Interview with Steffen Knapp, Director, Volkswagen Passenger Cars India

By Team autoX | on May 16, 2020

If people reduce the use of shared mobility as a result of this pandemic, do you think this could have a positive impact on the auto industry in future?

It’s definitely an opportunity. I think, as an OEM, our job is to offer customers good deals and packages so that they shift towards individual mobility. I think the used car market holds large potential, since it offers multiple price range options and, therefore, offers greater accessibility to private mobility. 

To answer your question, I think there is a window of opportunity. But there are some drawbacks to this as well. As you know, the infrastructure in most Indian cities can’t cope with more private vehicles on the roads. I think a form of neighbourhood-based mobility sharing will come into play. It will be all about building trust now.

What has this lockdown period taught you so far? 
Firstly, the use of technology is amazing. Personally, I rarely used platforms like Skype or Zoom for business – I always prefer going to a colleague and chatting directly in-person. But I have to say that these platforms work really well. In some way, using technology is also time-efficient, in terms of cutting down on the travelling time. Also, for example, during an online presentation being done by one of my colleagues, I felt I was much more focussed – less distracted by my surroundings. I think this will influence the way we work in the future. 

On the downside, I do feel I’m more exhausted at the end of the day. I’m a person who’s not used to using technology so much, to the extent that I’m not on my phone as much on a regular basis. I do this on purpose, as I wish to limit my online time. But, over the past few days, due to the constant use of digital tech, I’m exhausted by the end of the day. 

But, overall, the efficiency of using technology and the fact that one can stay more focussed in an online interaction are the positives we can take away from this. 

You showcased the Taigun recently, as part of the VW Group’s ‘India 2.0 Project.’ Do you think the Coronavirus outbreak is likely to cause a delay in the roll-out of this project and therefore delay the launch of the Taigun, which is expected about a year from now? 
No. Our investments stand as they are. Obviously, as a global company, we have to look into the cost situation – as liquidity is king. Also, we have to support a big network – of our vendors, dealer partners and so on. But, definitely, our plans stand as is. There’s no change, the investments are lined up.

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Do you think there might be something specific for the auto industry from the government, in terms of incentives?
Well, the top priority of the government has to be the protection of its people. India was very fast and decisive to respond to the situation – to the extent that they have had a more stringent lockdown than other countries. I think it was right, and definitely required. Now, they are working on extending the infrastructure – this is perhaps a learning for the government for the future. The healthcare system may not be at the level it needs to be, so they’ve learnt and are doing tremendously well to fix that. 

We are more in this phase right now in India, something that’s already happened in other countries. First, how can we make sure that businesses are surviving? Also, how can we ensure that these businesses are adhering to paying the salaries and retaining employees – this is something that’s going to be a big issue for India. Next, how can we make sure that we revamp the country again, because this is something most other countries are contemplating right now, and that is required. 

I think the government is going to announce some measures pretty soon, and they have to make the plans clear! When it comes to the auto industry, clearly there are measures which they can take – FADA and SIAM have already a written a letter to the government with our inputs. It’s all about gaining confidence, it’s all about making people go, ‘Oh, that’s an interesting opportunity, I’m willing to go for it.’
However, that does not refrain us from performing our duty. It’s not only the government. We have to act fast, offer online channels and create opportunities for customers to purchase our goods.

But, it’s about initiative from both sides. To prevent social problems in the country, the economy has to ramp up very fast! Particularly in the case of India, where you have a majority of the workforce as daily wage earners. 

In terms of your two recent launches, the T-Roc and Tiguan Allspace, how can you get those models to pick up once the lockdown is over?
Well, they already picked up very well. In fact, I can tell you that the T-Roc is almost sold out. Clearly, we have to see post lockdown if people are sticking to the bookings they made earlier. But I’m not really worried because the T-Roc has been receiving good traction online as well. Also, these are low-volume products and, therefore, we need not worry about them.

What we do need to focus on is gaining momentum concerning our ‘bread & butter’ cars. Even here we’ve introduced the new 1.0-litre TSI motor with the 6-speed gearbox. As a result, we’ve expanded the accessibility of the TSI motor lower in the range and I think there are enough reasons for these models to attract a lot of customers.

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Tags: Steffen Knapp Volkswagen Work From Home

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