When Volkswagen came to India, nearly two decades ago, the brand had a very clear plan – top-down approach. They introduced premium vehicles like the Volkswagen Phaeton, Touareg, Beetle, Passat, Jetta and then moved on to mass-market cars such as the Polo, Vento. The premiumness of the products was well-entrenched in the minds of the customers. In 2020 though, Volkswagen India restructured itself and just before the Auto Expo 2020, they announced their new SUV plan ( 4 SUVs) for the next two years. While two of these SUVs – Volkswagen Tiguan AllSpace and T-Roc were launched last year, in 2021 we will see the all-new VW Taigun launch. Not only this, in a couple of months, another new SUV will be launched. Clearly the brand has realised the immense potential of the SUV market in India and hence is looking to capitalise on it. Express Drives recently caught up with Ashish Gupta, the newly appointed Brand Director of Volkswagen Passenger Cars India.
Not only did Ashish shed light on the company’s future plans but also explained on how they are taking their aftersales a notch higher.
On being asked how much the Volkswagen Taigun matters in the scheme of things, Ashish said
The Taigun is the core piece of our SUVW strategy but I think our SUV strategy is much more than just the Taigun. So, first of all, we have to move away and expand the image of Volkswagen from just the Polo, Vento maker and we can do something on the SUV space as well. It goes without saying the SUV segment is the fastest-growing segment not only in India but globally as well and we have very strong products globally. So that's the whole idea behind this strategy - give options to the customers so that they stay with us in the SUV space, whatever price point they are looking at within the Volkswagen brand, and then of course, we have our group brands where you can go even at the higher price points. So that's the whole strategy, I think, globally as well in which we are very successful. The Taigun of course will remain the centerpiece of it because that is the volume product that we will be looking at. That particular segment has been growing at a rate of almost 36 per cent in the second half of last year and was the only segment that grew in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic. So it's the sweet spot of the industry right now and definitely, the segment that gives us a lot of interest.
Ashish also says that the Taigun design is something that, like other Volkswagen cars, will have a timelessness. This along with the build quality will be much appreciated by future customers.
So the Taigun is going to stay true to this DNA and will truly bring out this character of being a Volkswagen. Our positioning of the Taigun is very clear. It is going to be the safest, strongly built SUV in the segment, which is fun to drive and this is exactly what our set of customers are looking for.
About the production localisation, as eventually the final pricing depends on it, Ashish mentioned that
We have the global MQB platform and what we have achieved is localising and changing it over to the MQB A0IN platform so when you do modifications or development on a platform, this in itself is a big task. So I think the team has done this wonderfully in Pune where we have almost 3,000 engineers in our research and development center. This has been the centerpiece of this whole change and the development of the Taigun from a global perspective. The other thing also has been the development of a lot of components and localising them. A lot of know-how on the development side used to reside in Europe. Bringing that know-how and making sure that the engineers understand and have the same mindset along with the same attention to detail as somebody who has been working on those cars for the last 30-40 years, I think that is the bigger achievement.
A new concept called extended drives is being introduced by Volkswagen India on the sales front. Ashish explained that
90% of the customers have already made up their mind by the time they actually come to the showroom and ask about a car. So it's very important for them to be able to actually feel the character, the design, the strengths of the car for a longer period of time. The test drive of a car is around 40-45 minutes long and if you're driving that car or taking a test drive in Mumbai on the crowded streets, what does the test drive be like? So there are customers who are actually looking for having more time with the car before they make up their mind because frankly, with this crowded space, we have a lot of features, design elements, a lot of technology and these are almost similar. So customers need that kind of a more holistic or more in-depth experience of the car and this is something that many customers have asked us. So that's why we are starting with extended drive in which you can have a car for the weekend from our dealer so that you get to know the car better, get a chance to drive it and get to know how you feel in it.
The extended drive initiative will be primarily focussed on premium cars as Ashish feels that the Polo and Vento are proven products and hence customers depend more on word-of-mouth publicity than actually driving the car before purchase. This being said, a new notchback car is being planned on the MQB A0IN platform. Ashish added
The beauty of the MQB A0IN platform is that it is amenable to a lot of body styles so we can bring in a lot of global products if we want to and if it makes business sense for us. So that's something that we will continue to evaluate on how we can bring more body styles and more products on the same platform. We are also looking at developing new platforms as well, 5 to 8 years down the line, what kind of platform will be needed, these kinds of studies about and so on.
As far as the sales part is concerned, Ashish cleared the air that
The network that we have built over the last 10 years is equipped to sell close to a hundred thousand cars a year. So that is where the advantage of Volkswagen compared to our sister brand is that we already have an established and well-experienced network in the country. On numbers, I do not see any need of expanding our network as we are optimally present in the markets where we want to be. It's a question of right-sizing the network from the huge glass structures that were built earlier. The entire industry is facing the problem that you have such big dealers in cities like Mumbai and Delhi, which are just not cost-effective. So we have been focusing on increasing our touch points without increasing the cost for our dealer partners, and in fact reducing the cost by introducing more smaller format showrooms like pop-up showrooms, digital showrooms and having more touchpoints in the same city rather than having one mega showroom. That's what we have been doing for the last three years. We've optimised our network partners from around 67 in 2017 to 52 at the end of this year. But at the same time, increased our touch points from 120 to 150. That’s the strategy of looking at smaller places where the growth is and where the customers are.
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