After GM’s India exit, Volkswagen, Ford and Skoda also stare down the barrel – Economic Times

Posted: Saturday, June 03, 2017
Last month, after over two decades in India, Detroit giant General Motors (GM) called it quits. The company will stop selling cars in India and focus only on exports from its factory in Talegaon in Pune. GM will shut down its plant in Halol in Gujarat. It has been struggling in India, selling 25,823 cars in 2016-17, giving it a market share of under 1%. Its dealers and customers are still reeling under the shock.

In a market that at last count had over 17 carmakers, and in which the top four control over 75%, a legitimate question to ask is: who next after GM? It’s also pertinent considering that all is not well at many of the bit players — in India as well as at the global headquarters.

Look under the hood at Volkswagen India. It has been hit by a flight of senior honchos at the sales division. The head of sales, national head of corporate sales and south sales manager have reportedly quit.

Year of India entry: 2007
Investments: Rs5,963 cr
A factory with 200,000 capacity in Chakan in Pune (shares infrastructure with Skoda)
Employees: 3,500
Exports*: 86,852
Domestic sales*: 50,042
Sales & after sales network: 123 dealers and 122 service centers in 105 cities

More exits are said to be in the offing. The world’s largest carmaker that sold over 10 million cars as a group in 2016 is struggling in India. Under the mother VW brand, the Indian outpost sold 50,042 cars in 2016-17, yielding 1.6% in market share. “India is indeed one of the toughest markets,” says Andreas Lauermann, managing director, Volkswagen India. But he has reason not to give up. “If you can crack it, you can practically access many more such markets around the world. We know that the Indian market is destined to be one of the biggest markets in the years to come.”

Group firm Skoda too is on a rough road, too. The India MD Sudhir Rao recently put in his resignation, and will serve his term till the end of June. Skoda India sold just 13,712 units in 2016-17 for a 0.45% market share. Skoda officials did not respond to emails from ET Magazine.

Year of India entry: 2001
Investments: NA
A plant in Aurangabad
Employees: 800
Exports: 0
Domestic sales: 13,712
Sales & after sales network: 66 sales outlets, 67 service workshops across 58 cities
Current models: Superb, Octavia, Rapid

Elsewhere, the other Detroit giant Ford is facing problems of a different kind. Global CEO Mark Fields, who took over the top job in 2014, was recently replaced. Underperformance of the stock and Ford’s inability to expand the core business are two big reasons for Fields falling out of favour with the Ford board led by chairman Bill Ford Jr.

Year of India entry: 1998
Investments: Rs12,888 cr
Infrastructure: Factories in Chennai (Tamil
Nadu) and Sanand (Gujarat)
Employees: 14,000
Exports*: 158469
Domestic sales*: 91,405
Sales & after sales network: 376 sales and service outlets in 209 cities
Current models: Figo, Aspire, EcoSport, Endeavour/Everest, Mustang

In India, the company isn’t exactly vrooming. Despite an investment of $2 billion in two factories and a decent product portfolio with EcoSport, Endeavour, Figo, Aspire, the company sold just 91,405 vehicles in 2016-17 for a market share of 3%. “With the market and financial performance not meeting our expectations, we continue to evaluate our business model to deliver a sustainable, profitable business in India over the long term,” says Anurag Mehrotra, MD, Ford Motors India.

Then there’s Fiat, whose presence in India predates Suzuki, but which sold just 5,665 units in 2016-17 (market share: 0.0018%). This isn’t for want of trying. Operating as Fiat India Auto for long in partnership with Premier Automobiles, in 1997 it shifted gears and set up a 50:50 joint venture with Tata Motors to build its India presence.

Year of India entry: 1997***
Investments: Rs1,804 cr
Infrastructure: Factory in Ranjangaon near
Pune. R&D center in Chennai and engineering centre in Pune
Employees: 1,200
Exports*: 135
Domestic sales*: 5,665 units
Sales & after sales network: 60 dealers
Current models: Linea, Punto, Urban Cross, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Wrangler

Its corporate structure underwent another change in 2014 and it now operates as FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles). A launch of a made-in-India Jeep Compass, a sports utility vehicle, is around the corner. Analysts expect the vehicle — in which Jeep India has invested Rs 1,800 crore — to be priced between Rs20 lakh and Rs 25 lakh. Says Kevin Flynn, MD, FCA India: “We see a great future in India and would like to grow profitably. India is undoubtedly one of the most complex markets in the world but we embrace the challenges.”

Slightly better off than Fiat in India is Nissan, although the crucial difference is that the Japanese carmaker made a much later entry. Nissan, which launched its first India model — the Micra — in 2009, sold 57,300 units in 2016-17. Market share: 1.88%.

Year of India entry: 2005
Investments: Rs6,100 crore
Infrastructure: Has a factory and an R&D centre in Tamil Nadu in alliance with Renault
Employees: 15,000**
Exports*: 109,459
Domestic sales*: 57,300
Sales & after sales network: 279 sales and service outlets in 174 cities
Current models: Terrano, Sunny, Micra, Datsun GO, GO+ and redi-GO

Ripple Effect

The Indian car market in many ways is in sharp contrast to the international landscape. For instance, Suzuki Motors is a relative global minnow (ranked 10th), but it has been numero uno on Indian roads by far over the last three decades. In multiple waves, giants like VW and Toyota announced big plans and ambitions for the Indian subsidiary.

Maruti Suzuki, the predominantly small carmaker, has outsmarted them all and today lords over 47% of the market. Together with Hyundai Motors, the top two players have kept tight control over close to 65% of the market.

Such a concentrated market is a rarity in the capex-heavy automobile world where economies of scale are critical. Now, as losses mount amid a bruising battle, humbled global giants — with their foundations built around big pricey cars — are taking stock of their India operations afresh.

Two undercurrents — one internal and the other global — may decide the fate of the MNCs’ Indian operations. From emission to safety norms, India is overhauling its policy framework. Like China, the Indian government is biasing policy towards electric vehicles as it tries to curb pollution and leapfrog automotive technologies. Add to this the rising per capita income and consumer aspirations, which are shifting the centre of gravity towards relatively larger and pricier cars. Could these shifting strands finally open doors and lead to some shuffling of the deck in India’s Motown?

It’s a hope that many have. “A decade back, we were at 40,000 in China. Today we do a million. It was the same thing for us in Mexico. We hope to do the same in India,” says Arun Malhotra, MD, Nissan Motors India.

Multiple issues have roiled the automotive industry globally in the recent past. Take the emissions scandal of 2015, for which VW will end up spending over $18 billion to fix the problem and pay a criminal fine of $2.8 billion in the US. Undoubtedly, this burden will significantly constrain VW’s moves globally.

New technologies from driverless cars (led by Google, Apple) to EVs (think Tesla) are shaking up the industry, building pressure on global MNCs, impacting their satellite operations. Some of these global pressures will weigh on their India plans.

One Last Time… Despite the global headwinds, exiting India will not be an easy decision. India is perhaps the fastest growing large market globally and one of the last big frontiers to be won after China. There is this tantalising promise of India becoming the world’s third largest car market by 2020 at close to 5 million (from over 3 million currently). But do the MNC chiefs see that potential from their global headquarters ? ¡§With small (sales) numbers compared to global volumes, some subsidiaries struggle to get the priorities in investments and new products at headquarters’ attention, says Rakesh Batra, partner (automotive), EY.

Or, if they get the attention, will it be for all the wrong reasons, as in GM’s case? To be sure, taking the call to leave isn’t easy either, as exiting India can be an expensive strategy in itself. ¡§It shakes consumer confidence in the brand, and has long-term repercussions,¨ says Nagendra Palle, MD, Mahindra First Choice, a used-car dealer network. Soon after GM’s exit announcement, its cars saw a sharp 20% price drop in the used car market. In a typical four-year old car, depreciation could vary in the used car market ¡X Maruti cars lead at 54% of the value, Nissan 39% and Fiat 32%.

Staying in India isn’t easy. But quitting may make a future re-entry harder. French carmaker Peugeot, of course, may want to disagree. After exiting India in the late ’90s, its now readying for a second wind.


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