Interview with Rudratej Singh, President & CEO, BMW India

By Team autoX | on December 20, 2019

Rudratej Singh, President & CEO, BMW India, accepts the award for the 330i.

You’ve had over 10 years at Unilever, what perspective or different worldview do you bring to the luxury segment of the automotive industry?

I actually spent close to 18 years at Unilever. What Unilever did for me was to give me insight into the consumer in various categories. Unilever isn’t just one company, it’s basically an organization that manages many companies, in many categories. So, as I keep saying, from soup to soap and everything in between! The other thing I think, which is very important, whether its food or beverages, or soap, is that it’s all largely undifferentiated. Therefore, to seek differentiation, to get consumers to find you preferred over another brand, you work harder. And when you come to the auto sector, you realize that consumers are so much more involved. They come into your store! Imagine a toothpaste store, it would never happen. We still, sometimes, take the consumer for granted. We assume that they will transact, and we only engage with them when we want to transact with them. So I bring in the ability to serve the customer, whether in the bathroom, or the bedroom, or the drawing room or the kitchen, and earlier in a smaller garage, now a bigger garage (referring to his position as CEO at Royal Enfield before taking on his role at BMW) – but, if you follow the consumer, you will always remain relevant.

One of the reasons why we’re such fans of BMW is because they are great from behind the wheel. In India as well, do you find that more of your customers prefer the driver’s seat when compared with your competitors?

You’re absolutely right! I’ll give you an example of the startling difference of a BMW versus anybody else in the segment. I had a 7 Series for five years in my previous job. And I’m embarrassed to say that I never drove it. Because I was in the two wheeler business, and I love motorcycles as well – and I had seven motorcycles in my garage. As soon as I came to BMW, I was given a beautiful, spanking new 7 Series – a 740i. And I said, okay, let me drive it. 15 minutes of driving it, at seven o’clock in the morning interestingly, the first thing I said is that it drives like a 3. And I think that’s very, very fundamental. So it was sort of an epiphany for me, because I never thought that a car that is the epitome of luxury and excellence could drive the way it did. So, you’re absolutely right. Sometimes I feel that we don’t play to our strengths as much as we can. Our engineers know our strengths – they make products that are absolutely different to anything else out there. We are the ultimate driving machine. We do provide joy and sheer driving pleasure. And we have to play to these strengths more often. I think we’re doing that, as you can see from our range of launches – the 3 Series of course, which is why we’re here today, but even the X4, X7, and, of course, the 7 Series and 6GT. In each case, these cars are as nice from behind the wheel as they are when you’re being chauffer driven. We are for ‘self-driven’ India, and self-driven here has a double edged meaning. We are for self-made achievers, their first choice is BMW. 

You mentioned the 7 Series and X7. The styling of the new nose, especially in these two models, has been somewhat controversial – with people saying that the styling direction appears very China-centric. 

Firstly, I love the large kidney grills! It needs some adjusting for some people – for the purists maybe. But I think it fits really nicely with the design sensibility that has been brought in across the range – and a lot of research and engineering has gone into it. I don’t think it’s representative of only one country, but, really, it’s the direction that BMW wants to take in terms of our design philosophy. And it’s not just the grill. If you look at the overall design sensibility, it is more in line with that. And I think there’s been strong acceptance. But, yes, the idea is to polarize rather than be plain vanilla – BMW has never been that, and we don’t intend to be so in future as well.  

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