The new head of Audi India shares with Vikram Chaudhary how the company which lost the leadership position to Mercedes-Benz two years ago plans to get it back.
At 38, Rahil Ansari is the youngest brand director of Audi anywhere in the world. He is of Indian origin—his parents belong to Varanasi—but was born and raised in Germany. “However, I have visited and stayed in India long enough to understand the market,” he says, as we meet at the 1911—the all-day dining restaurant in Hotel Imperial, New Delhi.
We occupy a comfortable seat in the verandah lounge of the restaurant, which pays tribute to the events that led to the emergence of New Delhi as a seat of power and the national capital of India in 1911. The walls adorn photographs of the Delhi Durbar and the interiors are replete with antiquities dating back to the days of the Raj.
Ansari, who can speak Hindi in German accent, first came to India in an official role in 2006. Just 27, he played a major role in dealer development, when Audi India was about to begin operations. His stint lasted three years.
In 2009, he joined Aston Martin—the luxury British sports car manufacturer—as the director for southern Europe operations and then for northern Europe operations. “Although my passion was always with Audi, these roles helped me gain relevant experience in the automotive market.”
In 2010, when Audi India was expanding its dealer network, Ansari was called back.
In early 2011, he became the head of dealer development for Audi India. “We doubled the network from 13 to 26 by 2013,” he says. “By the time I returned to Germany, I ensured there are nine more dealers in the pipeline.” By 2013, Audi India had 35 dealers.
In Germany, Ansari joined the after-sales team. “I always had a sales-related background. So, after-sales was a learning experience. That stint prepared me for a much bigger role in automotive industry.”
That ‘bigger’ role came in 2016, when he was once again called by Audi India, this time to head company operations. “I have seen Audi India when it was a baby, during adolescence, and now in its adult phase.”
Audi India was the luxury-car market leader in 2014 and 2015, and then it lost the position to Mercedes-Benz. In 2016, luxury-car players took a beating—first with the Delhi NCR diesel ban and then demonetisation. The sector saw negative growth.
Ansari says it’s the right time for him to be here. “India is not one market. It is like a continent in terms of complexity of each region, policies and market dynamics. I have been speaking to dealers and customers. There are a few India-specific challenges. For example, the diesel ban in Delhi NCR last year was an India-specific challenge.”
On leadership position, and how the company plans to reach at the top once again, Ansari says, “We want to be at the top spot as we belong there. Clearly, we cannot do it overnight, but in a sustainable manner—when we reach the top, we will stay there.”
One of the ways to get new customers, and stay in the news, is by bringing a large product portfolio. In January, Audi India had announced it will launch as many as 10 cars in 2017—it has launched four in the January-March period.
“While launching new models is important for growth, we are not only looking at volumes, but also at fulfilling customer requirements and creating ‘delight moments’ for them. I assure you we will bring some models in segments where we have never been present. The average age of an Audi buyer in India is just 41; in Europe and some western markets, it is over 50,” Ansari says.
On the goods & services tax on luxury cars—right now the proposed GST is 28%, plus a cess of 15%—Ansari says, “Our long-term vision is to grow in the market and develop our business further. We are positive about the prospects that the market offers.”
Audi sells 13 models in India, including the iconic A4 sedan and the TT Coupé. Six models—the A3 Sedan, A4, A6, Q3, Q5 and Q7—are currently produced at its Aurangabad, Maharashtra, plant.
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As far as dealerships are concerned, as of now, the company has grown to 94 customer touch-points. Ansari adds that, to grow further, the company has to create a profitable network for its dealers. “I have personally managed some of the dealer relationships in my previous roles, and for us long-term sustainable growth is important for all our partners. Mobile customer touch-points are ways to communicate with customers in the hinterland. Our Audi Mobile Terminal—a mobile showroom with multiple functionalities—for example, has visited more than 40 cities in the last two years. This year, it will visit over 30 cities.”
The company is now experimenting with new ways to service customers. “In Gurugram, we have a workshop that runs 24×7. High-value customers, whose most important asset is time, can drop their cars in the evening for servicing, and by the time they are ready for office the next day, their car too is ready. We are now looking at providing similar services in other cities, such as Mumbai. When you provide such services, you retain customers.”