Audi India has a project called Electrified India, a taskforce that is training employees and dealerships on electric vehicles. “Dealers need wiring, charging stations; we will work on it till 2020,” says Rahil Ansari.
On September 18, German luxury car company Audi unveiled the e-tron in San Francisco—its first fully electrically-powered series production model, and a full-size SUV at that. It’s got two electric motors and an electric all-wheel drive, and its large battery gives it a range of more than 400-km in the WLTP (Worldwide harmonised Light vehicles Test Procedure) driving cycle. It is priced 79,900 euros in Germany, which is about Rs 68 lakh at current exchange rates.
For quite some time, Audi India has been talking about bringing electric mobility to the country. Will the e-tron be the vehicle? More importantly, is India ready for such advanced, long-range and ‘expensive’ electric mobility?
Rahil Ansari, the Head of Audi India, says the brand, globally, has started its electrification offensive with the e-tron and, by 2025, it will offer 12 vehicles with all-electric drive in important markets. “The e-tron will be perfect for Indian market requirements, once the infrastructure is conducive. This shall hopefully happen by 2020 latest, if not earlier,” he says.
In addition to infrastructure, Ansari says automakers expect a favourable duty structure. “Lower import duties on electric vehicles will help us offer our electric vehicle line-up and this, in turn, will help us churn out volumes necessary to make further investments in India. This is where we see the opportunity, as manufacturers, to contribute to mobility via electrification in India.”
Since last year, Audi India has been working behind the scenes on electric mobility. It has a project called Electrified India, a taskforce that is training employees and dealerships on electric vehicles. “Dealers need wiring, charging stations. We have been training people. We will work on it till 2020. We believe in the future of electric mobility,” Ansari adds.
At 40, Ansari is one of the youngest country heads of an auto company in India, and also one of the most active on social media. “In a digital age, you can’t expect your team to be socially active all the time. You yourself have to be active,” he says.
Among luxury car companies in India, Audi has the maximum followers on both Facebook and Instagram. “Our target group is particularly active on Instagram. This is one of the reasons I communicate more on this channel, and at times directly with customers,” he adds.
So, how does being on social media help a company?
“It makes the company more approachable. Luxury car customers don’t just buy the product, they enter into a family. Being approachable is key to long-term connect,” he says.
Last year, Ansari had said that Audi wants to be in a leadership position in the Indian luxury car segment. What does leadership mean to Audi?
“While sales numbers are obviously important, we have reshaped our strategy, which now rests on four pillars: Network, product, digitalisation and customer,” Ansari says.
Network, he adds, “means increasing customer touch-points, including sales and service outlets, and used car outlets.”
“Product means more India-specific content in our cars, for which we have to regularly keep in touch with the head office.”
“Digitalisation means reshaping our retail environment, including, as I said, on social media.”
“For customers, we will have a lot more emphasis on below-the-line activities such as experiential marketing (including experiential drives for prospective and existing customers, and regional events), and the best service we can offer. In the luxury car segment, the total cost of ownership is important.”
The company is also experimenting with new ways to service customers. “In Gurugram, for example, 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. When you provide such services, you retain customers.”
On growth, Ansari adds: “Even though there is a certain sales number we have to achieve, that itself isn’t the only criteria of success. Profitable growth is what we are looking at. You can buy market share, by offering discounts and giving away freebies, but that is not the sustainable way to grow. Moreover, we also have to look at the profitability of our dealer partners, because if they are profitable, they will invest more. We have been in India for 11 years; we have matured.”
While GST is a great move, Ansari says last year’s cess on luxury cars and hike of customs duty on certain imported auto components announced in the Union Budget this year will mean Audi India will experience flat growth this year. “Initially, we were expecting double-digit growth, but not now. We need a favourable tax structure that makes luxury vehicles more affordable, which translates into more sales, increased production capacity, more investment into the supply chain, more jobs. It’s a win-win for everyone—more sales anyway mean more tax revenue gets generated,” he reasons.
That Audi cars are expensive to maintain is a stereotype, he says. “Today, Audi offers the best coverage at lowest price and lowest cost of ownership across the luxury car segment. For example, we have a special customer service package, which covers complete service and maintenance ranging from Rs 2.25 per km for the A3 to Rs 4.34 per km for the A8 L, for five years or 1 lakh km. So customers exactly know how much they will spend on owning the car over the years.”
Ansari says the concept of mobility and car ownership is changing in India, with ride-sharing, car-sharing and new financing models. “These are gradually getting accepted in the market. Soon, these will extend to the luxury segment and we, at Audi India, will also offer some mobility concepts. However, in the foreseeable future, the charm of owning your own car won’t get replaced. Today we have more than 60,000 cars on Indian roads. That number will only grow.”