Interview with Manohar Bhat, Head – Sales & Marketing, Kia Motors India

By Team autoX | on June 11, 2020

The Seltos has seen phenomenal success ever since its launch. But now, post lockdown, demand may not be as strong as it was. Also, the new Hyundai Creta has just been launched. So, what happens to the Seltos in the market?
I’d like to say that we are ‘cautiously optimistic’ for two reasons. One, during the lockdown, we were still receiving some bookings – as well as some cancellations of course. The heartening part is that we managed to gather around 1,000 bookings against a very low number of cancellations. So, that’s why we’re being cautiously optimistic, as the post-lockdown scenario might not be as bad as everyone is expecting it to be. Two, in regards to the competition, we are very confident about what the Seltos represents as an overall package. It represents Kia design, something that’s very unique. I still don’t think that there’s a better-looking SUV out there in the Indian market. Then, of course, it’s also about the quality of the vehicle – everyone who has used our product will vouch for it. Also, the features that we are offering in our products are at a level that others are yet to reach, they’ve only been trying to match us so far, but are yet to. Not to mention our recent World Car of the Year (WCOTY) victory for the Telluride. This only goes to show our pedigree, and more importantly, gives us the confidence to tackle any challenge going forward. 

The Kia Telluride won the World Car of the Year award for 2020, and the Kia Soul EV won the World Urban Car of the Year. The Telluride has great potential to be your flagship model here in the Indian market. Is it being considered for India?
I definitely think we’ll do it now. We’ve got the wind in our sails thanks to the Telluride’s WCOTY win, so we’ll definitely consider it. It’s a big brand booster for us, and we are very happy with this win. 

Your most recent launch was the Carnival, which was just before the lockdown. How’s that going?
Now that I think of it, I really wish we had launched the car earlier. As you said, the lockdown followed just after its launch, and the situation is still quite messy – with deferred deliveries, etc. I think it’s quite early to give a complete view of the situation. However, I do think that this pandemic will change the way people think about large vehicles. So, the complete effect is yet to be judged.

As a product, the Carnival is phenomenal. But, as we’ve seen in the Indian market in the past, the initial period of the launch is very crucial. How do you get a product like that to pick up again, given the current scenario? 
When we launch a product, we do a lot of publicity in terms of advertisements & digital campaigns around it. Unfortunately, much of it has been obliterated in the case of the Carnival, due to the lockdown that followed. I agree that to recreate that sort of momentum will be a herculean task. For this, I’d rather depend on our sales personnel to contact individual customers and pitch them the vehicle. That’s the only way forward for now. Starting another publicity campaign for the Carnival to regenerate the momentum is not on the cards for now. Having said that, all those who have experienced the Carnival were immediately sold on it. So, we need to ensure that more-and-more people get to experience the car.

Your next big launch will be the Kia Sonet. With the Seltos, you’ve made such a huge mark in the market, will the Sonet make a similar impact? I’m sure back at your HQ in Seoul, they’ll expect all your new products to be as strong as your first. So, what’s the secret sauce that the Sonet will have?
The Sonet will be a product with the same DNA as the Seltos. It’ll rely on the same principles on which the Seltos thrives – design, quality & features. There’s no denying that people loved the Sonet’s looks when we unveiled it at the Auto Expo this year. Again, there will be no compromise on the quality front as well – and also it’ll have the best possible features in its segment. It will, in fact, even challenge some vehicles of the next segment on the features front. I think the Sonet, like the Seltos, will be able to beat the market blues with its irresistible packaging. As for the launch, we’d like to stick to the schedule that we had planned before the lockdown. So, expect the Sonet to arrive in the festive season this year. 

Do you think the face of the retail experience will change in the country – what do you make of the potential shift to online sales?
I think Kia was one of the first brands to a have dedicated, fully-digital sales platform set up right from the time we launched our first product in India. Everything from inquiry to booking to finance and final invoicing could be done online. I do feel that a lot of people, in the wake of the pandemic, will be reluctant to enter retail facilities, such as car showrooms. However, it’s not like the customer will not visit the showroom at all during the entire process. 

Keeping in mind the kind of investment purchasing a vehicle is for some people, a customer will definitely inspect the vehicle, and check it out with his or her own eyes to ensure that everything is okay. A customer, however, may like to perform all transactions & processes online, to cut down their time at the dealership. So, a customer will experience greater convenience while completing all paperwork online, but would definitely make some trips to the dealership to check out the vehicle before buying it.

Also, this reluctance to visit the showrooms will only be a temporary phenomenon that we’ll witness in the coming few months. After all, two months of lockdown can’t change habits that have been ingrained in us over the past many years. Therefore, customer behaviour is unlikely to undergo a permanent change.   

Also read - Interview with Santosh Iyer, VP, Sales & Marketing, Mercedes-Benz India

Interview with Tarun Garg, Director, Sales & Marketing, Hyundai Motor India

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