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‘If the car market moves towards diesel, we are prepared for it'

Roudra Bhattacharya New Delhi | Updated on November 15, 2017 Published on January 14, 2012

Mr Lowell Paddock

Taking over the reins of American auto giant General Motors' India operations last week, Mr Lowell Paddock has a tough act to follow. His

Taking over the reins of American auto giant General Motors' India operations last week, Mr Lowell Paddock has a tough act to follow. His predecessor, Mr Karl Slym, was responsible for giving the company a strong footing in the domestic market in his four-and-a-half year stint, at a time when the parent company in the US went into bankruptcy and came out of it as well. Now, it is time to spearhead GM India through the next phase of growth.

In an interview with Business Line, Mr Paddock talks about how he would leverage Chinese partner SAIC's portfolio in India, and how his 14-year experience in world markets will help GM gain a double-digit share.

Is this your first exposure to the Indian car market?

India is not new to me. I've been living in Asia for seven years and have been managing a lot of the product activities for the country. I won't say I know the market well, but I know that today it's the most competitive mini-segment in the world — but, it's also maturing. Indian consumers are very demanding and are also well-informed. I've been to the last three Auto Expos, and if you look at the diversity this year versus the previous one, there is much more happening in terms of brands and products.

What do you expect during your term as head of GM India?

It will be exciting, but that can sometimes be in the positive or the negative sense. I think the single most important question on everybody's mind is: Where will the market wind up this year? Are we going to return to the level of growth seen in the past?

What's great about the market is that it is so competitive. Indians are car-mad… It is about a youthful population and an expanding middle-class.

What makes this business so interesting is how quickly it can turn without any warning — when somebody launches a new product, when the price of fuel goes up, or the global financial crisis. There are not many businesses where you have to make such big bets for such a long period of time. You have to be good at reading the future.

With SAIC picking up half the stake in GM India, how does it affect your product plans?

We have a tremendous relationship with SAIC and have access to a large variety of products. We think some of those are appropriate for the market here. Two were on display (the SAIL and MPV concept at the Expo). Variants of these products will come into the market. The Sail will be launched in the second quarter of 2012 and the MPV towards the end of the year.

What kind of market share are you targeting?

It will be great for us if we can get to a double-digit share. Growth in India has to pack flexibility, fast response and the recognition that the brand is very important.

GM has been able to grow faster than the market, and I would like to continue to do that. We want to be able to move very quickly, like with diesel.

You have a large presence in the dominant small car segment. What is the plan forward?

Our portfolio will evolve in line with the market. The Sail will add to our portfolio of small cars. We have three vehicles right now with the U-Va, Spark and the Beat. Products age, and one picks them out of the market, but we have no plans with any of these models right now.

Are GM's plans to expand into the commercial vehicle market on track?

We will have more to say about this towards the end of the year. Certainly, the CV market is an opportunity here and with SAIC we have a lot of options in that area.

Diesel cars sales have been going through the roof. If you look at Europe, customers always look at cost-efficiency. If diesel continues to be priced in this way, we'll continue to see demand in diesel. It's about operating efficiency also. If the market moves towards diesel, we're prepared for it.

GM had showcased an electric Beat recently. Any launch plans?

We are waiting for the right policy. We will monitor what goes on in India and when the conditions get better in terms of infrastructure, we will see what we can do in this space.

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Published on January 14, 2012
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