2012 News Maker: Karl Slym

With challenges in both the passenger vehicle and CV sectors, Slym has his job cut out. He also has a young new-look team to help him shape Tata Motors for the 21st century.

Autocar Pro News DeskBy Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 21 Dec 2012 Views icon4006 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
While it was officially announced that Karl Slym was to take over as managing director of Tata Motors on October 1, 2012, he actually took charge much earlier. Within weeks, he was to preside over the launch of the Tata Safari Storme and the Indigo Manza, two key products in Tata’s portfolio, as it tries to regain some of the market share it has lost to competition in the passenger car segment.

With him, Slym has brought in a young team comprising Ranjit Singh Yadav, a Samsung veteran who brings a fresh, outsider’s perspective to the car sector as president, and Neeraj Garg, who takes over as VP of the car business. Both bring a wide canvas of experience that Slym will tap as he goes about shaping the company for the 21st century.

India’s car sector has not been in the best shape over the last year or so. While sales have fallen as a result of several factors including high fuel prices and the impact of the economic slowdown, Tata’s own sales performance has been under pressure. And while it remains stable at No.3, Mahindra & Mahindra has been beating down its back.

In a larger context, it is now always about the numbers. In a recent interview, Slym told Autocar Professional that his company’s aspiration is to be, at least, at number 2 in the market. He has acknowleged that the need is to build a strong foundation to build growth in terms of portfolio, quality and customer satisfaction.

Slym joined Tata after a four-year stint with General Motors India. At GM India, he oversaw the launch of the Beat and Spark, two compacts that are available in alternative fuels, as well as the introduction of the SmartTech diesel engine that has made the Chevy Beat a formidable player in its segment. So Slym has his own grounding at the heart of the Indian passenger car segment of which a thorough understanding is crucial.

One issue that Slym is looking closely at is the Nano, which has not quite lived up to its initial promise. Slym now says that there was never anything wrong with the product and what needed to be handled better was the go-to-market process, which he saw as an outsider. Moreover, with petrol prices going through the roof, the Nano, available in petrol only, bore the brunt. Slym says that there is a need for a CNG as well as diesel variant, so that the product can be brought to a wider audience. That is something the company is working on. The Nano 2012 edition has done well with sales of 71,042 units in the first 10 months of 2012-13 as against 56,917 units in the year-earlier period. With the CNG variant due in 2013, Slym says the Nano will do even better.

Tata Motors is also looking to beef up the sales and service network to a total of 1,200 sales outlets.

At Tata Motors, Slym also has a wider canvas as he oversees the commercial vehicle sector that is a barometer of the economy. The medium and heavy CV sector has seen sales fall by about 16 percent in the last month or so and that is clearly an area of concern. In addition, the biggest player in the global truck segment, Daimler AG, has launched a slew of products that take a direct shot at what Tata is offering. With Tata’s 60 percent share in the sector, it is never going to be easy to dislodge the No. 1 CV player but with new players bringing in products backed by superior technology, one can no longer take things for granted.

One area that Slym can bring to bear his expertise to bear is on alternative fuel. He has overseen the green fuel initiative at GM India and has this vital exposure to do the same for Tata, which has just a handful of offerings. Thanks to the extended Tata Motors Group with its reach as far as South Korea in the east and Brazil in the west means, Slym can tap a global array of technical, product and customer feedback as he goes about stategising for the future.

There is no doubting that Tata remains a formidable brand in the passenger car segment. However, a lot has changed since 1999 thanks to greater competition, increasing customer expectations and the sheer choice that the customer has today.

The Japanese brands, in particular Nissan, Honda and Toyota, are now pitched against what Tata offers and that makes for an interesting brand competition going ahead. Above all, issues such as branding now extend, in a sense, to the aftermarket and service, vital inputs for any sales-related decision. That’s an area that the company must also tackle.

BRIAN DE SOUZA
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