Ashish Gupta presenting the Volkswagen Virtus
Ashish Gupta presenting the Volkswagen VirtusTeam evo India

“We just have to make sure that the car lives up to the standards that we set for ourselves” - Ashish Gupta, Brand Director, Volkswagen Passenger Cars India, on the Volkswagen Virtus, supply chain issues and the VW ethos

We speak to VW India’s Brand Director, Ashish Gupta, as he talks us through the new Virtus, the return of sedans and who exactly is a VW person

The Volkswagen Virtus signals the cautious return of sedans in the public imagination. It is already a car with great fanfare and hope surrounding it, so we spoke to Ashish Gupta, Brand Director, Volkswagen Passenger Cars India, about his thoughts on the Virtus, how it will compare to its stablemates and whether it can indeed #makesedansgreatagain. Read on to find out!

Our customers are going to be urban customers

“In terms of customers, it is more or less common with what we have for the Taigun. We are at the end of the day mostly present in tier-1, tier-2 cities, so our customers are going to be urban customers. Customers who are looking for something which is a global product, first of all. Customers who know what Volkswagen stands for, the core DNA of the brand. That's something which customers already know about. Those are the kind of customers who go for our products. That's what we have seen for the Taigun and we expect the same for the Virtus as well.”

I don't think it's cannibalisation

“I don't think so because that's something which might happen initially because any new product coming on the same platform when a customer walks into a showroom, he will typically see two products which are brand new, there might be a tendency for people to switch from one to another, but the reverse is also true. Customers who are coming in for the Virtus will also have a look at the Taigun. I don't think it's cannibalisation, it's both products going up.”

The sedan segment has been under pressure primarily because there's not been much choice

“Once you bring a new product into a segment, and one of the best products in the segment if I can say so, the 'big by design' thing that we are talking about, it will naturally draw customers from all segments. I've personally spoken to many people who have given me feedback that they have been waiting for an exciting sedan. So the love for sedans has not gone away, it's just that a viable option, especially from a European manufacturer has been missing. That's what the Virtus brings in and naturally, that will lead to expansion of the segment.”

Why does the 1.5 not have a manual gearbox

“There are some things which we plan for the product life cycle, so please wait for it. Soon! So it will come eventually, yes.”

Reducing the complexity is also good for the customer

“In some way, yes. The 1.5 GT MT on the Taigun, that car from a customer's point of view and from a market point of view was more about price point. The difference between the Highline and the Topline. To bridge that gap, we had the 1.5 GT MT which acted as a price point. From that point of view, it served us well, because it did give a price point for customers to look at. For the sedan, I expect a lot of customers to go for the premium variants, the Toplines and the 1.5 GT+. When your volume is going to be focused there, why confuse the customer? The Taigun in fact is a different segment. Customers are looking for a complete ladder availability and you also have to match yourself against what the competition has to offer. But with a sedan, we have a clear advantage in terms of how our products sit in the premium end of the segment.”

Differentiation on the GT

“I would love to. But the experience of sedans has not been very great. Low-profile tyres have not worked on sedans in India, especially because of our driving conditions. So we didn't want to go into the market knowing that customers might face some issues with a low-profile tyre. That's basically the reason that we have not gone for it.”

Customers sometimes are also not clear on what they want

“When they buy a car, it's all about looks and performance, but once you start living with a product, you also want all those creature comforts. You have to not only think from a selling point of view but also whether it is sustainable for the customer. That's the whole thought behind it. We have not ruled out a bigger wheel size for the Virtus, it is internationally available. In fact, Brazil operates with an 18-inch wheel as well. So that's something which is on the table. We just have to make sure that the car lives up to the standards that we set for ourselves.”

The technical team also has a lot of learning

“One of the feedback to us was also the availability of ventilated seats in the GT+. That is something which is now available right from the start in the Virtus. That is a big change. Start-stop is available across all variants, which we didn't have in the Taigun at the time of launching, but which is now available in the Taigun from the first of May. These are some of the feedback we have received. Of course, there are a lot of technical things that go into it. There are already around 15,000 Taiguns on the road, so the technical team also has a lot of learning which they try to incorporate as a part of the operational improvements.”

Inspiration from the Jetta

“That you will have to ask the designers. If you ask me my first choice of the name for this car, it would have been Jetta, because it is that size of a car and it has that kind of road presence. But the Jetta has been an icon for us worldwide so it cannot be that you bring the Jetta name to this car, this is a totally different car. The design if you look at it the sedan family design flows through all our cars, so it will definitely have some kind of reflection on all our other sedans as well.”

Sales expectations for the GT

“Our plan is around 15 to 20 per cent, pre-production. The current pre-booking trend that I see, which is again to be expected, still continues with the Taigun as well, is around 30 per cent. So demand is expected to be around 30 per cent. Taigun also has stabilised at around 25 to 30 per cent now, on the GT.”

On consolidating the network

“I think over the last three years we've consolidated our network and reached an ideal network position of around 152 sales touchpoints. This I think is enough to sell around 1,00,000 cars, which we have to still get to, and also cover 80 per cent of the geography of India. I think we are well placed as far as the network is concerned. These numbers are not just plotted somewhere, they are based on a solid analysis of where our customers are, where our customer pools are, and where our cars have more potential. So based on that, we have decided to have these 152 touchpoints.”

Online bookings

“2020 when we were setting our targets, we had just launched our online booking engine. In three months we had got two bookings online. Then I was talking to my team and discussing what percentage should we take as a target for this whole digitalisation thing going on, and everybody was like one per cent would be huge! So we took ourselves at a one per cent target. But with the Taigun we got upwards of 3 per cent — that is the trend I see continuing as well, even for the pre-booking stage of the Virtus. I think almost 5 to 7 per cent of bookings have been online. That's a very good number.

“It is, you know. Basically, the number of customers approaching you through digital channels has gone up astronomically. Capturing even 5 to 7 per cent of them is a huge achievement. At this moment, we will only pick up. At the end of the day, a car is still a high-value, emotional purchase, and a customer is still afraid to put his money without seeing the car, but if you look at the progress of this trend, as I said, from being less than 1 per cent to more than 3 per cent is what should give you confidence.”

A lot of uncertainties continue, and it proves to be the biggest challenge

“I think supply, in terms of stability — that is something which we are grappling with for more than one year now, and it continues. We had hoped in the first quarter of the year that by the third quarter, the situation should stabilize, but the world has moved to another direction with the situation in Europe — that is putting pressure. China is under pressure right now because of the lockdown, so a lot of uncertainties continue, and it proves to be the biggest challenge. That is one, of course, and all these situations are also leading to an increase in raw material prices, so that is going to be a big challenge handling it with petrol touching north of Rs 120 per litre, consumer sentiment is bound to get affected sooner or later.”

We might look at CNG as an option

“We have tried it many times. From a regulatory point of view and from fulfilling our commitment toward climate, we might look at CNG as an option to make sure our carbon footprint is within our stated targets. If I talk to my customers, the premium-end that we're operating in, not many are in favour of CNG. On a Polo, maybe it would have made sense because that was a segment where customers are conscious, but in our premium segment, it becomes very difficult. I don't want to come up with any quick-fix solutions — if a Volkswagen has to have a CNG solution, it needs to operate like a Volkswagen. That becomes a challenge because we don't want to be compromising our basic brand DNA because of that.”

Getting more cars out of Europe is next to impossible right now

“The Tiguan is sold out for the next six months. The cars are limited. It's virtually impossible to get more cars from Europe right now — the plant in Wolfsburg was actually closed for almost four weeks because of the situation in UK and Russia. Getting more cars out of Europe is next to impossible right now, and there are a lot of delays happening because of these situations as well. Our target is to produce close to 120-140 cars per month, so that is secured. This year, that's what we will be able to provide to the market.”

Bringing back the Passat

“It doesn't make sense in our portfolio anymore, and I firmly believe if now we have to bring more products, we have to start looking at the next transformation. That has to be clear because any product that you bring into the market is a huge investment, not only in terms of the product but also in terms of the entire testing, and homologation. These are huge costs that you bear, and then the whole cost of launching the car, raising customer awareness. If you're going to make those large investments, you'd rather start consolidating those investments and go for a new transformation, which the brand is already undergoing worldwide.”

Late to the EV party?

“I don't think so. I think we're one of the leading ones across the globe, and that's the advantage we have — products that are available off the shelf, so if we are able to sort out the timings, I think we can take a leap in that.”

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