‘In some cases, India is a benchmark for Stellantis' global operations’: Billy Hayes
Billy Hayes talks about Jeep and Citroen, platform sharing, localisation and more.
Stellantis, the parent company of Jeep and Citroen brands in India is looking at possibilities to strengthen the portfolio of products from these two brands. The group owns 14 brands including marque ones like Alfa Romeo and the
erstwhile European giants Fiat and Peugeot. Some of them are being considered for the Indian market, but Billy Hayes, the Senior Vice President, India and Asia Pacific Region, Stellantis is non-committal and says "stay tuned."
What's your assessment of both the brands in India, position wise?
Both brands are in two different places. Very different. Strategies are different too. Jeep is a premium and an aspirational brand — synonymous
with SUV — a completely different starting place. Citroen on the other hand — it's for the masses. Its democratising, its affordability, its comfort.
With the formation of Stellantis, we’ve got a lot of benefits of scale and technology globally. We’re seeing fruits of the labour coming in next
year. What’s also similar between the two brands is that we know we have got to stay ahead in the market, especially here in India. We’ve got
great value, but at the same time, we’ve got to stay ahead of the market.
In what sense?
Mostly products. I have to say that the Jeep dealer network now is very strong. The facilities are good, comfortable. Citroen is now growing. So, two very different places, two very different strategies, but at the same time, things are converging. Platforms are converging, technologies are
converging. So, we have the benefit of that for both the brands in the future. We are creating things in India for the rest of the world.
How do you see things in 2030 and the role for India?
We do a lot of things for India, but its really India for the world. We have a great value base, a great cost base, because we’re just talking about
costs in isolation. You’re not talking about quality. You heard me talk about quality as a base, in some cases India is a benchmark for Stellantis
global. If you don’t have quality, you’re not going to have costs, you’re not going to have timing. It’s instilling this quality. It’s not just about
slamming cars in the market. You need quality first. We started with the export of gearboxes. Many OEMs do this, but much later in their life
cycle. For example, the C5 engine is assembled in Hosur, C3 all the powertrains are assembled there. Both the gearboxes are made there. C3
Aircross, is made with with almost 100 percent localisation. So, it’s a completely different way of looking at the business. The business is
configured to be scalable, that’s why you don’t see big bang announcements. Slowly and steadily, we are ramping up.
Despite being in the market for long, mindshare is weak. How do you address that?
The answer is different for both brands. Let’s start with Citroen. Obviously, C3 Aircross is a launch pad for us, right. We’ve got a lot of segment
firsts. We think it could resonate well with the market; we’re growing our dealer network commensurate with that. So, this is really another
launching pad for us.
Where we compete for Jeep is a very small segment. We’re competing in the price classes, we do well, with the Compass and Meridian.
Could we always do better? Probably. We are constantly tightening things, refreshing products, to make it more appealing to more people,
based on what people want. But the brands are in very two different places.
We don’t aspire for Jeep to sell a million cars in India. Jeep is a premium brand. We don’t have something for Jeep to compete in a
hatch(back) right? And we probably never will because we’re going premium.
India is quite competitive, is there a need to be more aggressive?
There is a need for more sustained activity, just like any other product, there is a need to accelerate our product activity. No doubt. You will
see some things coming. It is a key focus for us. Our goal is not to compete with the local brands. It’s not. Our goal is not to compete with
Chinese or local brands. Jeep is an aspirational brand. You can do in a Jeep what you can’t do in other vehicles. Have you seen a
Compass off-road? It is unbelievable. It's amazing. There’s no passion like that for some of these mainstream brands. It doesn’t exist. So,
we’re not competing there. We’re engineering the cars to do what they do.
We engineer the Compass, we engineer the Meridien to do what they do. It costs more to do that. It costs a lot more to do what we do
with the products. So, a Jeep is always going to be a Jeep. That’s why you’d be hard pressed to find us releasing a model for Jeep that’s
only in two-wheel drive. It’s an aspiration. You’re going to be part of a community. You don’t get that with other brands.
Could we have a more accessible Jeep? Something that has been on the radar for over a decade.
You’ll see some products for Jeep, I would say, on both ends of the spectrum, but we’re not going to be selling an A-segment hatchback. That’s not going to happen.
Are you looking at a possible ‘B’ segment SUV?
Stay tuned. There’s a lot in the works now.
The internationalisation of Citroen was a key part of the strategy, when does it kick in?
Its kicking in now. We now have Citroen in Indonesia. Big growing market. Growing middle class. So, its already started. South Africa and Nepal also.
We’ve already started sending the EC3 to Nepal – big focus on the Himalayan country for electric vehicles. Indonesia, the vehicles that we have. South Africa, the vehicles that we have. Components going to Latin America. They have a huge manufacturing setup there, but components are being shipped from here. So, a lot of synergies are being seen. The Aircross is going to Europe and not just being
deployed in Citroens, but a range of brands. That’s interesting. What’s coming alive now.
Cars are being packed with gadgets, gizmos and connectivity and safety features. What does Citroen offer?
Its about technology, suspension. Some of the features, let’s face it, though it's on the car but its not really used here (Sunroof, ADAS). It’s
about where you decide to put the money into the car. We are different from our competitors, we’re not about gadgets, we’re about things
that people actually like to use. We’d rather put in the very good suspension, steering, gearbox, and air-conditioning. The perceived value
varies, hence in C3 we have a customisation strategy. Instead of offering dozens of variants, we kept it simple and gave customers the
option of pre-configuring the car and use the feature they want to pay for.
Three years on, where do you see Stellantis in India?
I think the vision is to be known for quality, not only product but of experience, in buying and servicing the car. I think we’ve got some work
to do. Citroen we are in better shape. Jeep we’ve made improvements.
We should be known for the Premiumness of Jeep, and comfort of Citroen will be the differentiators.
You’re happy to be a small player in India?
We want to get our fair share. We want to get our healthy profitable business for our dealers. So, slow, and steady, just build the
community. Innovate the product. It's not like it's our mission to sell XYZ numbers of Jeeps but build it for sure.
What’s the rightful share for you in this market?
Its not about explosive growth. Need network, quality in place. We are not chasing market share; we are building it.
As for Jeep we have mindshare, it is more about breaking into consideration. For Citroen, 66 percent of our buyers are first timers — that is amongst the highest in the industry. So, when people are putting money for their first car for a European brand, it’s a well-considered decision and we are building our presence gradually and firmly with good value and sensible products.
Tell us about the network expansion plans.
By the end of this year, we will have 75 touchpoints and by the end of 2024 we will be doubling them to 150 outlets in India.
This feature was first published in Autocar Professional's August 15, 2023 issue.
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