Vikram Kirloskar, Toyota’s India pillar, dies at 64

People Vikram Kirloskar partnered with recall that he wore his seniority and intellect lightly and affably. Photo: PTI
People Vikram Kirloskar partnered with recall that he wore his seniority and intellect lightly and affably. Photo: PTI


The automotive JV Vikram Kirloskar stitched up with Toyota was based on the trust he had earned.

Vikram Kirloskar, vice-chairperson of Toyota Kirloskar Motor and the man credited with winning the trust of Japanese automotive behemoth Toyota for its India bet, died late Tuesday night.

Kirloskar, 64, suffered a heart attack on Tuesday morning and was rushed to Manipal Hospital in Bengaluru, where he passed away. He is survived by his wife, Geetanjali, and daughter Manasi, who was inducted on the board of Toyota Kirloskar Motor last year.

Kirloskar Group now holds 11% of the joint venture forged 25 years ago in 1997, while the majority stake in the company is held by Toyota Motor Co., one of the world’s largest automotive groups.

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The first alliance between Toyota and the Kirloskars, however, goes back to the 1980s, when Kirloskar learnt of Toyota’s legacy in automatic looms during his travels to Japan. So, they formed an alliance in the textile machinery space. Toyota’s luxury brand Lexus’s front grille—the spindle grille—is a nod to those roots.

A prominent industrial group, Kirloskars were already a stable partner for Toyota in India, and the automotive joint venture Vikram Kirloskar stitched up with the Japanese major was based on that trust. The stability of a JV of this kind is rare—and Kirloskar’s adherence to the Japanese philosophy of playing designated roles is an important piece of it.

“The relationship (between Kirloskar and Toyota) has been stable because both parties understood their roles in this relationship, and no one exceeded their boundaries. Kirloskar knew his role very well, and he wouldn’t overstep it. He gave the understanding of total non-interference to the other side so that Toyota India is no different from its outposts in other countries, barring, of course, the unique regulatory flavour in India—a role he performed to perfection in his various capacities at the helm of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM)", an industry executive close to Kirloskar said, not wanting to be named.

“He played the role of a bridge of an automotive company coming straight from Japan and the expectations of the government here," the executive added.

People Kirloskar partnered with recall that he wore his seniority and intellect lightly and affably.

Toyota’s distribution in the country is controlled by a relatively small set of strong dealer partners—all of whom viewed Kirloskar’s steady stewardship of the company as an “anchoring" force.

“In a scenario where managing directors are appointed for a tenure of three or four years, it is very important for dealer partners or any business partners to be able to see a consistent face. That is what Vikram was for the Toyota Kirloskar Motor ecosystem—an anchoring force for everybody. His approach to business also was a lot deeper than just being purely transactional, right from the time when he was very active on the board to eventually when he adopted a more strategic role. His consistency is what rooted all of us to the brand", said Rishi Aggarwal, managing director of JCBL Group, a prominent Toyota dealer in north India since 2008.

Aggarwal recalled that Kirloskar would sometimes come to dealer conferences and devote an hour just reading from the pages of a book. At other times, he would dive deep into the India opportunity, beyond matters of numbers and business performance.

Eventually, Toyota Kirloskar Motor will also have to move to fill the vacuum left by Vikram Kirloskar at the helm of the company. “Manasi Kirloskar was being groomed for this role. She has been groomed at Toyota at various levels—she can definitely fill this vacuum. Toyota Kirloskar Motor would need a permanent face, and with her intelligence and grooming, she can be it," a person close to the family said.

As part of its tie-up with Suzuki, Toyota is co-developing and manufacturing a line of hybrid mid-sized SUVs for the Indian market, in a strong push for alternative vehicle technology, even as the market moves towards a cleaner emissions regime.

Kirloskar was most recently seen at the launch of the Toyota Innova Hycross last week in Mumbai, a hybrid spin on its best-selling minivan Innova.

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