Response Feature

Riding with the boss of Triumph India

Team Evo India

Words: Sirish Chandran

Photography: Gaurav S Thombre

It’s wet and the sun doesn’t seem to be in any mood to show up as I pull into the Triumph showroom in Pune. It’s not exactly the best weather to be out riding but Vimal Sumbly, boss of Triumph India, is already waiting for me and cheerfully asks me to choose between the Street Triple and the Tiger. I take the off-road bike; I haven’t had the opportunity to ride one and in any case, wet roads and sports bikes don’t go hand in hand. Vimal though is happy about my choice – the Street is his own bike and he’s happiest astride it.
Vimal’s family still lives in Pune and though he operates out of Triumph’s Gurgaon office, he keeps his bike in Pune to ride on the weekends. And that’s the big change I’ve noticed over the past few years.

When I started my motoring career (also in Pune!) you could count the number of industry bigwigs that rode motorcycles on the fingers of one hand. The only guy I ever rode with was the REML boss (now boss of the entire Eicher group including REML), Siddhartha Lal. I don’t know if it’s a prerequisite now but at least in the big bike space everybody rides, and enjoys riding. A few months ago, I rode from Mumbai to Goa for the India Bike Week with Anoop Prakash, then MD of Harley-Davidson. Ducati’s India head, Ravi Avalur and I went riding the Diavel a few months ago. And here we are, on a Sunday no less, with the Triumph boss.

SC: When did you start your career?
VS: It all started in Pune with Force Motors and then I moved to the Murugappa group in the South. In 2003, I joined Bajaj Auto as a regional manager and rose up the hierarchy with my last assignment being the general manager, sales and marketing, handling the western belt. I was also a part of the launch of KTM in India and the launch of the stores that used to be called pro-biking.
I joined Triumph India on July 25, 2013 and we launched our brand on November 28, 2013. When I was a kid I saw this movie, The Great Escape with Steve McQueen. You saw that movie and you instantly fell in love with bikes. So for me, when I joined Triumph, it really was a dream come true.

SC: Triumph showed their bikes in India well before that, didn’t they?
VS: In 2012 Triumph participated in the Auto Expo, but it was only a representation of our brand. Back then the objective was not to set up a plant; the objective was to launch in India through a distribution channel. But we took a couple of steps back.
When I joined Triumph, I had a very clear strategy. You can’t come as a distributor, set up a distribution channel for dealerships and sell motorcycles and if it does well, good, if it doesn’t do well, you can always say India is not ready. We said let’s get our sales strategy right. The Indian consumer must see that you have a long term plan, that you’ve invested in the market, because he is also investing with you by buying your brand. He also looks at what kind of service you give and it makes no sense if he can’t trust you in the long term. When you buy a bike and you want to resell it, the brand has to exist. The brand needs to give the promise that when he resells his bike , he gets his money back.
We took a couple of years to restudy the whole market, put our strategy right in terms of assembling a plant and figured out which brands would come through CKD and through CBU. We put a lot of focus on the after sales, because in our kind of product, it’s a passionate buy, it needs a much stronger after sales service than what you’d need on a commuter bike.

I think we created history when we launched our brand. We are the first brand to launch 10 models together, in one day. Across the brand, we had classic, roadster, adventure, supersport and cruisers. Our first dealership was operational by January 22, 2014 in Bangalore, followed by Hyderabad in two days and as we talk, we have 11 dealers and have sold approximately 2000 bikes in 18 months.

SC: How difficult was it to set up a company from scratch?
VS: I was the first employee. It is challenging because you have to play multiple roles – you are the HR guy, the purchase guy, the sales guy, the marketing guy, the dealer development guy, the PR guy; you have to don many hats and simultaneously build your team along with formulating a strategy to develop an effective dealer network – and I wanted guys who are passionate bikers. In India, there is a lot of money, Sirish, lots of money. You tell them “put two crores” on anything and they’ll just put it down. But I wanted to get a network of biking enthusiasts. So that was a challenge, to search for bikers, and at the same time, these biking guys should have a pedigree of being good businessmen, good money, good word-of-mouth in the market for the existing business.
SC: Do you credit Harley-Davidson with establishing a lifestyle biking culture?
VS: Indian motorcycling culture started to evolve when the Pulsars were introduced, then Royal Enfield and then eventually Harley-Davidson. Yes they (H-D) were the first to come to India but our strategy and their strategy is different. Our strategy is focussed on the product in order to give riders more options. We offer five broad categories of superbikes to our consumers; we also have a state-of-the-art after sales service and our third strategy on how to upgrade our customers is very clear. We have various categories of bikes to upgrade them to.

SC: You came from Bajaj so obviously your schooling has been in mass-market bikes. Will we see a mass-market Triumph?
VS: We want to take the top-end of the market. In India everybody says that they want to do something for the commuters, they want to do something for the entry level. Look at the number of manufacturers that exist today, right from the Indian manufacturers to the Japanese manufacturers; everybody is in that space. I think there is enough happening there. But I think the top level is completely forgotten. Our strategy is to give consumers more choice and more variety, for the money they want to spend. We would like to stay focussed on the
Rs 5-6 lakh plus bracket because that industry is growing. If you see 2005-06, the industry was 500 bikes a year, now it’s almost 10,000 a year.

SC: You’re saying that there will be no small capacity Triumph motorcycles.
VS: We will focus only on the top-end. There is a lot of scope to develop this segment and as long as we are able to offer a valuable proposition; it will grow. I have full faith in growth. See, the infrastructure is growing, the roads are growing, the per capita income is growing, people have suddenly started growing conscious of their safety, people have started becoming conscious of their style; that’s why I think more and more people will move up the value chain than move down.
SC: What is your ambition for Triumph in India?
VS: By 2020 we would like to cross 2500 bikes in that fiscal year and we would like to be the number one brand in the Rs 5 lakh+ and 500cc+ category in India. If we can achieve that we will be amongst the top 5 or 6 countries for Triumph globally; only if we are able to come to 2500-3000 units annually.
SC: What is the gap right now to Harley-Davidson?
VS: We are number 2. I think last year they did approximately 1600 odd units and we did approximately 1300 odd units.I am only talking about 500cc+ and 5lakh+, I am not talking about the entry level bike. But I am sure that in that segment if they are at 38 per cent we are at 34 per cent so we are very close to them. We are not a distant number two; we are a very close number two.

SC: What about the other competitors?
VS: When you look at the brand and strategy, you will see Triumph is more committed. Let’s say brand A that has recently made an entry, what are the investments they have made, they are operating out of a hotel, they don’t even have their own setup over here, they haven’t put any investments in India. I don’t see any difference from the time they came five years back through a distributor. But yes, I would say Harley is a strong competitor to Triumph in India and I think we have the right strategy for it.
We know the products that we plan to get into India in next 3-5 years, we know the kind of network we are going to develop, we know what we’re bringing to the consumer and we are going to bring it as a value proposition. I can only assure customers through you that Triumph will have the latest models. We will not launch a product that the rest of the world is finished with and bring it in because we are a developing country. We have our product lineup at par; we have technology at par with the rest of the world.

SC: You have the adventure segment more or less to yourself
VS: When we were bringing the adventure segment we were told it wasn’t a good idea. India is not ready for it. But we took the decision to bring it to India and it has done extremely well. There are roughly around 175 Tiger riders in India and we hold a 96 per cent market share.
SC: You always talk very highly of your previous boss Rajiv Bajaj.
VS: I think he was one of the first motorcycle specialists in India. He always said, “Do one thing and do it right”. My interpretation is — do one thing and do it correctly. I think he is a good youth icon in India and being a motorcyclist myself I have always had great respect for him.

SC: And you ride a Street, why is that?
VS: I like the Street because it’s very technical, it can go around corners very well and I ride it in the congested parts of Pune. I want to go to Laxmi road (which is hugely congested), I want to go to every nook and corner and I think the Street is the best bike to do that with – whether it is Laxmi road or whether it is Lavasa or Mahabaleshwar or even riding to Mumbai. A Street can do all that; which is why I chose a Street for myself in Pune. It is our most successful bike, it has the best power to weight ratio, it’s very agile and the handling is superb.

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