You have taken over at a really challenging time not just for M&M but the auto industry as well. Are you daunted with the job ahead?
When I joined M&M in the auto business two decades back, it was a very difficult time for the company. Our stronghold was soft-top products, which was declining almost at 25 percent per year. We had to reposition the entire brand to a very different target audience along with all new products. So I am no stranger to challenges this company has faced and know that there are many things to do to face that challenge to transform the business. You will recall that in 2000 we had a good portfolio of products in the oven, the Bolero was ready to launch and the Scorpio was at an advance stage of development. So after getting into this role last year, I realised that what we have again is a very, very robust base to build on. The pipeline is very strong, the Thar is a hint of what the company’s product strength is. When we start rolling out our new products this year, they will surprise the market, and that’s what excites me.
But you still have production issues, more so than other automakers. What went wrong?
There are several reasons. One is we have a much higher diesel portfolio overall than gasoline, compared to others. The transition to BS6 in February 2020 for diesel needed some parts to come in from China, which went into lockdown, so for two months we couldn’t get anything to ramp up production. In Q3, we got hit by the semiconductor shortage issue more than others, because 90 percent of our supply comes from one vendor and they had a major quality problem in a few of their semiconductor suppliers. However, I am just waiting for these issues to be behind us and to get back to normalcy because demand overall is very buoyant and we are well poised to deliver a very strong performance. It’s not just Thar, XUV 300, Bolero and Scorpio that have strong demand, we are confident the new models will be winners as well.
The company has stated that it wants to focus on making true-blue SUVs or pure SUVs. What is your definition of that?
Let’s erase the word ‘true blue’ because that clearly has a connotation of being a body-on-frame product. We are clearly not saying that we are going to be only body-on-frame products. First let’s start by saying we want to be an SUV-specialised brand. When a customer looks at our product, they should feel it’s an authentic SUV and not a wannabe SUV. We also want to leverage the true DNA of the brand and have the brand tell its own stories about where we come from and who we are. So as we go forward, we will play out to this narrative, which is about vehicles with an unmissable presence. Another part of the narrative is vehicles with adventure capability. Now, adventure doesn’t necessarily mean we will henceforth be only 4X4 or AWD, because we believe adventure is a mindset of exploring the impossible.
So, is the focus going to be on sharpening the Mahindra brand, making the brand attributes clear and making sure your products are unequivocally a Mahindra?
Absolutely, and I would like to reinforce that not only is it happening at an emotional level, but also at a very rational level. So, the brand personification and the brand idea is in a way emotional, but to deliver that is a very well-defined process. For example, to say our SUVs have unmissable presence, what does it mean by way of, for example, the angle of the A-pillar? There are multiple parameters that have been defined to ensure we don’t lose sight of sticking true to the brand attributes.