Jeep India is on an expansion sphere, wherein the brand is taking every step possible to amplify its presence and invest in required R&D for the betterment of products. Ramesh Somani, Editor of TopGear Mag India, caught up with an interesting individual who sits at the head table of Jeep India - Mr Aditya Jairaj. He has taken over the reins of India operations and is heading with the strong title of Deputy Managing Director, Stellantis India.
RS: You recently took over an important task in Jeep India; technically, a lot of things need to be known about you. So tell us more about yourself.
AJ : I was born and raised in Banglore. I'm a mechanical engineer. I started my professional career on the shop floor, working with another OEM just outside Banglore in Hosur for a few years. I went to the UK to do a Master's in Engineering from Warwick, returned to Banglore, and joined Ernst & Young in consulting business services. I was with the company for 5 years and got comfortable with the unknown because that's what you do in consulting. In 2011, most importantly, I got married first and then moved to the US. I also had the opportunity to spend a couple of years in Tokyo with Nissan. Very happy to be back in India; this is where all the action is !
RS : Jeep has a very storied history, and it's a very iconic brand in the US and globally. In India, somehow, Jeep hasn't got the numbers, so what will be the first thing that you will do to address the sales issue?
AJ : Jeep is a brand launched in India in 2016. In 2017, we built the first Made-in-India Compass, and then since 2107, we have built four nameplates in India. India is the only market outside North America where we assemble four nameplates, including Grand Cherokee. So, that's Jeep's commitment to India - four nameplates locally built right since 2107. So we have established ourselves as a very aspirational brand like we have in other parts of the world. We have a strong network of dealers, many of whom have been with us from the beginning. We have a strong supplier base here, so what we have to do further is solidify the foundation. Last month, we launched 4X2 Compass Automatic, a product engineered and built specifically for India.
RS: Key challenges and key opportunities in the Indian automotive industry for Jeep India?
AJ : Number one, keep up with the requirements of the consumers. Second, reaction time, consumers are becoming less and less patient. Third, this is more of an opportunity; consumer expectations are now going even beyond just the product. It's an experience that matters. We have launched Assured Buyback; it's a piece of mind ownership for the consumer, where after X number of years, when they sign up to buy the Jeep vehicle, they know how much the vehicle is worth. We have also launched Jeep Wave exclusive, which consists of different components. One of its key components is Express Service, so if anyone comes in for routine maintenance, 90 minutes or 120 minutes, you are assured you will get your vehicle back. Second, we have got Jeep Concierge service. So, if someone wants to plan their next adventure experience, Jeep will do it for them and even customize it for them.
RS: What does the electrification programme look like, globally as well as in India?
AJ : Globally, we have the 4xe, which is doing well. We have got a plug-in hybrid version of it, and we have also got the full EV version of it, the Avenger, launched in Europe. The plug-in hybrid 4xe is the highest-selling plug-in hybrid in the US. So, we have got a strong base when it comes to electrification. Electrification plans for India are under evaluation, and more details will be revealed soon.
RS: What is Jeep doing to enhance the customer buying experience?
AJ : We have a seamless experience online and offline. Anywhere, on any device, any time consumers can start the journey. So, consumers can start the journey online by entering their details, putting in which vehicle they are interested in, etc. Then, when they come back to the dealership, they can start from where they have finished online, and they can go back and forth from digital to physical and so on.
RS: How is your dealer network right now, and how are you planning to expand your dealers?
AJ : At this point, we have 74 locations across the country, 75 maybe at this point exactly. We will go to about 80 locations by the end of the year. We are constantly evaluating new locations. In 2024, one of our key priorities is to expand service coverage. It is extremely important from a consumer standpoint and convenience standpoint, so we are evaluating and developing a service coverage strategy for 2024.
RS : What advice would you give to young aspiring leaders who want to make it big in the automotive industry?
AJ : I started from the shop floor; what did that teach me were two things - number one, how to stand for 10 hours a day physically. Second- how to get along with people who are two or three times your age. Second, I worked in consulting, which taught me how to be comfortable with the unknown. And third, through all my different assignments - I have gotten into things that I have not been an expert on. But, applying basic frameworks and rules can break down any complex problem into simple blocks. So my advice would be don't be scared of the unknown because the unknown can be pretty exciting and challenging. Please don't give up because failure is not something that will remain constant; learn from it and adapt. Most importantly, have fun.
RS : In terms of your global exposure, is there a difference in quality between Jeep made in America and Jeep made in India?
AJ : From our plant in Europe, we export. From our plant in Ranjangoan, we export to several developed markets like Japan, where quality standards are very stringent. India is strategically very important for Stellantis; yes, it is India for India, but it is also India to be exported to the rest of the world.
RS : How important is the localization being for you?
AJ : Localisation is extremely important. This time, we are at about 65-70 percent localization. Our endeavour over the next few years is to take that to between 85-88 percent.