Triumph Motorcycles, maker of bikes such as Bonneville, Street Triple, Rocket III and Daytona, is set to start selling its products in India from November. Though its foray into India was announced in January 2012, the plans were delayed because of the unexpected resignation of managing director Ashish Joshi in April 2012. His successor, Vimal Sumbly, an old Bajaj Auto Ltd hand, took charge last month. In an exclusive interview with Mint, Sumbly talks about the company’s plans for India, including developing a separate set of product portfolio to cater to other emerging markets. Edited excerpts:
What took you so long to start operations in India?
In the last two years what Triumph has been literally doing is to make their back-end really strong. It’s very important to set your back-end right before going into the front-end and then there is no looking back. In the last two years, we have been ensuring what are the brands and products that we are going to bring to the country. Typically, we want to bring the products that are refreshed and updated with the technology. So, one is to have the correct brand strategy, which took us time. Second, is to set up the CKD (complete knock down) facility. The other way is to sell your bikes as CBU (complete built unit) like other large manufacturers did…a year of CBU and then CKD. We wanted to set CKD from day one because we wanted to offer the bike at a right price point to the rider and not let them pay heavy taxes. So, we set that right. Third thing, we were planning to put the right kind of footprint in India in terms where we want to be in the next couple of years. Now we are ready to be here for a longer term.
What happens to the land that you have acquired near Bangalore?
As far as our strategy is concerned, we are going to bring in bigger bikes first. I can’t talk about the brands that are scheduled to come in from the beginning of November but the brands will be coming through the CKD route in the first phase. The second phase will be for smaller bikes and that is what Bangalore is all about. We would really not want to comment much on it but Bangalore is on. We are doing work there.
So, CKD will happen in Manesar and ground up models will be made in Bangalore.
Manufacturing for other set of bikes will happen in Bangalore.
Will the motorcycles made in Bangalore be from your global portfolio or will it be a separate set of models?
It (Bangalore) will be from the emerging markets perspective as that makes sense as they will larger in volumes. It will have a combination of both, completely new products as well as some from our existing portfolio.
This gives me a sense that there is a huge emphasis on exports.
In emerging markets if you see, there is India, Latin America, South Africa, Nepal, Bangladesh. These are some of the markets that are evolving. But unlike Europe and the US, rest of the market is in smaller cc (cubic centimetres) bikes. India, according to me, will become a global hub for emerging markets. That’s where our capability lies, that’s where our scale of operation lies and that’s where our positioning of products lies. And trust me our quality is as good as anywhere. That’s a good base to have and if we come with Triumph here and try to cater to emerging markets, I think that will be a phenomenal opportunity.
Will it be correct to say that India will be a hub of Triumph bikes for emerging markets?
If our strategy goes right, then why not. But if you are looking for a definitive answer, I won’t be able to comment. Nor that I don’t know but I would not be able to comment. But yes, if you come to India, you can’t be serving only to Indian customers. You want to take advantage of manufacturing and engineering from this country.
What do you mean by bigger and smaller bikes?
I really cannot do that right now. It is too early for us to open up on that front.
Can you classify that in terms of engine size?
I will just give an idea about that. Today, in India, there are cooler bikes available. For that, you go to one shop. There is nothing available in the sports segment…in the tourer segment… or in the adventure segment. What happens here is if you want a brand you drop in to the shop and you will get choices. You limit your choices to that store. But Triumph’s strategy is to have classics, cruisers, super sports and adventure and tourers. We are going to cater to all sets of riders. We are really coming to India with the right product classification in order to cater to end riders. Our philosophy is to connect with the rider…to connect with the style of a rider. It is not one stroke for everyone.
Will your products be priced at a premium than Harley-Davidson?
We will position our products in various categories at a very attractive price point. What does attractive price point mean in India—it is not a price point where we are going to be cheaper than any other manufacturer, which we benchmark with. We will be providing very good value for money for the rider.
One of your main competitors appears to be grappling with service issues. Within years after entry into the market, their bikes are available in pre-owned market?
I am aware of what you are talking about. But this is where my role comes in. I come from a mass biking industry and I know service plays a very vital role. What we are doing is we are not setting up any dealership without service facility. We are not here to only sell our bikes. We are interested in giving a strong and differentiated service facility, accessible to customers from day one. In terms of spare parts, we will back that up from Manesar unlike other manufacturers who import parts from overseas. We are going to have mechanics, trained at our plant. I am bringing in a brand that has a legacy of over 100 years and we will ensure that the purity of that legacy stays intact in India.
But why are you doing it from two locations? Since the volumes will not be big in the beginning, one location could have been fine.
We are entering into India with larger bike format. If you look at larger bikes, Manesar becomes quite ideal. You can cater to the larger part of central India and you can cater to north India, which is the largest market for such bikes. So, that’s the reason of choosing Manesar. As far as the second set of bikes is concerned, Bangalore becomes that kind of a market.
Will you face competition from companies like Bajaj, Hero and TVS? TVS has tied up with BMW-Motorrad. Everybody is planning to get into the bigger bike segment.
Let’s talk about the purity of a brand. If you continue to sell Brand A and then suddenly you bring in a brand B, the purity of the brand gets diluted. We are here with Triumph, without any A or B. We are bringing in a core, fundamental Triumph in its pure form for a very demanding customer in India.
What do you think about Royal Enfield?
It’s a good brand.
Normally, it is said that Enfield buyers may graduate to a Harley or a Triumph customer.
It would be. People here tend to associate us with Cruiser bikes (Enfields). But we also have super sport, which competes with Ducatis and Kawasakis of the world. We also have tourers and adventures, which talk face to face with BMW brand. What we will do in India is to give them more choices. Thereby, we will play a role in expanding the industry.
What is the size of the market for your kind of bikes in India?
The industry is around 2,500 units a year and I expect it to be 3,500-4,000 units at the end of the year.
What will be your share?
We will have a sizeable chunk out of that market.