Renault-Nissan president and chief executive officer Carlos Ghosn spoke in an interview about the future of Formula One, his fascination with India’s frugal engineering prowess, and plans for more affordable cars in the country. Edited excerpts:
Is the Indian Grand Prix the first Formula One (F1) event you have attended this year?
Yes, this is the only F1 race I have attended this year, because, firstly, I wanted to come to India, and secondly, I wanted to see what has been achieved here. India is hosting an F1 race for the first time in a completely new circuit and facility. Frankly, I am very surprised because it is a great installation and walking around I can see that the country has done a great job.
Forming partnerships: Ghosn sys he is ready to collaborate with anybody as long as it is towards a concept and vision that he considers adequate for the market.
With Williams, you will be supplying engines to four F1 teams now, so one-third of the cars on the grid rely on Renault power. Are you happy with the way the regulations are going? And is Infiniti going to play a major part in the technological developments?
Yes, we welcome the fact that in 2014, with the new regulations, there is going to be a new technology that will bring Formula One closer to normal cars. This technology, which you can apply to road cars, is more eco-friendly and more in line with what customers buy. The new regulations will push technologies in the area of fuel efficiency, which is a good thing for us. Infiniti will play a key role in the areas where it is strong. It could be with KERS (kinetic energy recovery system) or battery technology.
Coming to India, you’ve just launched the Pulse on the V-platform, but there’s talk of going further down the pyramid with the A-platform. Will this see a range of even smaller and cheaper cars from Renault-Nissan?
A few years ago, Renault-Nissan didn’t represent anything in India. When we entered the market with both brands, we announced our strategy. We built a technical centre in Chennai, we have selected a product line-up for Renault and for Nissan, and things are moving forward now. Today, the alliance represents about 1.5% of the market share. It is a very small figure but a good start, and it’s mainly Nissan, which has sold more than 40,000 cars this year. Renault, on the other hand, will have big volumes next year. We want to achieve a 10% market share in India because that’s our average market share worldwide. We cannot achieve a 10% market share if we don’t go into the more-affordable car segment of the Indian market. You can expect us, on top of everything that we have announced, to see Nissan and Renault develop more-affordable cars. The A-platform that you mentioned is the new platform that the alliance is working on and its main objective is to address these kinds of needs.
How low do you think Renault-Nissan can go towards the bottom of the pyramid in India? We’ve heard you are collaborating with Ashok Leyland Ltd to develop a car that will compete with the Maruti Alto. Is that true?
Nissan has already made a product with Ashok Leyland (Dost), which is doing very well and has a great response in the market. When you want to have 10% of the market, you have to be present in all the segments and we will be.
Does Datsun have any scope as a brand in India?
Nissan owns the Datsun brand, which is actually a part of the history of Nissan. There has been no decision to use it, but if we think the Datsun brand can help us in the development of our sales in the market, we will use it.
Could your low-cost cars, known by their codes K2 and I2, be badged Datsun?
(Laughs) You are being too specific. We will make announcements on any new model at the appropriate time.
You have always been fascinated with the low-cost end of the Indian car market and are going that way to achieve your 10% market share target. What is your sense of the Nano, which you have been a big fan of, and what do you make of the disappointing sales?
I still think that the concept and vision behind the Nano is totally adequate. It’s not because the concept is not good that the sales have been disappointing, but this car is totally relevant for the Indian market. There will be more competitors coming in this segment and I think this is going to be important not only for India, but for a lot of emerging markets as well.
If you are such a fan of the Nano, would you consider any kind of collaboration with Tata Motors Ltd for the Nano?
We are ready to collaborate with many car manufacturers. In fact, I am ready to collaborate with anybody as long as we are working towards a concept and vision that I consider totally adequate for the market.
Hormazd Sorabjee is editor, Autocar India.