‘The biggest challenge we faced was convincing Germany (HQ) to introduce the LWB E-class in India.’
Roland Folger, MD and CEO, Mercedes-Benz India, on why the long-wheelbase E-Class is an ideal fit for India, the gamble in taking that decision and on introducing newer-generation diesel engines.
Roland Folger, MD and CEO, Mercedes-Benz India, speaks to Hormazd Sorabjee on why the long-wheelbase E-Class is an ideal fit for India, the gamble in taking that decision and on introducing newer-generation diesel engines.
What is the rationale behind introducing the long-wheelbase variant of the E-class and is it a gamble because of the high price?
Well, there is always a certain element of risk with a long wheelbase. However, in the next five to 10 years, the road conditions are not going to be any better and the traffic is not going to be any lighter. Our customers, including successful businessmen and entrepreneurs, spend a lot of time in their cars. Once we saw the opportunity within our line-up and solutions we had to some of those issues for the Chinese market, we were very eager to apply the same in India. There is nothing better out there than to have comfort in your day-to-day driving routine on the populous roads of India.
Was there cost pressure arising out of India, being the only right-hand- drive market for the new E-class?
Of course, there were cost pressures, and it was not an easy sell to Germany either (company headquarters), looking at the incremental cost of such a vehicle and while trying to stay within a price level that people would accept. I think that was the biggest challenge we were facing at that time. But we remained committed to the idea since we knew it would give us a unique positioning, on cost and in price levels, in a segment that we really own in India. That also gave us the confidence that the volumes we would achieve in India were definitely going to be worth it.
Is there a possibility of exports to other right-hand-drive markets such as Singapore, South Africa and Sri Lanka?
In markets other than India, the situation is different; either they sell a lot more S-Classes or are happy with the existing normal wheelbase W213 E-Class. But we still looked at the opportunity and found out that the volume was too small or not profitable for us at all.
What was the research that prompted the launch of long- wheelbase E-class?
We now have a total of 34,000 E-Classes running in India. We did some research with existing customers that involved talking to them directly, observing cars coming into service and talking to drivers to understand who was driving the car more frequently. Interestingly, we found out most of our customers were chauffeur-driven when they go to work but on the weekend they wish to drive themselves. So, our aim was to offer a vehicle which offered the best of both worlds.
Will the new long-wheelbase E-Class pull in S-Class customers?
I don’t see a risk of the new LWB E-class pulling S-Class customers since the S-class is not bought because of its legroom, but because of its overall package and positioning in the market. We hope to attract a lot of other people from the SUV segment because of the space and comfort the E-class offers. So maybe we can change some of the rules of the game as well.
What is the strategy behind bringing the 3.0-litre V6 diesel in the E-class?
We adopt a skimming policy sometimes where we believe that the first customers, because of their long relationship with us, are definitely going for the 350d. The top-end variants are the first cars to be snatched up eagerly and we need to take care of these customers first.
Do you have plans to bring the straight-six diesel engine to India?
Yes, we might get a straight-six diesel by 2018. Naturally, it also depends on our sales figures and our sales success. But it will certainly come to India; that’s a promise. We have been making sure that the relevant parties in the government understand that from 2018 onwards, we will be ready to introduce also Euro-VI or BS-VI-compliant engines in India and we are diligently working on that.
After raising USD 15 million from the Al Futtaim Group, River India plans to ramp up its manufacturing facilities and di...
The importance of India as a strong export base for auto parts suppliers is increasing, says Anil Kumar M R, President a...
In an exclusive interview, Radha Krishnan, President and Founder, Detroit Engineered Products (DEP) talks about how the ...