Auto focus

Building a strong runway for the future

Murali Gopalan | Updated on June 12, 2014 Published on June 12, 2014

Smooth drive Sumit Sawhney (R) with Gilles Normand, Renault’sChairman –Asia Pacific, at the Auto Expo this year. KAMAL NARANG

Sumit Sawhney believes Renault should remain an aspirational brand

If the Duster catapulted India to the list of Renault’s top 15 markets, two products scheduled for launch next year could take this script to the next level.

Sumit Sawhney, CEO and Managing Director of Renault India, steers clear of specifics and merely reiterates that these are “true global cars with global DNA”. By now, though, it is reasonably well known within industry circles that Renault will launch a compact car and a multipurpose vehicle. Like the Duster, both products have the potential to do big numbers, especially the entry-level car, which explains why Sawhney will have his hands full in the coming months.

Positive sentiment

From his point of view, the good news is that there is a strong Government at the centre which has already articulated its intent to get manufacturing back on track. The auto industry has been through its worst slowdowns in recent times but there is tremendous hope of a revival around the corner thanks to better customer sentiment.

All this would be music to Renault’s ears as the two new products are critical to increasing its market share in India from the present 2.6 per cent to over five per cent in the short-term. “It is true that India’s auto industry has not been in the best of shape lately but at Renault, we need to stay focused during a downturn. My objective is to build a strong runway for the future,” Sawhney reiterates. Renault, according to him, is a young brand which has already established itself quickly in India thanks largely to the Duster. “Now with two strong cars being launched next year we are getting ready all over again,” he says.

It is four months since Sawhney took charge and the top priority now is localisation which will not only keep costs in check but also guard against violent currency fluctuations. The next task on hand is to increase the number of dealerships from 130 to 175 by the end of this year. Service outlets will be another focus area as Renault maps its retail journey across India.

“I strongly believe that building customer trust takes you a long way. This explains why we are constantly engaging with our buyers,” Sawhney says. Last year, for instance, saw interactions with nearly 25,000 families who drive Renault cars and this exercise will continue through 2014 too.

The most welcome feedback relates to the cost of ownership which the company will carry forward with the new products. “Renault is a brand that stands for aspiration and this is how we would always like ourselves to be positioned,” Sawhney says.

Swift recovery

For a company that had a rough run with the much touted Logan, Renault has been quick to put the building blocks in place all over again. Since the time it called off its joint venture with Mahindra & Mahindra, the French automaker has focused on building a strong back-end in its Chennai R&D and engineering centre.

The most important takeaway from the Logan debacle was to think local for the domestic market especially since it is price-sensitive. To that extent, the global compact car which debuts next year will mark a triumph of the competencies available here. No wonder then that Sawhney terms Renault a ‘future ready’ company in this part of the world where a strong foundation is now in place.

While India will be the launch pad for the car, other potential markets could include South America and South Africa. In the process, Renault’s engineering team in Chennai will truly become part of an important global programme. India has already been identified as a growth lever for the Asia-Pacific business where a start has been made with Duster kits being shipped out from Chennai to Indonesia.

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Published on June 12, 2014
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