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Audi hits the right note with young achievers

MURALI GOPALAN | Updated on January 24, 2018

Plotting the future: According to Joe King, Head of Audi India, there is a lot of local talent that can find space in the Audi family. Photo: Paul Noronha

German automaker now keen on building local talent for global needs

Joe King believes India is a young and optimistic country in contrast to his native Australia with its stronger fundamentals. The Head of Audi India attributes this to a culture where Indians are more competitive and optimistic with high aspirations, all of which make up for a positive mindset. King remembers the time when he and his wife were visiting Mumbai in April 2013, a couple of months before he took charge of Audi. They had just stepped out of the Taj Lands End in suburban Bandra when someone just walked up to them and began chatting. “I thought it was a journalist actually,” recalls King with a laugh.

On a more serious note, though, this conversation with a complete stranger on Australia and cricket gave him an idea of what India was about. “You don’t see this back home where you are barely recognised,” says King, driving home the point on the optimism levels he sees in the country. This, in turn, has been an important trigger for Audi’s good growth with sales of over 11,000 units annually in successive calendar.

Success story

From the German carmaker’s point of view, India has been a great success story where the growth story has been “phenomenal” since the time it set up shop in 2007. As one of the critical growth brands in the Volkswagen group, Audi has a facility in Aurangabad which rolls out a slew of top luxury brands like the A3, A4, A6, Q3, Q5, Q7 etc.

The carmaker has also been in the news for the constant tug-of-war with German counterpart, Mercedes-Benz which constantly makes headlines. King, however, insists that this is hardly priority as he has more important things on his plate like working out a good business model for the country. “For me, the job is much bigger than checking out who tops each month because this is about a long-term strategy. It has taken us to where we are today and will lead us into the future,” says King.

According to him, the success of a country and its culture has a profound impact on car buying. He cites the examples of India’s young achievers who represent passion, competition and commitment. These are customers in their early 30s who are attracted to the Audi brand. They come on long drives and spend a lot of time talking about the car.

“One thing I love about India is that the family is core to everything. Both family and friends are important emotional connects and this is where social media becomes important,” says King. It is here that the passion comes through with varied reactions to Audi, some of which may even be negative at times. This engagement with customers is core to the carmaker’s business philosophy as it is important to understand what people are looking for.

Future ready

Audi is now expanding its network across the country which includes Tier 2/3 centres. At present, it has 61 customer touch points across 39 locations and plans are underway to grow these by 15 percent including dealerships, service facilities and showrooms this calendar.

King speaks of the time a showroom in Ranchi, the home of Indian cricket skipper MS Dhoni, was recently inaugurated and there were at least 400 people queuing up to have a look. This was replicated in Guwahati where a luxury brand had made its way to the northeast. All this showed that aspiration levels were similar across the country and why it was important for Audi to fulfil them.

The company recently set up the Audi Technical Service Centre in Mumbai as part of an effort to improve its after-sales service. This is the seventh of its kind for Audi in the Asia-Pacific region and will help adapt its products to suit market needs. “Cars are complex things where technicians need to be trained across the country,” says King. The Centre will play an important role in developing manpower especially when service capacity and need for technicians grows.

Training talent

In addition, a technical apprenticeship programme has kicked off to create top level talent. Audi has recently tied up with three institutions to develop specific training material. These are the Hindustan Electronics Academy Bangalore, Rustamji Institute of Technology, Gwalior, and Rustomjee Academy for Global Careers, Dahanu.

Course materials are written in conjunction with Audi India and people are prepared for technical roles within dealerships. As King says, these are not meant to be just mechanics but technicians with sharp skills who are expected to diagnose and repair complex machines “especially with the way technology is heading”. Incidentally, India is among six technical reference markets for Audi with the others being Germany, China, Japan, Russia and the US.

While the country is an integral part of the roadmap ahead, King is especially bullish on the core competencies available here that can be leveraged globally. The Audi A3 already has a member from India in the design team which is a clear reminder that people can progress within the company.

Being a global brand, it is no longer about sending a German from headquarters to head operations elsewhere. King himself is Australian which effectively means that the best man is chosen for the job in any part of the world. “There is an enormous amount of talent everywhere which can be brought into the Audi family,” says King.

Published on May 29, 2015

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