Chennai: Renault India Pvt. Ltd, the Indian subsidiary of the French car maker, continues to pedal on its small car project but doesn’t plan any new launches in 2013. The company, which has launched four brands this year and has one more in the pipeline, will focus on variants of the hatchback Pulse, the sedan Fluence, the sports utility vehicle (SUV) Koleos and the newly launched Duster, Marc Nassif, managing director of Renault India, said in an interview on Thursday following the Chennai launch of the Duster, a first in the fledgling compact SUV segment in India. Edited excerpts:
What is your outlook for the economy and the car industry in the country?
Nobody was expecting this slowdown. Everyone is concerned and the question that crops up immediately is, “Are you changing your plans?” Right now, we plan to go on with implementation of our plans. What we will do later depends on the market and consumers.
With the Duster you become the first mover in the compact sports utility vehicle, a price-competitive option for Indian consumers looking to upgrade from a hatchback.
We are not competing on price. It isn’t just about price. If I bring a European or Russian car model to India then people will not accept it. The product won’t have the right masala. Obviously, India is a price-driven market. But you have to look at price versus value versus content.
Brand push: Marc Nassif. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Once your competitors’ products, such as Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd’s Mini Xylo, are launched the Duster will be one of the higher-priced compact SUVs. Also, you’ve mentioned this is the launch price, so will the Rs7-12 lakh price range of the Duster change?
We are not competing with the Mini Xylo, etc. Don’t get me wrong, they are not bad cars. But we are addressing different kinds of customers. As far as the price of the Duster, yes, it may change. But that depends on how much we produce, what the customer is expecting, how much the rupee depreciates.
Do you still stand by the 2013 target of selling 100,000 cars a year?
We always said it could be either 2013 or 2014. And it would depend on two things; our success and the size of the market. From 1,500 last year and we are going to touch 30,000 cars this year. It shows you the trend we are following.
How are you gearing up on the service front to match competitors such as Hyundai?
You are talking about a company that started several years before we launched. But this is how people are comparing us and this is where we have to go.
We believe we can deliver excellence in service even if we don’t have the size. We plan to expand the network on fast track.
We started with 14 dealers last year and we currently have 55 dealers. The next destination is 100 dealers by the end of the year. When we are visible we become respectable.
What about Renault’s project to develop a small car?
I don’t think we will have any major launch in 2013. We’d have launched five car models this year. Bringing in more cars and new concepts could globally destroy value. We will make changes to the existing basket of cars. The Rs2-4 lakh car is on the table and we are working on the new platform. But it is too premature to say when we will launch it and also discuss the concept of the car. Currently, we are not present in the below Rs4.5 lakh segment. We don’t have the technology for that yet. But we will enter it and we are working towards it.
What could be a suitable destination in India for any future production expansion?
You know the existing auto hubs of the national capital region, Bombay-Pune, Gujarat, Karnataka and Chennai. So we are not going to open a facility in a new region outside of these five hubs.
What are your plans for exports? The depreciating rupee must make it very lucrative to export out of India?
The main thing is we have to make a living out of it. The only place Duster is manufactured is Chennai.
We are confident of exporting the Duster to markets where there is a right-hand drive as it doesn’t make sense to invest in production in every such market.
Daimler AG ’s chairman Dieter Zetsche has said his company could tie up with the Renault- Nissan alliance for commercial vehicles in India. Do you also see that as an opportunity?
Many opportunities are on the table. If you ask me if something was planned for India right now, I would say no. We build commercial vehicles together in Europe and we share a strong R&D.
It would be foolish if we said no to the partnership.