‘The automotive industry is like a marathon race. To succeed, one needs to think big and for the long run.’

Arun Malhotra, managing director, Nissan Motor India, speaks to Amit Panday on the company’s product plans for this year, enhancing brand identity and why the connect with cricket will pay off for the carmaker.

Amit Panday By Amit Panday calendar 12 Feb 2016 Views icon3633 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp

Arun Malhotra, managing director, Nissan Motor India, speaks to Amit Panday on the company’s product plans for this year, enhancing brand identity and why the connect with cricket will pay off for the carmaker.

How do you see the 2016 panning out for Nissan in India?
What we need in the auto industry is a certain inflection point from which we move to the next league. We are getting two of our iconic brands in India because I believe people haven’t seen those cutting-edge models of Nissan here – one is the GTR and the other is the X-Trail. The X-Trail will be a hybrid, which made waves when it was launched in Japan. These two brands will give that polish to the Nissan as a car manufacturing brand.

Secondly, our journey in India, since we are late in this country, is about how you come from the state of awareness to high consideration in customers’ minds. We have just tied up with the ICC (International Cricket Council) for 8 years, which we think will establish Nissan’s affinity and closeness with the Indian customers.

As a part of this deal, we will be the sponsors for 17 ICC world tournaments over the coming 8 years, starting from the World Cup (Twenty20) in March 2016. So this gives us a phenomenal opportunity to associate with cricket because I think the brand values of cricket and the brand values of Nissan have certain commonalities. Some of these would be innovation, passion, and excitement. Similarly, I see many more commonalities on the front of the techniques in the game and technologies with Nissan.

Is this a very similar association with the ICC like Hyundai Motor had previously?
We are trying to do this on a much larger scale. It’s an opportunity to build up the Nissan brand.

What are your upcoming project(s)?
We are soon coming up with the Datsun small car (codenamed: i2), which is planned for the next quarter. So the X-Trail, GTR and the Datsun small car will take our product portfolio further this year and alongside the association with the ICC will work on the branding side. Going further, there is a proper future product plan which will take shape eventually.

What, according to you, would be the basic factors that contribute to the success of an automotive brand?
For an automotive brand to succeed in a country like India there are five ingredients. First, how serious is a company in terms of future product line-up, manufacturing, research and development capabilities and the supply chain. So the Nissan-Renault Alliance has a 600-acre plant and a world-class R&D centre (besides Japan and USA) in Chennai, India.

Secondly, the distribution network, which we are continuously adding to our pan-India presence. We are aiming to have a network of 300 outlets by June 2016.

Thirdly, what existing customers speak about your product(s). One factor that I have realised is that if you are a new player, then the customer expectations from you are bigger. So to address customer satisfaction, we kick- started major customer-centric initiatives. We were at No. 11 in the JD Power study three years ago, No. 9 nine a year back and now we are at the No. 3 slot. To add to this, JD Power tells us that it is very rare that any company ever made it from number 11 to three within five years.

Fourth is the quality of your dealerships which includes your processes and customer reception. While products are a very important factor for success, it’s the affinity with the brand that, according to me, is also very crucial. So does the customer think of you when he thinks of a vehicle? To achieve that status is a challenge for any new company.

Therefore, we are serious with our association with cricket and we will take it up in various creative ways. We believe that if we do these five-six things together, we will build a strong foundation. This is our approach for Indian operations. The automotive industry is like a marathon race, and to succeed one needs to think big and for the long run.

What part of your broad portfolio, across the Datsun i2 to the GTR, would be the area of focus?
Although it’s a challenge to handle two brands in the short term, it will benefit in the long run. Datsun is for the new rising young Indians, it’s on the CMF (Common Module Family) platform and it represents a value-packed proposition. So with Datsun we are talking about global ideas, global technologies with grains in the local market. Nissan, on the other hand, is more international models with international technologies and innovations. So these two brands will run parallel to each other and will allow us to straddle two different segments. Our focus, hence, will be on both ends of the market.

Would you share Nissan’s marketing spend specially on its association with the ICC?
I don’t think I would remember that to disclose it to you. What I can say is that this is a world association and therefore this is a big spend on a worldwide scale. However, cricket is not a popular game in China, Japan or USA, which keeps those bigger markets out. I believe the benefits of this association will accrue directly to the Indian operations. Nissan has been globally known for being sponsors for baseball, soccer and other games.

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