Companies

‘No good moment for a launch; we have to create it’

Swetha Kannan Vinay Kamath Chennai | Updated on November 17, 2017

Mr Marc Nassif, Country Managing Director, Renault India (file photo).



Mr Marc Nassif, Country Managing Director, Renault India, says the company will stand by its investment commitment to India despite the tough business environment. Renault will continue with its planned product launches and not worry unduly about whether the timing is right or not, says Mr Nassif, an Egyptian by birth who later moved to France. Having worked all over the globe, Mr Nassif terms his current stint in India uniquely challenging and exciting.

Excerpts from a chat with Mr Nassif post the launch of compact SUV, the Duster, at a resort near Chennai.

Is the timing of the Duster launch right given that auto companies are going for production cuts?

When you enter in a low, people say it is not good. When you enter in a peak, people say it is warming up and there is competition. There is no good moment. We have to create the environment.

We did that with a top-down approach - by bringing Fluence to our demanding customers who are now becoming are ambassadors. Then we got in Koleos, which is now recognised as a unique product.

Last year in June, we showcased what is Renault technology, its DNA and service. If you bring Duster from day 1, it may click but the brand would be completely unknown. We have to build the first level of awareness.

There is lot of competition. It is true we are addressing fewer customers, but the effect on the market is huge.

Does the overall business climate worry you?

It does not affect our product launches. It didn’t change the fact that we said we will launch five cars before this year. It might change what we bring, how much we are going to invest when and how much we are going to expand. But the overall investment commitment of Rs 4,500 crore by the Nissan-Renault alliance is untouchable. It is on the way and will be done before 2015. It is a question of when it comes and when we recognise it has been done. We have to start depreciating our assets. The two lines promised in the Chennai plant are here. We promised to do engines and transmission. Engines are here. Transmission is coming on a mass scale. But higher volumes are coming.

With Duster, you have become a pioneer of sorts in creating the affordable compact SUV category… How do you view this segment?

So far, Duster as such does not have competition. The category has taken off in a big way. It is the right combination of SUV and a sedan. Globally, it was launched three years ago. Last year, we sold 3 lakh cars. It is produced in Romania, Brazil, Russia, Columbia and now Chennai. The first mover advantage will help us in the Indian market. But more people are coming in - Ford Ecosport is coming in next year. But I think it is a different car.

Is the sedan SUV crossover a product of its times given that fuel prices are going up and people want to scale down from fuel guzzling SUVs, but don’t want to give up on an SUV and don’t want a sedan?

We may see a trend here... but also you want to go down below Rs 4 lakh you need to have a small hatchback.

A lot of women are buying SUVs today...

A young girl came up to me and said she drives the Koleos SUV and asked me when Renault was bringing in Duster with automatic transmission. But we don’t have it as yet. Fluence is receiving huge esteem (sic) among women. We will analyse this market over time. Our product planning is headed by a woman.

Is India a key contributor to design globally?

It is work in progress. India is contributing in the future global programmes. In the Duster, the dashboard, seats, air-con unit were designed here. Duster has much more chrome here. We have made it more crisp in India.

Do you see India as an export hub?

On right hand drive, yes – to markets like the UK and other right hand markets it makes sense. But we have many plants around the world. Also, transporting cars all around the planet is not green or cheap. Besides, we did not commit to Chennai speculating that to break even we need to export. We are exporting components…but the first target of the operation here is India. Right now, our market size is one per cent in India. Although Fluence has 10 per cent share in mid-size executive sedan segment in India.

How is the alliance with Nissan working?

Our philosophy is quite simple. The joint venture is for tech centre and plant. Only back-end is shared.

When we talk about brands, it is a normal competitive environment. Though Renault and Nissan are located close to each other in India, we don’t talk about each other’s marketing strategies. It is not the same company. So no confusion here.

Nissan owns 15 per cent of Renault and Renault owns 44 per cent of Nissan – that is the only strong link between the two. In terms of management, we have the same CEO. It is a unique model that works and is meant for generating value.

Every year, we have budgets. We meet every month and decide you need more and I need less. It is quite a simple model. It is not that Renault took over Nissan. That may be only from share point of view. But it is not about control.

In terms of sourcing from local suppliers, do you gain due to the alliance?

Yes, in economies of scale. It allows to achieve better cost efficiency.

How has Renault’s brand recall improved?

It is difficult to measure it. Depending on how you take the temperature, you have a different result. Our product is extremely powerful. The F1 association has done a lot for the Renault brand.

> vinaykamath@thehindu.co.in

> swethak@thehindu.co.in

Published on July 07, 2012

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