Q. You joined the Volvo Group in India in April 2014. What were the initial challenges you faced as far as the Indian market is concerned? Has it become much easier to operate in India now as far as the Volvo Group is concerned?
A. I think it would be apt and in fitness of things to speak around Volvo Group in India, taking forward some fantastic foundation work done by colleagues in the past and today. Of course, whilst there are going forward opportunities galore, there are also some challenges in the market place for which, we as Volvo Group, aim find solutions to create positive value in driving progress for the Industry and the nation. But I will come to that later.
When Volvo Group first came to India, the biggest challenge was that India, being a price-conscious market, the idea of someone selling products at multiple times the prevailing price points (even though it is not an apple to apple comparison) was met with much cynicism. However, the reality was not what seemed to be “obvious”. People were responding in terms of “price”because they were juxtaposing our solutions within their current circumstances at that time. Indian customers were actually rather savvy. They knew the typical products in and out in terms of commercials, technology and application aspects. All they required was the price and they knew what they could do with them. However, Volvo products came with a new paradigm – whether it be a truck or a bus or construction equipment. So, when we heard feedback by many that this will not sell in India, we knew they were answering truly, but based on misplaced assumptions. It is then we spent a lot of time to take a 360 degrees approach. Making our customers, the authorities and all other stakeholders understand how a Volvo would pay back. We started with advice on the total transport economy calculations & the circumstances which would help make Volvo Products a winning solution in their operations. We carried out extensive trials and we found partners in customers who took the first bold step. We even had KSRTC as our first customer—and at that time a state corporation buying such a bus was seen with incredulity. Today, however, as you will know KSRTC is the largest with over 400 buses—which would have been unheard of earlier. In mining we have many a customers with fleets of 100s of our trucks each, with some mines swarming with Volvo Tippers. Having started this it did not take too much time before we managed to set a new segment across our products—Volvo Trucks, Volvo Buses, Volvo Construction Equipment – in applications where a product like Volvo could be well utilised. Today, Volvo Tippers in mines have recorded 19000 hours in two years with customers. That is 20 hours of operations per day for two years non-stop!
As an outcome , we single-handedly established the public transport agenda in India with our city buses which today cover 35 cities. We also established the high-performing mining tipper segment as well as lead the high tonnage Excavator segment in India.
Now, we are present across segments that are national priorities—Urbanisation, infrastructure development, Skill development backed by products that are safer and with environmental care. We thus share the same challenges as the nation, but the good thing is that we are in segments which can help meet these challenges. The future will be much about the availability of skilled drivers and operators and today we have already covered over 90,000 drivers and operators trained at our training center in Bangalore. We are also in active participation with the authorities with respect to alternative fuels, electomobility and various aspects of future transport needs in a nation which is aspiring and where 60% of the population would live in urban areas by 2030.
We aim to play an even bigger role in India with solutions in the value segment across trucks, buses and our construction equipment. Within our Group portfolio in India we have various brand bseides Volvo. We have UD Buses, SDLG construction Equipment as well as Eicher. As you know we have a very successful JV in the form of VE Commercial vehicles who produce Eicher Trucks & buses.
The future will also see the growing importance of India as part of the overall Volvo Group operations globally. We already have 1000 of engineers engaged in product design & development activities sitting in India. India also hosts global support services sites - supporting the Volvo Group’s global requirement across various IT & business processes. Volvo Group in India is also exporting its products to South America, Asia, South Africa and now even to Europe.
Q. Considering India’s vast road transport network, how do you plan to expand the role of Volvo Buses to cater to the needs of such a complex network? What is Volvo Buses’ current share in the Indian market and how do you propose to increase the share in the coming years?
A. Volvo Buses today operate across almost every key highway in the country already. As the road transport network expands, and more importantly becomes efficient, it will allow even higher utilisation & demand for high-performing vehicles —not only our buses but also trucks. We have all the products in our stable to cater to various needs and when the time comes we will be ready to deliver. Volvo Buses has a niche share if you look at the overall heavy bus industry in India. However, if you consider the luxury AC coaches & low entry City buses we have a majority share—with Volvo having established the segments. I think our aim is not the shares we have, but to expand the market for such safer, efficient and comfortable buses for more and more Indians. And we of course aim to collaborate with all stakeholders including the industry to achieve the same.
Q. Though there inter-state Volvo Buses at present, do you have any plans to introduce service of Volvo Buses within city limits across India in cooperation with the city corporations?
A. Its probably because you do not see Volvo buses in Delhi maybe asking this question? Because that is one city we do not have Volvo City buses in. Else, Volvo City buses operate across 35 cities in India and the important thing is that in each city they operate with one key agenda – to make public transport attractive—thus shifting citizens away from their personal vehicles to public transport. That is a key and critical task if you consider the way our cities are growing and getting congested. Public transport must become No. 1 choice in all cities. Bangalore itself has close to 800 Volvo City Buses in operations.
Q. During a recent visit to Volvo offices in Bengaluru by students of the Kendriya Vidyalaya, you had reportedly encouraged girl students to consider choosing mechanical engineering in their higher studies. Why is that so?
A. At Volvo Group we cherish diversity & inclusion and within that it’s our aim to have more and more women working at Volvo Group. Diverse views and solutions to the same problem enriches our organization’s ability to create innovative solutions. Today there are 18% women in our workforce and we would like to see this number grow. And we like it to grow in an equitable manner. We have done a survey before conducting this program and found that programs like mechanical engineering are mis-understood as being all brawn and no brains and the new generation including women may not place it as an attractive career proposition. However, in our view it is a very exciting line in the automobile world when you couple it with the kind of products and solutions we develop. It was thus our aim to play a role in making girl students be aware of this field as it is today, as well as expose them to our work environment, the kind of facilities we work with and the kind of products we engineer.
Q. According to some reports, the Volvo Group plans to make India the main base for manufacturing engines for industrial applications. What is your update on such plans and do you think that when they materialize, it will provide a big boost to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” initiative?
A. India is already the hub for Volvo Group medium-duty engines and the plant in pithampur caters to the Volvo Group products requirement across the globe. In fact this plant is already manufacturing Euro VI engines. Besides this we of course have our factories in place for Volvo Buses, Volvo Construction Equipment & Volvo Trucks besides the various factories as part of our JV company —VE Commercial Vehicles. Volvo Group is also already exporting from India to various markets around the world. In fact the Volvo Bus we export to Europe won the Bus of the Year 2017 award in an exhibition in Spain