Report: P. Tharyan
What made you take a plunge in the Rain Forest
Challenge in India, both sponsoring and taking part in it?
things first, it’s an international property and a very respected off road
event and I don’t think the Gurkha would have had a better opportunity in terms
of a launch and to bring this event to India where the off road community needs
to get a feel of what real off-roading is all about.
will learn a lot as an organisation in further doing up our vehicle to the
demands and the desires of what events like this require from a vehicle. Our
vehicle is the only real off-roader in terms of differential locks in the front
and rear, snorkel and also the Mercedes driveline.
Coming to the Gurkha vehicles they have
been souped up big time for the event. Who did this and how much time did you
spend doing it up?
did all of these in less than six months. So when we were approached by the
organisers we found out about the rain forest challenge. That’s when we spoke
to Cougar Motorsport and decided to be a sponsor for the brand. The first few
weeks were spent trying to understand the event amd how it happens. Nobody in
India knew about RFC. We wanted to know
whether by associating with RFC it would be beneficial for us in the long
term. Once we had these basic questions
cleared we said ‘Ok let’s go for it’.
Gurkha vehicles have been tweaked and refined further. This is something which
every rally vehicle goes through. There is not a single rally vehicle in the
world where you say ok, take it off the production line and go into the
Himalayan rally. You will fail. You will fail miserably. We tweaked it with the
help of our R&D team. As an organisation it’s a first time, there is always
a learning curve in everything you do. We also took the views of outsiders
also. We took in a few people in our team to understand what people do in
events like this. Then we got hold of a few experts and then together we built
Do you feel that you have really raised the
bar big time when it comes to making rally vehicles?
hope so. I am sure we have done something which probably people did not expect
us to do. Having done this it’s also very demanding on us and very challenging for
us to ensure that we don’t fail. That does not mean that we have to win the
race. I would be equally ok even if we don’t win the race because it’s the
first time for me. The fact that we have come here itself is a big achievement.
The learning that my team has gained is incredible. I’m sure a lot of this learning
will translate in the normal Gurkha also, in terms of what issues we will have on
the axles and what issues we will have on the brakes.
we have raised the bar. It’s going to be challenging as we have to ensure that
we do not fail. And we will keep on investing in taking this forward.
Coming back to your business, when will the
Gurkha be launched across the country?
we announced in July this year, we will launch the Gurkha next month in
September 2014. Therefore we thought of the RFC in August. If we win the RFC
there will be nothing like it. We have in the meantime learned a lot in terms
of motorsports, which is completely a different ball game. The way you think of
engineering on a regular basis you cannot think like that here. It’s completely
engineering team that worked on this, for them it was exciting because they
were doing something which is very different. There was no bar on how wide you
can go. A lot of team work was displayed in putting these vehicles together in
two and a half months. Every department, right from purchasing to development
to testing to prototyping, I think they loved it.
For the other employees who were not a part
of it, it would be a proud moment for them also?
Absolutely, I am waiting to get these vehicles
back into the factory and show them what the guys have done and made.
Are you going to remain a niche player in
the passenger vehicle segment in India?
have learnt a lot in the last two years. Getting into the personal vehicle
segment is not easy and is very challenging. Indians want a change every six
months. One needs to have big pockets and the ability to sustain losses. The
good thing is though we have sold close to about 3000 SUVs we have learned a
lot. . We got to learn about new features, new technologies, new safety
requirements – ABS, air suspension, electronics, Infotainment all of these are
features which are today not very predominant in CVs. Getting in to a segment
like this helps you a lot. But whether I do this big scale, we will have to
look at it carefully.
our existing business, be it the Traveller or the Trax, it’s doing extremely well. In the
Traveler segment we are now clearly India’s largest van maker. The Traveler is
doing extremely well. We have extended our Traveler platform and those segments
are going phenomenally for us. Our Traxs segment continues to do well. Gurkha
is again a niche product and the beauty of a vehicle like a Gurkha is that it’s
an ageless product. People are going to respect it for its off roading
capability so vehicles like this will survive a long time. You look at the Land
Rover Defender. It hasn’t changed. Look at the G class Gelandewagen, the body
remains the same for the last 40 years.
the Gurkha, there is no offering similar to this. This is huge potential in
exports. For the last two months I have been exporting vehicles. Several
countries in Africa have taken the Gurkha as an army vehicle. Several African
game parks have taken our vehicle as an excursion vehicle.
How is your business with Mercedes
started in 1997, we have now done close to 50,000 engines. After a few years we
added axles. The portfolio increased from engines to axles. Now I am doing C,
E, S, M, GL and soon I will be doing the CLA and the GLA in terms of engines
and axles. The business has only grown.
We have a very good relationship with Daimler.
Hundred percent of all Mercedes cars built in India which are CKD have
engines and axles going from us. Similarly, based on our performance and consistency,
we won a contract with BMW. We have a dedicated plant coming up in Chennai.
This plant will be live in January 2015. All engines for BMW, right from the
X1, X3, X5 to the Q 3,5,7 and the Mini vehicle, all ranges will be going from
us. We will be the only company globally who will be supplying engines to both
BMW and Mercedes-Benz. In case of BMW it is even more unique because this is
the first time in the BMW universe where somebody else is going to assemble and
test their engines. This does not happen anywhere today. We are putting in
around Rs 100 crore in the plant, BMW is
putting in around Rs 200 crore. We got the contract in March 2014.
for the last 35 years we have been assembling and locally building Mercedes
engines for our own use. We are exposed to German engineering too some extent.
We have been doing work for Mercedes since 1997. The way we have performed, our
business has only increased with Daimler. That’s a big achievement. BMW also respects this. They too need reliable
partners. As for the capacity, whatever BMW makes, 100pc of that will be built
at the plant.
Assuming the Gurkha wins the RFC 2014, will
it have a positive impact overall on your company and its products?
if the Gurkha wins the RFC, it will have a huge positive rub off not just on the
company brand but also on other products. I see it as a very positive thing for
us. Events like this get people together. I always wanted to show what a Gurkha
could do. I was waiting for a right platform. I wanted to differentiate
ourselves from the rest of the OEMs and their events. If we say we are an
off-roader then competition too has an off-roader. What is the big
differentiator? I knew of Rain Forest Challenge and it is treated as a real
hard core off-roading. If you qualify and do something in the RFC then you
definitely have something. So I thought this would be a great platform to
showcase what a Gurkha can really do. If we win this year and we hope we really
do, we will go next year to Malaysia. There will be a huge learning for us.
Look at Formula One. Learnings from F1 comes into regular cars. Technology on
braking gets evolved in F1. The technology on aerodynamics comes in from F1 to
a great extent. Off-roading of this
nature will help us further improve our products, going forward.
The interview was conducted on the first
day of the RFC 2014
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