Interview: Veejay Ram Nakra, chief, sales and marketing, Auto division at Mahindra & Mahindra

As told to Sirish Chandran…

SC: So has the festive season been good for you?

VRN: Yes.

SC: What all models across the range?

VRN: By and large, both passenger and commercial, as we have got a very large portfolio. So whether a Scorpio or Bolero or the pick-up or the Jeeto. So if you look at our portfolio, we call it ‘the power brands’ and all of them have done well.

SC: How is the Scorpio been doing?

VRN: Well, last month was our ever highest sales of Scorpio, in the history of Scorpio, at about 6,500 units.

SC: What do you attribute that to?

VRN: While you say that nothing much has been done on the Scorpio, I think this is probably one of the brands where despite it being so well, on very regular intervals we have been bringing in changes. It’s not necessary that every change is a major change. Like you already know the changes we brought in now, and one of the inputs we have been getting from the people or from our customers is what Scorpio is a true blue SUV. It’s a true, rugged, tough SUV and the best thing that people like about it is the pleasurable drive. The moment you move to 140bhp with 6-speed transmission, and sixth generation turbocharger from Borg Warner, it really takes the vehicle to the next level. So we have been making interventions on an ongoing basis and I think the fact of the matter is it still is a very good value for money SUV. And many people ask me and I am sure you might ask people as well, let me preempt that, who is the competition and how do you do so well despite so many vehicles coming in? Fact of the matter is, most of the vehicles that have come and try to compete in that space are not true blue SUVs, they primarily have monocoque chassis.

SC:  What is the ratio between the 4×4 and 4×2?

VRN: No it’s primarily 4×2, almost 90 per cent 4×2.

SC: But you still have 10 per cent of 4×4.

VRN: Yes. But that typically gets sold more in up-country where the application for which it is required, where you truly have those adventure buffs and the people who really want to take the vehicle off road. They are the only ones who buy 4×4 because frankly, we do our Great Escapes, our Adventures, you’ll be amazed even the 4×2 can do most of the things. Because the sheer power and torque, and especially the low end torque that the Scorpio has, that itself makes it capable to do many things that you don’t require a 4×4.

SC:Are you happy with the sales of your compact SUVs, the KUV and the TUV?

VRN: I would like to say that, firstly if you look, let’s break it up into two, the KUV and the TUV. The TUV had a little bit of a slow start, but I think in the last 6-8 months, we have consistently seen month after month, improvement in performance. It has become far more an urban accepted of the product. I think we all know that TUV is again in that space of monocoques and cross-overs and kind of entry level SUVs, it is again a true blue SUV because it is chassis based and yes it has a polarizing style. But I think with some of the changes we have now done, in terms of bringing in the touch screen, the faux leather interiors and dual tone colours have found a very high level of urban acceptance of TUV.

SC: So what numbers does it do now?

VRN: The TUV? At an average it would do between 2500 and 3000 units

SC: And on the KUV?

VRN: It is a little early for me to say because we still have bookings as you know we have brought in the Nxt version. This again is a very rare thing that one sees in the auto industry that within 12-14 months of launch of a product, we have brought in a refresh. So clearly it shows that refresh was in our planning well before time because all of you who understand auto industry or who are from the auto field know you can’t bring out a refresh in 12 months. Which means we have planned for it and the response is very good with the changes that we have made, we have made it more SUV-ish whether you look at the front or rear of the vehicle, whether you look at interiors, we have made it more premium and we have brought in a touchscreen and all of that. So the response has been very good, festive season was good. We have a good pipeline of bookings of the KUV and overall I think we are in the right direction with the KUV. Let’s not forget that it’s a very competitive space that we went into. It’s an extremely competitive space where we want to go and compete with the cars and I think with the changes that we have done, we are finding far better acceptability.

SC: So like what numbers?

VRN: See KUV we were doing about 2000 units. And our aspirations are now that with the Nxt that we have launched, we should be able to take the numbers closer to 4000 units.

 SC : Then you have an update on the TUV also coming, the long wheel base?

VRN: Yes, you are right.  But I think that’s a very different segment compared to the current TUV car because that is a 9-seater, a longer version so that’s a different platform for a different segment.

SC: How important is motorsport for you?

VRN: See, it’s a very important thing for us in terms of building our brand and we have got two large properties, one is the Adventure and the other we have is the motorsports and both of them play an important role. It helps us to make our brand accessible and position it on two platforms. One is the hardcore adventure, where it’s the Scorpio, whereas the motorsport we position the XUV, which brings in technology and performance. So both properties are equally important.

SC: Do you think that the time is right for the KUV to get into motorsport because its small and it appeals to younger audience and motorsport obviously connects with the younger audience?

VRN: Well at the moment we are keeping our focus on the larger ones like the Scorpio and XUV. So right now we need to first get the KUV well established in the retail market. That’s the way to go.

SC: The Bolero has been doing very strong.

VRN: So if you recollect, we came out with the Bolero Power Plus a year ago and that helped us bring back a lot of customers who were moving out of the Bolero portfolio and as a result we have taken the Bolero back to the growth course. But Bolero still continues to be a highly rural product. So we have positioned our products and segmented the market to be appropriately so that we don’t have cannibalisation between our own brands and products. So Bolero, Scorpio and XUV have their own segments and TUV and KUV are more urban products where KUV is more entry level SUV and TUV is one level above that.

SC: Meeting these emission norms are they a big challenge for BS-VI?

VRN: I think we are well prepared and fact of the matter is that is a reality for all automobile manufacturers and everybody has to make sure that they meet the timelines. So we are well on course.

SC: And now everybody is making statements that will there be fuel available for BS-VI.

VRN: If you look at yesterday or day before yesterday’s announcement of what happened in the NCR, you’ll have fuel available, because they are talking about making fuel available well before, more than a year before the norms come, so I think it will be a little bit of a challenge but all said and done I think with the government focusing on it and the regulatory bodies focusing on it and more than anything else the Supreme Court focusing on the full impact of pollution etc., I think it’s going to happen and most manufacturers and many of the international companies already have the technology and as far as Mahindra is concerned we are well on track.

SC: And electrics are also a big part of your portfolio? You also delivered your E-Verito to ….

VRN: Yes we did! We delivered that day before yesterday.

SC: Were you surprised by the price that Tata Motors bid…?

VRN: I don’t want to comment on that, I think Dr. Goenka has spoken enough on that and we are pretty clear on what their strategy was and what is our strategy.

SC: Any further growth on the electric portfolio?

VRN: For now I think you are aware of what our portfolio is and of course we do have a strong pipeline. We were the pioneers in the only-electric and that’s very critical for our business. Also know that the government is talking about in terms of the focus going forward. So we very clearly have a roadmap on product portfolio for electric. I don’t think it will be right for me to talk about that today.

SC: Thank you.

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