Interview with Rajeev Kapoor, President and CEO – Fiat India Automobiles Limited
by Amit Chhangani
Very recently, we had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Rajeev Kapoor, the big man at Fiat India. The occasion was the launch of the Fiat Linea T-jet. Although it’s been some time since the launch of the T-jet, we talked about a variety of topics with the affable gentleman. Here’s what we talked about…
Motoroids: What are the biggest challenges faced by Fiat India today, and how do you plan to address them
Rajeev Kapoor: We have started a lot of new initiatives of late. The biggest challenge we have today is to improve our dealership experience to our customers. In recent past we have seen a lot of attrition on manpower from dealers so there is a very focused effort going on to hire more qualified manpower to handle Fiat brand. That is why, when we are talking about the premium productss like the Linea T-jet, we are deploying people who have been trained by us on the dealership. In the dealerships selling the T-Jet, the people who are going to present the car to the customers have been deployed by us so that they can give the real experience to the customer. It’s also a training for the dealer to understand how it should be presented. So that is one big challenge for us, as there is a lot of poaching going on the field between brands. Everybody’s poaching people across, so that’s one big challenge.
Second is, we thought that co-existance of both the brands together in the showroom can be handled easily, but then it has been proved that it’s not an easy job. With multiple offerings from both the companies, actually, the space sharing, the way the brand should be presented is requiring a totally new look, and Mr. R Ramakrishnan (VP, Commercial, Passenger car business, Tata Motors Limited) and his team, is very actively working with the dealers to make sure that both the brands present totally different handling. So we are working on that, we had this problem of a (lack of) high powered engine which we have addressed now, and this addresses about 40+ of the C+ segment in terms of volume. So I think all these initiatives together along with our back end support on spares and service, which is getting better and better by the day we are building a very strong foundation for the brand to grow. And going forward I think that the numbers should improve.
Motoroids: What are the numbers you are expecting for the T-Jet in the coming year.
Rajeev Kapoor: Your see, for me, any number is a small number. It is for the commercial team to deliver that. The T-jet, however should have a fifteen percent share of the segment itself. Because, if you look at the numbers of our competitors, the numbers are pretty big there. And that’s where we have to operate.
Motoroids: The Linea is available in RHD only in India, so is there a chance for the car to be exported to some other RHD countries.
Rajeev Kapoor: We are already exporting to South Africa, and the T-Jet will also go to South Africa – that’s an RHD country. We are opening a dealership in Sri Lanka next month. We are opening another dealership in Nepal.
Motoroids: What is the kind of growth you are expecting in the next one year. Not just for the Linea, but Fiat as a brand
Rajeev Kapoor: It’s a very difficult question to answer. Next year the market will grow by 14 to 16%, and we should be in line with the market.
Motoroids:Unfortunately the brand perception about Fiat seems to be a deterrent to its growth. People appreciate your cars as a machine, but just because it’s a Fiat, based on the past experiences, they are apprehensive to buy it. So is there a strategy to change the brand perception about Fiat.
Rajeev Kapoor: Well first, with the T-Jet which is our top-end car, the buying experience is going to be different for the customers. We have hired hostesses and sales experts and we have trained them – they will be deployed at the dealerships. We are establishing brand boutiques across five cities to actually let people understand what Fiat brand stands for. They will be established in Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore Chennai and Delhi. And those brand boutiques will be a real experience point for Fiat. You saw our other initiatives like advertisement, and event participation – we always keep on doing that. We recently gave away cars in Sri Lanka for cricket matches because we are going to open dealerships in Sri Lanka. We have started doing that activity so that we can start building up the brand. But when there is a legacy it takes some time for the perception to change, though the perception is changing. It’s not that it’s not changing and a lot of positive media helps that. And with new offerings, with new experience, and with sharing of those experiences, it’s bound to change.
Motoroids: Based on customer feedback, what have been the changes that Fiat has made after the brand made a fresh start in India a couple of years ago
Rajeev Kapoor: One of the first feedbacks was about service and that prompted us to have separate base for Tata and Fiat Motors workshops, and train their mechanics in handling our products. The second was on the pricing of the spares so we made some price adjustments to make our spares very, very competitive. Our spares are actually very competitive today. There’s a lot of feedback on the way dealers handle our customers, so, those feedbacks go back to the dealers.
Motoroids: Are these dealership specific feedbacks usually positive or negative?
Rajeev Kapoor: They are both positive and negative feedbacks. Experiences will always be mixed. In this world you cannot have only positives or only negatives. What works for you may not work for me, so you know, different people have different expectations and aspirations. But then whenever we capture something, we try to find out whether it’s a uniform phenomena or an isolated case. If it’s uniform than we immediately work on that. So there are teams working with Tata Motors on distribution, there are teams working on dealerships, there are teams working on after sales, so there are back to back teams which are working together on improving all areas.
Motoroids: Does Fiat intend to open any ‘exclusive’ dealerships or showrooms in the near future?
Rajeev Kapoor: No, we don’t have plans to open any exclusive showrooms. We already have done 175 dealerships with Tata Motors, I don’t think there is a need to expand at this point.
Motoroids: The dark blue colour for the T-jet that you showed at the Auto Expo 2010, we loved that colour. That colour has been omitted for the production T-jet. Any specific reasons?
Rajeev Kapoor: Yea, we did a colour study after that, and the feedback on the blue didn’t come very positive. As a matter of fact we launched an electric blue colour for the Punto which just didn’t sell as much. It’s also a beautiful colour, but somehow doesn’t sell. Actually the colours which are the frontrunners are white, red and steel grey. That’s why we have selected this colour for the launch, this is a golden beige colour, and is exclusive to the T-jet.