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"We should achieve a growth of another 10 - 15% this year" : Hans-Michael Huber - DaimlerChrysler India CEO and MD

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DaimlerChrysler India CEO and MD Hans-Michael Huber is bullish on the company's India operations and targets a growth of about 10 - 15 per cent this fiscal.

The company announced its fifth Mercedes Golf Trophy in Pune recently, the first rounds of which tees off in Mumbai's Willingdon Club today (14 January).

On the sidelines of the press conference to announce the launch, indiantelevision.com's Hetal Adesara caught up with Huber for a t?te-?-t?te.

Excerpts:

DaimlerChrysler has been associated with golf for the last four years. What are the other sports that the company has been associated with?

The main sport that we have been associated with is golf. When it comes to customer relationship management and events for the same, we have different approaches to the customer here. We have the Mercedes Clubs, the Mercedes magazine that we send out. The one big event that we are doing is the Golf tournament. In addition to the sports events, we try to get in touch with the customers around the product. When we have car launches, we invite them to witness it.

We are not involved with any other sport. If you ask me why specifically golf, it is because first of all golf is THE sport that is typical for our select group of customers and they enjoy it. Also, golf is an ideal means to spend time together and have a good time. It is a communicative sport and has an ideal mix of entertainment and competition. By the end of the tournament, we spend a lot of time with our customers and they in turn spend a lot of time with each other. So, these are our two different approaches.

How important a market India is to you as compared to the rest of the world?

When it comes to volumes, we are still small. When it comes to the growth rate over the last two or three years, we are top of the list. Now India is much more important than it used to be as we see the potential here. So at present we might be a small company here, but from the growth rate people see a big future in it. Moreover, we are profitable here.

Can you put a number to DaimlerChrysler India's growth rate in the last couple of years?

The average growth in the last one year as far as volume is concerned will be about 20 - 25 per cent.

In the luxury car segment in India, what's your take on competition?

Right now, in the luxury car segment (S and E Class), we really don't have any competition as there is no other car around. The C class is competing with cars from the D segment, which are mainly the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camrie. Still the funny thing is that the C Class created the D segment. In the first year, when the C class was there, the D segment was identical to the C class. Now we are seeing a lot of entries coming in there, some are doing well and some are struggling. But we are still selling more C classes than we ever did before, which means that even when competition is coming up, we maintain our position. But the fact is that the success of the brand has created competition and we would also see that in S and E class soon.

Otherwise, I am very convinced that ours is the best car in the world. Right now, we are the only premium manufacturer assembling cars here with a full fledge dealer network. Among the group of competitors that we have worldwide, we are the only ones who have successfully set up operations in India 10 years ago. What I imply is that we are here and the rest are yet to come. That's the difference. There will definitely be more competition coming up, but that has yet to happen.

What's on the agenda for 2005 as far as India is concerned?

Our plan will be to continue profitable growth and we cannot expect a 20-25 per cent growth in a market year on year. But I think we should achieve a growth of another 10 - 15 per cent this year.

The challenge thereby is to continue the quality of what we do; the quality not only of the product but also of the services that we render and of the dealer networks. Hence our focus this year will be to focus on continued profitable growth and providing quality services to our customers.

Are there any new car launches in the near future?

No, there aren't any plans of new launches in the pipeline as of now.

 
"Growth rate in India has been 20-25% in the last couple of years. We are profitable here"

I believe DaimlerChrysler has launched an eco-friendly car…

It is not really a launch because with a launch it would mean that we have a new car, which we sell to our customers. We have introduced the 'Jatropha Project' last year, which we officially announced in September 2003 and then we did the first test drive of the Jatropha C-Class. Jatropha is a plant from which, you can generate bio-diesel. So it's locally Indian bio-diesel. We have two such cars but these are not for customers, they are just for our test drives.

Out of all your models, which one is doing the best in India?

We have three kinds of cars - S class, E class and C class. Last year we sold as many E classes as we sold C classes, which would be around 750 - 800 cars. C Class and E class are at par here in India. Then we sold about 125 S classes.

What is your take on Indian Formula 1?

As a car guy, what impresses me is how interested people are about cars and how much they know about cars and also how crazy they are about Formula 1, which is of course good news.

For us it would be a big thing to have it here. But we should not underestimate the challenge of hosting a Formula 1 race. The challenge is not only to develop a Formula 1 circuit but also to develop the infrastructure in such a city - from the airport to the roads to the hotels. F1 would be a big boost to any city in India but at the same time it will be quite a challenge. It would be great to have it but we should be aware of what it means.

"F1 would be a big boost to any city in India but at the same time it will be quite a challenge"

This is the fifth year that DaimlerChrysler is hosting the Mercedes Golf Trophy. What are your expectations this year?

We want to establish a tradition and in order to do that we have to keep that formula of doing it rather stable. Of course, there are verifications here and there to make it even better and we have really established the Mercedes Trophy within the Indian golf scene.

Are you contemplating expansion of this tournament to other Indian cities ?

We will probably be forced to expand it to other cities in the next few years. We have been expanding it now by starting two day tournaments in Mumbai and Delhi but with this there is a certain limit. I would say that if the success continues for the next two or three years, we might be forced to take it to a fourth city.

But that will take some time as we are a small company. We carry a big brand name but we are still small and making this event in four cities is quite a challenge. It's not only the money but also the logistics.

Will there be any advertising stints that DaimlerChrysler will be undertaking this year in India?

We always maintain a certain presence in the ads but compared to what other people are doing, this is rather low key. And like I said before, we have a very select customer base and we know them to the extent that we can talk to them individually. So we can either spend the money on a TV campaign or we can invite our customers to a day of golfing. And we'd rather go for the latter.

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