to add value to customers.
SC: What is the reading as to what has gone wrong, because this is not where the business should be? Especially a year after the Meridian, the Meridian never took off. What has not gone right?
AJ: For a product to be successful, in my mind, there are three things. One, there have to be characteristics in the vehicle that attract customers to it. Second, you have to be able to communicate these characteristics to consumers. And third, consumers need to know what you stand for. So instead of saying, what's gone wrong, I think what we need to do is to improve our communication in terms of what the Meridian stands for. It stands for something unique, if you look at the segment, right now technically belongs to the D segment, but it's not really in the D segment. And it's not even in the C segment. It gives you that extra space. And some consumers want that extra space, even though they may use it, I don't know, once a month or twice a month. It's like the sunroof, you may not use the sunroof but you want it? Right. So I think we need to do a better job of communicating what the Meridian has to offer. And that's going to be one of our focus areas.
SC: Everybody's moving towards petrol, whereas you've moved out of petrol. How do you address that?
AJ: Two things to this. Is petrol important? It is important because of the regulatory environment and also as a result of what the consumer needs or wants. So we're evaluating petrol options. And I don't think there's any other company that is, in my mind, better equipped than Stellantis with all its global might, to bring what consumers want. That's number one. Number two, right? In the interim, what we have at this point is an assured buyback. What are consumers worried about if you buy a diesel engine? You won't know how much it will be valued after three years or five years or whatever the case might be. What we have introduced recently in the market is assured buyback. So we have up to 55 per cent of assured buyback on our models after three years. So with this what we do, it's peace of mind ownership. Again, there are also inherent benefits of diesel. This is a change, I would call it a transient phase. And, we will be actively looking at how we can continue to make sure we satisfy customers and petrol is one of their needs/wants and it will be there.
SC: Are you also looking at hybrids and going forward, electric?
AJ: So, if I tell you we're not looking at electric, then you think I'm a fool. Yes, it all boils down to consumer need and consumer want. And, from an electrification portfolio, we've got the 4xe. And, personally having experience, 4xe takes the thrill to the next level. So, we are looking at electrified options too because at the centre of it is the consumer need and the consumer want.
SC: Are you still assembling the Wrangler here?
AJ: There is no other place in the world outside of North America, where we build four nameplates. North America and in India. There is no other place in the world outside North America, other than India, where we build the Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee.
SC: On the electric front, there must be a timeframe right? You have to be looking at electric. Is that like a larger group perspective now that you have your Citroen cousins over here and then will that be done together?
AJ: Obviously in India, we are Citron, we are also Jeep. With Citroen, we have the eC3 right now in the market. So we're learning from that, we're taking those learnings as we develop a Jeep-unique product. So we work together in terms of bringing products to market, that's the benefit of having multiple brands, under the Stellantis portfolio. So we will be seeing EVs with Jeep. At this point, I won't comment on whether it's near-term, medium-term or long-term because I sometimes don't know the definition of that, but electrification is a very important part of a strategy going forward.
SC: How does the Stellantis Group work in India — you have Jeep and Citroen. What is shared? And what is independent?
AJ: We're one company. If you look at Jeep, the customer's brand ideology is different. For Citron it is different. So that we keep separated because we want that razor-sharp focus. But, when you talk about purchasing, you talk about other services, like after-sales which are shared, there is commonality and hence there are benefits.
SC: In terms of product development?
AJ: We've got integrated teams. To put it simply, the same team could be working on Jeep, and a portion of the team could also be working on some other model. So it's one company, it's not broken up saying, this is only Jeep or This is only Citroen, it is integrated.
SC: You spoke about the Jeep lifestyle and the experience of Jeep. How has it been on that front?
AJ: I think that's also one of the differences between Jeep and maybe other OEMs, for us that community that revolves around the brand is very organic. For example, the day before yesterday, we had representatives from nine Jeep club groups across the country, they are our evangelists. So we work closely with them, and we have re-engaged strongly with them. For two reasons. One, they are evangelists. Second, they've very unique insights, because usually they're at the forefront of adoption. And then, besides them, we organise trails. On a larger scale, we've got five trails over the year that we organise. The next trail, I believe, is in Goa, Goa or Rajasthan, one of the two. And then on a regional level, we work very closely with the Jeep clubs and our dealerships to organise local trails. And what that does, we've seen, we've re-energised this over the last three months. On August 15, Independence Day we had trails across the country. These are activities that bring communities together, bring consumers together and bring prospective consumers together. So that is an important aspect.
SC: Do you still have the Trailhawk? Or have you stopped making it at this point?
AJ: At this point, we have stopped the Trailhawk.
SC: There is a facelift for the Wrangler. When will that come to India?
AJ: We'll answer that question in a few weeks, a few months.
SC: Do you still assemble the Wrangler here or is it on pause now?
AJ: We’ll continue with the assembly of the pre-facelift at this point.
SC: I’m a huge fan of all the Jeep products and the whole lifestyle. It is different from what the others do, what your rivals do. But it comes in spurts.
AJ: Consistency is the name of the game. You can do less but if you keep doing something, it helps. So, we're sharpening the pencil again, making sure that we're consistent and you can't focus on 25 things, you got to focus on five things. So that's my job.