The managing director of Triumph Motorcycles India tells Vikram Chaudhary one needs to not only offer big bikes at the right price point but also give consumers reliable after-sales services and a good distribution network
While waiting for Vimal Sumbly at the coffee shop of the Ibis Hotel, Gurgaon, I recollect the first time I saw Triumph bikes in India—at the Auto Expo 2012. It’s been almost two years ever since—for too long, biking enthusiasts have been waiting for the Leicestershire (UK) headquartered bike-maker to launch its products in India. Triumph was, at that time, supremely confident about its India plans. But then, within three months of the Expo, in April 2012, Ashish Joshi quit as managing director of the company’s India operations. Then, until July 2013, there was no clarity on who will lead Triumph in India until Vimal Sumbly, an old Bajaj hand, took over as the new managing director. “Soon enough, we will see Triumph bikes on Indian roads,” I happily think, as I see Sumbly entering the coffee shop.
Naturally enough, this is first question I ask him. “Why we took a couple of years to launch our products in India is because, to be honest, we were strengthening our back-end set-up,” says Sumbly. “It’s easy to come up with a brand such as Triumph, but then the Indian consumer is different. You can’t just sell him a bike, what is more important is after-sales service, availability of spare parts, convenient store locations, and much more. Setting up and finalising all this took time.”
“So, all your bikes will now take the completely knocked down (CKD) route?” I ask. Sumbly replies, “Yes, we have completed our Manesar plant which produces CKDs. What CKD gives us is a very right price point. The Manesar plant will also be our spare part hub. Why we took two years is also because we were busy putting up dealerships across India.” “So you now have dealerships in almost all metros?” I interrupt. “Yes, and soon we will be entering non-metro cities too,” Sumbly says.
“Many biking enthusiasts still feel that Triumph is a competitor only to Harley-Davidson, which is not exactly the case. So, what steps are you taking to develop the Triumph brand name in India?” I ask. “As far as biking is concerned, India is heavily influenced by Hollywood. In the war movie The Great Escape, Steve McQueen famously rode a Triumph. Then we saw Tom Cruise riding the Speed Triple and the Daytona in the Mission Impossible series. In fact, there have been a lot of movies where Triumphs have been famously ridden by protagonists. So, half our branding is done by such movies only,” Sumbly says, before I interrupt, “But what is your market research about India?” Sumbly replies, “Do you know India has four different kinds of buyers? There is one who simply wants to go from point A to point B in the fastest possible manner. But just beyond that, enthusiasm sets in. In India, a new kind of buyer is evolving who, after slogging over the week in a corporate office, simply wants to enjoy the road and the ride over the weekend; for him, we have the classic series as well as the cruiser series. There is a buyer who maybe wants to try out his bike on a track—and we already have three very good racing tracks in India—or on a good highway; for him, we have the roadster series. Then there is a buyer who wants to go adventure biking; for him, we have the adventure series.” As he pauses, I pitch in, “So you are entering four segments—classic, cruiser, roadster and adventure?” “That’s correct, and that’s what makes us different from Harley-Davidson,” Sumbly replies, adding, “The Japanese bike-makers primarily offer racing bikes or roadsters. Then you have Harley-Davidson and Royal Enfield that are primarily into cruisers and classics. You can buy an adventure bike from BMW. But you can get all these from Triumph.”
“But, globally, aren’t you present in five segments?” I ask. “Yes, but currently we are not bringing our touring bikes to the country,” he says.
“In January 2012 at the Auto Expo, Triumph had announced the launch of seven models, beginning from R5.5 lakh (Bonneville) to R22 lakh (Rocket III Roadster). Does that strategy remain?” I remember having spend over an hour at the Triumph stall. “I cannot share the names of the models, but I guarantee that we will have models for each of the four segments I just talked about,” Sumbly smiles. “And the prices, from Rs 5.5 lakh onwards…” I try and extract more information from him. “We have worked upon the prices; in fact, I must emphasise, we’ve worked really hard. So, the prices that we will be announcing at the launch later this month will be very, very competitive,” he smiles again.
“India used to be a bicycle market, which evolved into a moped market, which then evolved into a scooter market and later into a 100-cc motorcycle market, so it is only natural that an increasing number of buyers will show more interest in big bikes. The market size is large in India,” I add my two-pence worth of knowledge. Sumbly gives me his full-rupee worth of knowledge, “Quite large, in fact. In India, every month, 8 lakh bikes are sold; of which, big bikes sell only about 2,500 units per year. So the market is huge anyway. But, as I just said, you need to not only offer big bikes at the right price point, but you also need to give your consumers very good after-sales services, very good distribution network and more, if you really want to make this segment large. And our focus is to make India a major destination for big bikes.”
“And so how do you plan to tap new buyers?” I ask him. “Triumph will not only focus on selling bikes, but will also focus on providing riding experience to prospective buyers. After our riding experience, I am sure, we will be getting a lot of new consumers. Then, our stores will not just be about bikes, but also about clothing, accessories and more,” Sumbly replies.
“I have met a number of big bike riders and their major complain is that spare parts not only come at a premium, but there have been cases where the bikes go off the road because of non-availability of spares. Is that correct?” I ask him. “Yes, that can be the case. And that’s why we will make sure that not only all our spare parts are available at our Manesar facility, but can also be available to the consumers at a notice of, say, 1-2 days,” Sumbly says.
“Bonneville is perhaps your most iconic brand and will, likely, be the most affordable too. Last year, at the Auto Expo, I was told that the experience rides for journalists will happen soon. That ‘soon’ never came,” while leaving the coffee shop I sort of complain as I hold a pamphlet of the Bonneville that I had collected from the Expo. “Yes, Bonneville has the brand imagery of the past but this bike is not from the past. The technology that powers it futuristic. It is large, yet nimble. You simply have to try it to feel it. On your second question, I must add that you will be among the first riders from India to try out the India-made Bonneville,” Sumbly signs off.