FCA India recently announced Kevin Flynn, its current president and managing director, taking over the additional responsibility as the managing director of FCA Australia. In an exclusive conversation with Autocar Professional’s Sumantra Barooah, Kevin talks about his experience and learnings from the Indian market, the challenges that he is tackling and the reason for his excitement over the launch of the new Jeep Compass Trailhawk.
What are the highlights of the latest Jeep Trailhawk and what are FCA India’s aspirations?
Compass has been a turnaround strategy in all fairness for FCA India and making a global product deserves a massive accolade for the whole 'Make in India' initiative and for our operations in India. When we introduced the ‘Limited Plus’ variant, we saw that there was a good level of interest for the top end of the Compass range. So much so that 45 percent of our volume is actually the Limited Plus. With the BS-VI going on, we have also introduced the diesel automatic transmission system that is compliant to the latest emission norms. The latest Trailhawk has the Jeep DNA built-in. Although it appears that a larger section of the SUV consumers prefers the 4x2 version, Jeep will always stay true to its 4x4 capabilities. We are not going to reinvent the brand. We do have our own 4x2 variants but we are not going to just change our original DNA to satiate the trend.
We have a unique appeal in the market for our unique features and people trust our products for our 78-year legacy. The Trailhawk rides on this legacy and comes equipped with fully independent suspension, disc brakes all around and a ‘Trail Rated’ badging that further confirms its off-road capabilities. It might not be our biggest seller but it is important that we as Jeep make it available in India. The Jeep brand is currently having a cult following of its own with a big group of Jeepers, as they call themselves, running some Jeep Trails across the country. They go on off-road trails in Ladakh, Jim Corbett and such other exotic places and this is really boosting the brand and in return the sales.
What is FCA India’s future line of action for the coming few years?
FCA is currently working on a B-SUV, something that would sit below the Compass. We are also working on a three-row D-SUV. At the moment, we are looking to push the Compass range. The financial footprint in India is excellent. There are no near plans for plant expansions. All the investments in India have been in engineering, especially for tuning, scaling and getting our cars BS-VI ready. Our BS-VI technology will eventually get incorporated in all our other offerings in India. We are ready for the BS-VI fuel, whenever it arrives, but for now, our BS-VI ready vehicles can run well on BS-IV fuels as well. Variant-wise, it is observed that out of the 36,000 Compass SUVs sold, 10,000 are in petrol. In fact, when you look at the SUV segment, we have the highest mix of petrol variants in our portfolio. People prefer our petrol automatic combination and now, with the introduction of the new 9-speed diesel automatic, allegiances could change. It is an honour for the FCA India team to have worked on the Jeep Compass and to meet the challenges of the global strategy.
Looking at the newly emerging trend of subscription services or the leasing options that certain OEMs are providing, we cannot position the Jeep brand as merely a commodity because our vehicles say a lot about the people who own it. We believe that these new trends will take time to catch up in India as the car ownership populous is still very low here. In the end, it is just one of the several methods of payment for our product. We are only concerned with the development of great products.
The Fiat owners in India have got some fantastic support here and the Indian versions of our cars have been retuned with more power and hence better performance. The trend of the industry is going towards SUV and we have already got a large portfolio of SUVs. So instead of being in the mass, highly competitive market place, we can slightly lift ourselves in some white space and that is the strategy we are adopting for India. Fiat is very much a part of FCA, but currently, our focus is largely on the Jeep brand which is creating a position for itself in the Indian automotive space.
How are you addressing the current challenge in the retail industry?
Compass is just two years old. We will be adding other products as well and we have got a good business plan for that as well. We are working closely with our network and we are progressing well. We have a very sound business practice between us and our network and we are very keen to make sure that their success is our success and our success is their success. We are in 82 locations across the country but in this declining market, the dealerships aren’t selling as per expectations.
Being a car company, what we do best is to bring great products, create good brands, huge opportunities, promote a lifestyle, a sense of adventure and freedom among our customers.
I will not enter into the whole electric mobility debate right now. All I would like to say is that the electric propulsion by nature is high torque, which means 100 percent of torque in the first revolution of the electric motor. Time will tell how these things will come to play. We will just spend the money to meet the requirements that have been set up by the Indian legislation currently, which is BS-VI. So we get the BS-VI done first and then we go for the next one.
How has been your stint in India?
The journey with this project has been amazing. We not only brought the Jeep brand here and started exporting it but it has also been recognised as one of the most trusted automotive car brand in India.
Also read: FCA India’s Kevin Flynn takes new charge as FCA Australia's MD