More Indians in driver’s seat at foreign carmakers

11th Jan 2017 6:55 pm

Global automobile companies' local operations see a rise in number of Indian heads

Global car companies are steadily appointing Indian professionals to head their operations in the country as the auto industry undergoes a major churn in policy as well as purchasing behaviour.

Clearly, the dynamic nature of the automotive segment as well as poor performance of some carmakers has given rise to the need for an executive who understands the nuances of the local market. Nearly five foreign carmakers have already chosen or are in the process of finding an Indian for the top job.

The latest such announcement came from BMW, which has appointed Vikram Pawah as the president of BMW Group India from March 1, 2017. The German luxury carmaker's India business currently has Frank Schloeder as its acting president. Pawah was most recently managing director of Harley-Davidson India.

Ford has been looking for a new managing director for its India operations, but is keen to have an Indian for the job, according to sources. In June 2015, president and managing director Nigel Harris for India moved to a new position at the American carmaker’s joint venture in China. It has since assigned Anurag Mehrotra, executive director, marketing, sales and service, to take over responsibilities as an interim managing director. The new head will have the task of turning around sales as Ford India has struggled to achieve volumes in India as per its expectations despite launching new vehicles.

The Volkswagen Group India has, more than any other foreign automaker, relied more on Indian talent. In fact, all the VW brands in India, except for the mother brand, are headed by Indians.

Recently, Audi appointed Rahil Ansari as the head of Audi India, effective February 1, 2017. Ansari, who replaces Joe King, will move from Audi AG where he heads Global Pricing for Audi Genuine Parts for Audi AG Aftersales. Audi has been feeling the heat from key rival Mercedes-Benz, which raced ahead to grab the No.1 spot as India’s top-selling luxury carmaker last year.

In the beginning of 2016, the VW Group announced the appointment of Pavan Shetty as director of Porsche India. He was earlier head of operations for Lamborghini in India, and has been with the VW Group since March 2012. His position in Lamborghini India was then taken up by Sharad Agarwal, who was appointed as its head in April 2016. Skoda, too, has an Indian at its helm. Sudhir Rao is its managing director.

Ironically, Tata Motors has bucked the trend. After the death of Karl Slym, a Briton, in 2014 it appointed yet another expat – Guenter Butschek – who took over as CEO and MD on February 15, 2016.

The newly-appointed professionals will certainly have a lot of hopes pinned on them from their headquarters and it will be interesting to see how the addition of local flavour works in boosting prospects for the car companies. 

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