Kenichi Ayukawa, a veteran at Suzuki Motor Corporation, has assumed charge at the Indian subsidiary at a time when vehicle sales have hit a decade-low mark. The recently anointed MD and CEO tells Sharmistha Mukherjee and N Sundaresha Subramanian, how he intends to extend the company’s reach and realize the dream of his predecessor by attaining over 50% share in the domestic market over the next few years. Maruti Suzuki would also play a larger role in the parent’s global operations as it takes charge of production and marketing of vehicles for developing markets under Ayukawa’s leadership. Edited excerpts:
Its been a few months at the helm of Maruti Suzuki now. How has the road so far been?
It is a big honour for me to drive the management of the company. I believe Indian market has a very high potential. I want to make it strong production wise and quality wise.
You have assumed charge at a time when sales growth in the automobile industry is at a decade low mark. Even sales of best selling models such as Swift, DZire and Ertiga, which have seen you through most of last financial year, are now falling. Any initiatives you have taken to reverse this?
We have to review the system. As long as you have good products, consumers buy them But now the sentiment has changed. We have to persuade the customers to make purchases. How we approach the customers has become important. We are trying to develop the rural markets. We are reaching out to newer areas by including our dealers in the process. We conducted events in rural areas, small towns. The events helped a lot in encouraging demand. We allowed people to touch, feel and drive our products. Such things encourage demand.
Any particular product which seeing strong traction in rural areas…
What I have seen is that the first time buyer is usually interested in the M800, Alto 800, Alto K10. Some people are also going for more premium cars like Swift.
Maruti Suzuki usually introduces one new product in the market every year. There has been none so far this year. Are you being cautious and changing the trend?
No. We are not changing anything. This year just started. There are nine months left. You can expect something. A new small car is likely to come in. We would continue to upgrade existing models.
General Motors recently recalled 114,000 units of the Tavera in India after an internal probe revealed executives had re-fitted pre-approved engines on test vehicles. How are these things getting through the system?
What I see in the newspapers unbelievable.
Probably, a government committee needs to check the dimensions of this issue. I cannot understand why these things happen. Emission norms have to be complied with.
As Maruti Suzuki acquires a larger role in Suzuki’s global operations, what kind of synergies would we see with the parent company?
In future, may be in India we have to take care of new products for developing markets. We have to do marketing for these countries by ourselves. Our product and supply teams here take care of markets in Africa and West Asia.
Maruti Suzuki is in the process of setting up a state-of-the-art R&D centre in Rohtak. Would the Indian engineering team can take the lead and develop vehicles from scratch in future?
Yes. I think so. First we have to develop our engineering capabilities. That is very important. Our engineers have gone to Japan and to other countries also for training programmes. It will happen over time.
There is a criticism Maruti Suzuki despite operating in India for nearly 30 years now does not have Indians at the board level. Are there any efforts to change that?
Already, 13-14 Indian people are involved in our management. In case of Japanese, they are tentative. They come for three to five years. Indian people stay. We have Sudham Maitra for supply chain management, H Siddiqui for administration, M M Singh in charge of production processes.
Your predecessor said he wanted Maruti Suzuki to attain 50% share in the domestic automobile market. He said it was his dream. What is your target?
I also think so. If possible we will enhance it.
What is your number?
Laughs. I said we will enhance.