‘Hard to be profitable in India, but the country will play a strategic global role’

Ashwani Muppasani, COO of Stellantis — India and Asia Pacific spoke about the Jeep and Citroen brands, plans for the Indian market, and the future for electric vehicles.

Autocar Pro News Desk By Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 20 Apr 2024 Views icon5058 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
‘Hard to be profitable in India, but the country will play a strategic global role’

At a select media round table recently, Ashwani Muppasani, Chief Operating Officer of Stellantis India and Asia Pacific spoke about how the company will leverage India’s strengths. “I have software in India, I have a huge engineering centre in Bengaluru. I can design from the ground up using the same existing platforms. So India is strategically very important," he says. 

How do you see Jeep reviving as a brand?

We are here to stay in India which is a very strategic market for us and the APAC region will continue to grow. India will probably cross the five million unit mark this year. Coming to Jeep specifically, it is built in a certain way. Our vehicles are a little bit heavy because they can be used off-road. We're not going to forget the DNA or the rules (of how our cars are built). So there's good potential to develop our own products that suit the needs of the country. And that's what we're going to be embarking upon.  

You’re developing products for India, for Jeep specifically. Can you also not leverage your other brand Citroen? Is there a plan to do that?

There are going to be platforms that I’m going to leverage from the global pool. Because, if you look at Stellantis, our strategy since we merged, is that we still have some products, which you cannot just call off. We have some legacy platforms that we still make cars on.

But if you look at the future from 2025 and 2026, every new product that you see regardless of the brand, they’re going to be made on four platforms — STLA small, medium, large and frame. This is a big strategy for us because the architecture, systems and software are the same.

And on top of that, it is multi-energy. Also we’re not just depending on electric vehicles, because EVs are drastically changing. We have the flexibility, we are still committed to our net carbon zero goal by 2038, so I'm going to be leveraging some of the platforms but localising them.

Is your two-brand strategy for India going to change?

India is not a profitable market but strategically an important one for me. I have software in India, I have a huge engineering centre in Bengaluru. I can design from the ground up using the same existing platforms. So yes, India is important to us.

What are your thoughts on EVs? You're hearing from European companies now that they want to move back, maybe to a small PHEV or even a hybrid. Even large manufacturers over here are looking at hybrids more seriously.

Stellantis’ vision is very clear. We have our KPIs. We never buy credits from anyone to meet our CAFE standards. So, our commitment to the environment is not going to change. When you ask me about strategy, two years ago, when we announced our strategy of platforms and multi, energy platforms, we received a lot of criticism. But today, if you look at our competition, they’re saying, I went full EV and now I need to cut back on my investments, so for us, the future will be multi energy.

You said you're not going to fuss over volumes. What's the sweet spot when it comes to volume position?

If I sell 1,000 Jeeps with a current portfolio, and about 2,500 Citroens, I'm happy. Because I have grand plans for exports. Because India is a very complex market, as 80% is simply brand loyal and if you go and chase those volumes, then you're going to lose money and that means you have to increase the network too, then you have to worry about your dealer viability. That means you have to feed the network or dealers are going to come and complain. I don't want to be in that situation.

It seems like though India is an important market for you, it’s not important for volumes.

You chase volumes, you chase your tail. There are a lot of OEMs that don't make any money in this country, I don't want to do that. I want to be profitable because we're in the business to make a profit. And my structural costs are such that I can make a profit with the numbers that I gave you. I want the volumes to come naturally and organically.

It doesn't mean that I'm not going to introduce new models. I'm going to introduce the models that I want to choose for the country, those that I am going to be able to develop, design and produce locally. Volume has to come but you also need to keep your breakeven points very low.

When you're talking about developing something on ground, is it ICE only or is there also some element to electrification?  

The platforms that we're going to develop, why touch the structure that you already have? For example, I have an EC3. It's a very good battery and I'm getting a very good price. But we can give a completely different car based on the same thing. So that's a strategy. 

What's your view on diesel?

It’s a power train that’s available. Did we make the mistake of taking petrol out? Yes, because we didn’t anticipate it. But we’re also looking at what we can do. We didn’t have a choice because we were getting an engine from somewhere and the government was changing policies and we kind of anticipated and said ok, we don’t need as many engines, and then all of a sudden the market shifted.

As an old China hand, do you think European companies were wilfully blind to what China has done with EVs?

We’re not blind. That’s one of the reasons for our partnership with Leap Motors. We wanted a JV that we could control. Because at the end of the day, we want to control the international market, because in China, except for BYD, nobody makes money. So with our JV we own 20% of the China business, so that gives us the flexibility to distribute with Leap Motors products, with even different brands of our own, in around 130 global markets.


This interview was first published in Autocar Professional's April 15, 2024 issue.

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