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‘Customer habits are changing across categories’

Murali Gopalan | Updated on January 09, 2018 Published on December 07, 2017

Sudarshan Venu, Joint Managing Director, TVS Motor Company

TVS Motor’s Sudarshan Venu believes it is important to keep pace with the challenges

It’s a beaming Sudarshan Venu who welcomes me into a meeting room at Chennai’s gigantic ITC Grand Chola.

The Joint Managing Director of TVS Motor Company has reasons to be pleased. The Apache RR 310 was unveiled less than an hour ago at a glittering function and social media has been abuzz with the product and its specifications.

“It is an important day because it is our first foray into the super premium segment. The entire premium category is growing well with lots of young people and huge aspirations,” says a delighted Venu clearly implying that the sky is the limit for this new offering. At the press conference, TVS Motor made known that it was targeting 10,000 bikes annually both for India and the world.

“It is good and timely that we have entered this segment and based on our strategic relationship with BMW Motorrad, the Apache RR 310 has come out as a great product,” adds Venu. He reiterates that the learnings from racing, “which we have been so passionate about”, over the last 35 years has helped create a product that will “truly delight our customers”.

The alliance with BMW Motorrad for premium bikes also comes at a time when TVS Motor has been scripting its comeback story following a brief lull some years ago. While the Apache has made a mark in the premium segment during the last decade, it is the rapid growth story of the Jupiter that has truly been the best piece of news in the scooter space.

The solo ride

The landscape has also changed dramatically over the years with young buyers now being able to access a host of two-wheeler options from the likes of Hero, Honda, TVS and Bajaj to Royal Enfield, Yamaha and Suzuki. “Today, there is a sharp target group of customers and we really want to delight them,” says Venu, which explains why TVS is going all out with technology, features and racing. “We will continue to launch aspirational and attractive products to delight customers across segments and markets.”

All this is a dramatic change from the days when the company first got into mopeds nearly four decades ago followed by an alliance with Suzuki for motorcycles in the 1980s. The two split in 2001 and TVS Motor has been on a solo ride since then with the Victor being its first big success story.

There were a slew of challenges that followed in this roller-coaster ride that had its share of ups and downs. The TVS Motor of today is on a far stronger footing, which also puts in context the alliance with a formidable global ally such as BMW Motorrad.

Mobility challenges

The 28-year-old Venu is only too aware of the challenges ahead in an environment where mobility disruption has become the new global order thanks to brands such as Tesla and Uber. In cars, ownership is increasingly under pressure in many countries while connectivity and electric are now the big themes in the automotive industry worldwide.

“Customer habits are changing across categories and it will be exciting to see what happens. Adapting is not good enough, we have to embrace the change,” reiterates Venu. The message is loud and clear: it is important to start thinking of tomorrow today.

“We have to invest in the future in attracting younger customers, adapting to all the disruptions happening in the market and so on,” says Venu. “The way the world is going, we have to look all around and see what we can learn and use all those learnings.” Innovation will also be decided by customer behaviour and “we need to be constantly at it”.

Electric mobility is clearly a priority area where TVS will launch a product soon while investing in this space aggressively. KN Radhakrishnan, President & CEO, chips in to add that the company has more than its share of strengths in its R&D, investment capabilities and “good quality” people. “We have spent (money) even in difficult times and there is no limit when it comes to R&D,” he says.

The Indian two-wheeler arena has also seen some interesting shifts in customer preferences with scooters in particular catching up with motorcycles. Today, they account for a third of overall two-wheeler sales even while the gap is much narrower in the 110cc commuter space thanks largely to the Honda Activa. “I think scooters and the premium segment in bikes is where you will see the fastest growth,” reckons Venu.

Success story

TVS Motor already has a success story with the Jupiter in scooters while the Apache has established itself strongly in the premium motorcycle space. Radhakrishnan says that the Apache association for the 310 RR will fuel the growth story even further considering that it is a well established brand.

For TVS Motor, he adds, the goal is to look beyond competition and expand the market proactively for Apache. This is already happening thanks to better road infrastructure and higher affluence levels among the bike buying community. “The fun element is also coming into India for the first time with people enjoying their weekends on bikes like the Apache,” he says.

Yet, there is a perception within industry circles that TVS Motor could do with a little more aggression in an intensely competitive market. Radhakrishnan does not quite buy this argument with the underlying message that it is best to take one thing at a time. “Our philosophy is passion for customers,” he says. “We are building brands now and need to, therefore, focus on a set of customers to drive growth.”

The writer was in Chennai at the invitation of TVS Motor Company

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Published on December 07, 2017
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