Remembering Sanjiv Paul and his role in Yamaha’s bike project

by Murali Gopalan 03 Jun 2021


Sanjiv Paul was distinctly annoyed when we first met seven years ago. His grouse was the constant reference to Yamaha’s low-cost motorcycle for India being labelled ‘cheap’.

At that point in time, he was the Group Head, Purchase Operation, and responsible for this ambitious project. “Cheap is not the objective,” he snapped. Yamaha has, of course, moved on since and is now solely focused on the premium space.

Paul, more tragically, passed away 10 days ago during a time when the country is going through a particularly grim phase with the second wave of the pandemic. He had retired a year ago as Senior Vice-President, Manufacturing, but continued to be a consultant to India Yamaha Motor where he had started his career in the mid-1980s.

People who worked with him remember how easily accessible he was to everyone. He was also passionate about manufacturing and played a big role in streamlining processes at the company’s plants in Surajpur and Chennai. 

All this came through in our meeting soon after Paul made his objections amply clear to the ‘cheap’ association for the motorcycle. This also stemmed from the fact that the word was constantly being used for Tata Motors’ Nano which hardly helped its cause as a people’s car. Yamaha did not want to go down that path either which explained his obvious irritation then.

From Paul’s point of view, it was more important to look at the other attributes of this motorcycle which reflected the sentiments of Hiroyuki Yanagi who was then the global CEO of Yamaha Motor. 

“We try to make good products for customers, which includes performance and values. While cost and price are one such value, Yamaha will also focus on styling, performance and safety. It just cannot be cost,” he had reiterated in an earlier interview. 

This motorcycle was being developed under the umbrella of Project Indra (Innovative and New Development based on Responsible Analysis) and earmarked for India and Africa. The initiative comprised teams from India and Japan working together on this first-of-a-kind bike. 

Paul was clearly excited when he said the exercise had kicked off in a “systematic way” with the top management of the Indian vendor community coming together to work with the company’s R&D teams. “The Yamaha DNA will be there in terms of excitement, affordability, fuel efficiency and performance. No other competitor can afford this kind of package and customers will get much more in our bike,” he told me.

Typically, continued Paul, any bike is developed based on Yamaha’s drawings which are then distributed to vendors here who, in turn, make the parts. For this affordable bike, however, the company was changing its strategy. 

Before fixing the drawing standards and specifications, it was seeking the participation of suppliers. “We are jointly checking out how we can fix the design specifications as well as manufacturing and service standards,” said Paul. 

The underlying message was that this was a team effort in making the drawings along with suppliers. In the process, they could contribute to ideas, detail their specifications for parts, what could  be eliminated and so on. The drawings would then be approved and distributed to them keeping in mind the target cost.

“It requires a lot of involvement to get the fix on design, testing and manufacturing standards. Suppliers are now the partners and the idea is to work together and find the best solution. Yet, we will not compromise on Yamaha’s core values even while working hard on cost reduction,” said Paul.

This is where the new Chennai plant, home to the affordable bike, would play a big role. Eight Japanese vendors had been identified for this affordable bike project, a list including KYB (Kayaba) for suspension, Sakura for job systems and other suppliers for casting and alloy wheels.  Injection moulding and painting would have dedicated suppliers too. This supply chain would play a big role in reducing costs substantially.

As Paul explained, the fact that each part would be designed and developed in India meant that they would be needed for countries such as Brazil and Indonesia where Yamaha had its operations. “The parts business will become critical and vendors here will gain from considerable volumes worldwide,” he said.

Going forward, these cost benefits would then percolate down to new products and a similar strategy of participative drawings/designs could then be carried out for some of them too. It is, of course, another matter that Yamaha has quite wisely chosen to exit the affordable space and will focus on its core DNA of premium bikes and scooters.

Yet, there is no taking away the fact that Paul was part of what was once considered an important project where India would have had an added responsibility of servicing Africa. The efforts on vendor development in Chennai have doubtless laid the base for a strong foundation. Sanjiv Paul, RIP. 

 


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