Dr V Sumantran - vice-chairman of Ashok Leyland
The vice-chairman of Ashok Leyland tells Sumantra Barooah why he is confident about the Stile doing well in India
You have launched the Stile at an aggressive price point. Now the challenge for your team is to create the perception of Ashok Leyland as a passenger vehicle manufacturer. How do you plan to address that?
Tata Motors was a CV maker until it launched the Indica. Mahindra was a jeep player until it brought in the Scorpio. In India, if you have a good product that offers a good proposition and has the right ingredients, then people will accept you, that’s the first thing. The second thing for us, if you see the panel gaps, the fit and finish (in the Stile), it’s contemporary Nissan standard. So we are not asking the customer to make any compromises in accepting our product. Thirdly, being a CV maker, we are very tuned to fuel efficiency, service costs, uptime and parts availability because they’ll kill us in the commercial vehicle business if we don’t get that right. I think we have got all the pieces we should have.
The Stile comes just over a year after the Evalia was launched. What were your learnings from the Evalia’s market performance?
These changes (redesigned windows and seats) have come from customer feedback. We also saw an opportunity to further improve fuel efficiency and we took it. The Evalia is 19.3kpl and we’re 19.5kpl.
How have you achieved that?
By retuning the torque in the engine map without compromising engine performance. It’s a beautiful engine to drive because you can pull from third gear. You can go to a speedbreaker in third and you don’t have to change too many gears in city traffic. In terms of power-to-weight ratio, it is the same as the Evalia and if you look at some leading UVs, MPV, driveability/acceleration is so much better.
Does the refreshed Innova, which gets a price hike, help create space for the Stile?
For someone like a fleet operator who is looking for Japanese bulletproof reliability, the Innova has slowly inched away from his price bracket. We’ve got the right option.
ALL’s partnership with Nissan is six years old. Have the partners discovered any new area or scope that they can branch out?
We talk about markets and products all the time. Andy (Palmer) and I are very good friends, it’s more than just a business relationship. That’s a level of comfort dealing with opportunities and issues that we face. We never leave a meeting without one more product idea!
Does the Ashok Leyland-Nissan JV give the Stile a chance to be marketed abroad?
We can take advantage of both networks. In certain places where Nissan has a strong network we can use that and likewise for Ashok Leyland. In places where there is room for both brands, we will do that. That’s the beauty of the relationship.
You have said the ALL-Nissan JV cannot afford to only have one product in your portfolio. In passenger vehicles, how do you see it playing out in the next few years?
I think this is probably as close to the core of passenger cars as we’ll get, with the Stile. I think our other products would be like the Dost passenger model and so on. I don’t think we want to get into the core passenger car segment, if you can call it that.
Why did Ashok Leyland hive off Defiance’s US testing facility recently?
At one time we thought it would be nice to have but over time, we have to address our balance sheet issues. It was profitable and it was a profitable sale. We felt that we could hive it off it without affecting our business; moreover, it puts money back on our table.
The introduction of the Boss reflects the company’s aggressive look in a newly emerging segment. How do you see the Intermediate Commercial Vehicle segment panning out in India?
Across the board for the Indian customer, they want better features, better cabin ergonomics, so for the Boss we have automated manual transmission, air- conditioned cabin, better NVH in addition to always very good fuel efficiency.
The Avia buy came in handy there. But how is it doing as an independent entity?
I think those plans are still on but have no specific details. We’ve wound down production in the core plant at Avia because we found more need for those tools here in India.
Heavy localisation would have helped no doubt. You must have taken a lot of Leyland’s suppliers and worked closely with them.
We worked very hard to increase localisation as we know the Indian customer will not give you a second chance. From the beginning of the programme, we were aggressive with price. We took one some new suppliers such as Takata, Unipress and a few global suppliers from Nissan.
Even though the Stile offers great mileage, the price of diesel is gradually inching up in India. Will it still be an attractive proposition?
At the end of the day, diesel is definitely better than petrol in terms of mileage. With this powertrain, we are ready up to Euro 5 and 6.
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