The good German (with cool wheels)

The good German (with cool wheels)
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First Published: Sat, Aug 25 2007. 12 00 AM IST

Speed doctor: In India, BMW is No. 2 in the premium category
Speed doctor: In India, BMW is No. 2 in the premium category
Peter Kronschnabl, president, BMW India, walks into Hyatt’s Polo Lounge at precisely 6pm. It’s a rainy evening in New Delhi and there are traffic snarls everywhere. But Kronschnabl, who has just driven in from the BMW sales office in Gurgaon, looks, in his dark blue suit and tie, the perfect picture of an unruffled German automaker.
Speed doctor: In India, BMW is No. 2 in the premium category
The lounge, with its mahogany walls and nicely-lit bar, is appropriately clubby. We sit at a table on the periphery. Kronschnabl wavers between a draught beer and a caipirinha, eventually picking the latter. And when it arrives—a glassful of Brazilian rum with lots of ice and lots of lime—along with a vodka tonic for me, we settle down to talking about cars. Beginning with the 1978 Volkswagen Passat Kronschnabl owned when he was a student in Pforzheim in Germany’s Black Forest.
“It was an interesting car. At that time, I was very fond of wind surfing and it had a separate space where I could put my surfboard inside the car—you didn’t have to put it on top of the car,” Kronschnabl reminiscences. His car did 100,000km in those years, mostly on skiing trips to the mountains and drives to the ocean for wind surfing.
These days, Kronschnabl drives a 7 series BMW (Rs74 lakh plus) and manoeuvres the a.m. traffic from his house in Vasant Vihar to his office in Gurgaon. It has been 12 years since this 41-year-old German joined BMW. “They give you a lot of training, a lot of support, but they also push you in the deep end and you swim,” he says of his years at BMW, many of which have been spent in markets such as Africa and the Caribbean.
I ask him if India feels like the deep. “For me, it’s a challenge and I think for everybody it’s a challenge, you need to be culturally aware,” he says, picking his words with care. But then again, Kronschnabl is no stranger to India. He was here 13 years ago, in 1994, as a graduate student working on a business school project. He and a fellow student hung out in the lobbies of five-star hotels such as the Taj, with their questionnaires. They were working on their master’s thesis—the image of European luxury cars in India. And after being recruited by BMW, Kronschnabl made many more trips before he was posted here in August last year. The company’s Chennai plant, which began operation in March, can produce 1,700 cars at full capacity during a single shift. BMW planned to sell 1,000 cars this year, but sales are going well and the company has already revised its target upwards to 1,200 cars.
“BMW leads worldwide in the premium category. In India, we are No. 2 at the moment,” says Kronschnabl (after arch-rival Mercedes Benz, which set up shop a good 10 years ago and which sold 2,121 cars in 2006). “We were No. 3 last year (until they overtook Audi) and certainly midterm our target is to become No. 1.” But BMW does little over-the-line advertising, relying instead on direct contacts and promotions to sell their luxury cars, priced at Rs27 lakh upwards.
One such event promotion is the upcoming Art Car Exhibition in Mumbai. BMW cars painted by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein will be unveiled early next month in Mumbai. “Each car is valued at $10 million and must only be flown in and transported on air cushion trucks,” explains Kronschnabl. The last event BMW had was the opening of a dealership in Chandigarh at a formal sit-down dinner for 40 “opinion leaders”. “They would have never imagined having dinner in a dealership. Such customers don’t come to a dealership; the dealer goes to them. And here we had a six-course meal at a long table for 40 people with white table cloths, red wine, and the whole works—all at the dealership!” says Kronschnabl.
BMW is big in the major metros (Mumbai and New Delhi/Chandigarh account for 65-70% of sales, followed by Bangalore and Chennai) and Kronschnabl travels here a lot, spending time with dealers and occasionally meeting customers. But what are his favourite vacation spots? “I like Goa, I like Rajasthan,” says Kronschnabl. “I like silent places where you can really relax, read a good book or just enjoy the environment.” As for weekends, they are spent golfing in Gurgaon, swimming or running at the nearby Nehru Park. Kronschnabl tells me he parties as well, but he won’t say where. “You won’t recognize me,” he smiles and sidesteps, “I am not so old that I wear a suit and tie all the time.”
This August will be the first anniversary of the BMW boss’s posting to India and he is already something of an India expert. He lives alone, but he has lots of family and friends visiting. At the recent BMW worldwide presidents powwow that was held in New Delhi, this BMW India hand tried to give the visiting BMW country heads a taste of India. Cricket on the lawns of the Imperial Hotel with Mandira Bedi was followed by a city sightseeing trip in yellow cabs and taking cycle rickshaws to the Jama Masjid. Kronschnabl, who organized much of this, is happy that the sessions were very well received. Indeed, 2007 has been designated by BMW’s global headquarters at Munich as “Year of India”.
So what’s the nicest part of living in India? “That I feel safe here—it’s a safe and hospitable environment,” says Kronschnabl promptly. He thinks longer before saying what he likes the least: “Maybe that I don’t have my German butcher here.”
And what of the famed BMW, what special features does it bring to the Indian customer? “Well, the Indian customer is very emotional and wants the best technology, the latest models. So we have all that with features such as the run flex, which means that even if you have a puncture, you can drive your car more than 200km at 80kmph. You need to get home and call your dealer, who will arrive to fix the puncture. Also, the Indian models come with reinforced shock absorbers and a clearance that’s 18mm higher,” says Kronschnabl. He talks of BMW’s Flying Doctors, the specially trained German mechanics who will get onto a flight and problem shoot for you at any dealership in the country.
And what about the customers—are Indian car buyers very different from BMW’s other customers? “They have different colour preferences; Indians prefer lighter shades such as silver and white rather than the blacks and dark blues that sell more in European and American markets. Otherwise, Indian customers— like all our customers worldwide—are very demanding, but very enthusiastic too.”
CURRICULUM VITAE
Name: Peter Kronschnabl
Born: 12 June 1966 (Villingen, Germany)
Education:Military service at the Integrated NATO-Staff Department; International Business Management from Pforzheim University of Applied Sciences
Work Profile: Joined BMW AG in 1995. Has worked as general manager, market development in Asia, Pacific, Africa and Eastern Europe. Was made president of BMW India Pvt. Ltd in 2006
Favourite Cuisine: International. Favourite Indian food is aloo gobi and chicken tikka
Recently Read: ‘Family Matters’ by Rohinton Mistry
(Write to lounge@livemint.com)
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First Published: Sat, Aug 25 2007. 12 00 AM IST
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