Features/ Interviews/ TG Talks | In Conversation With Hardeep Singh Brar, National Head of Sales & Marketing – KIA India

TG Talks | In Conversation With Hardeep Singh Brar, National Head of Sales & Marketing – KIA India

Kia India had a blockbuster debut in the Indian market with the Seltos, launched back in 2019. Kia Seltos had put the brand on a successful roadmap in the competitive Indian market. Ramesh Somani, Editor and Publisher - BBC TopGear Mag India, takes Hardeep Singh Brar, National Head of Sales & Marketing – KIA India, on a drive in all-new Seltos, wherein he shares Kia's success story, brand insights and a lot more.   

RS: How is Kia different from Hyundai? How would you differentiate Seltos over a Creta since both are sister companies?

HB: I'll talk about the Seltos. The Seltos has become much bolder than what it was earlier; the front lamps are fully LED, we've brought them a little down, and the fog lamps are now 4 LEDs. At the back, the taillamps are now connected with a LED light strip that looks fantastic at night. Even during the day, it looks fabulous. The alloy wheels are diamond cut, 18 inches for the top-end variant. On the roof, we have a panoramic sunroof, which we didn't have earlier. As for interiors, there's a dual display, 10.26 inches display. The left is the infotainment system, and the right screen takes the driver's display. This whole layout makes it look very, very futuristic. The AC is a dual zone, a segment first. The Bose music system carries on because we have received good feedback about it. But the biggest thing that we've brought is the ADAS level 2 with 17 features.

RS: Over the past four years, it's been a stupendous success. What do you think Kia has done right?

HB: So first of all, the most important thing is that we have listened to our customers about what they want and what their unfelt needs are. For example, ADAS is an unfelt need that didn't come to us as feedback, but we felt that it's something a consumer looks at. So we try to bring a complete package. Moreover, we have been pretty good with our pricing. The consumers get varied choices with variants within every 50,000 rupees. 

RS: Why does Kia India not have CNG & Hybrid options in its portfolio?

HB: We have more than compensated for it because we have three engines which nobody else in this segment offers. We have the NA 1.5L, Turbo 1.5L & Turbo Diesel 1.5L.

RS: Any future plans for Hybrid & CNG?

HB: EVs are something we are looking at. We feel hybrid is a gap arrangement for brands where they don't have EVs or diesel options. Since we are very confident about our EV range and we are starting in 2025 with our first ground-up EV for India, work is going on pretty fast. The Kia corporation is launching 14 BEV vehicles worldwide, so those will be explored for India.



RS: I want to talk about Carens, is a new one coming anytime soon?

HB: Carens has just been 1.5 years, and we look at our lifecycle change to be between 3 to 4 years. So we have 2.5 years. It's doing very well; one of the few things we are doing with the Carens is that we are bringing in the P Drive & the M Drive, which stand for Police Drive & the Mobility Drive, respectively, for commercial users. 

RS: That's exciting. So, Hardeep, you're an experienced professional, and you've worked at many places; how is Kia different from others?

HB: So I feel Kia is very agile; the decision-making is very fast. And they think really big. Ex-They started the production plant with a 300,000-unit production capacity; it is very rare in the automotive space for this to happen. That shows the confidence that the management has in the company. This allows us to ramp up operations quickly; if we didn't have that capacity, the company would first struggle to ramp up capacity and then increase operations, and the momentum would have been lost by then. So that is something quite unique about Kia. Kia is focused on customers and details.

RS: Is Kia planning to enter the mass hatchback segment?

HB: No. We are focussed on RVs. Recreational vehicles include SUVs and MPVs. They both make up 55% of car demand, and that is where we want to focus. It is the direction India is headed towards.

RS: And what out of that is diesel vehicles?

HB: So one-third, to be precise, 35% of it is diesel vehicles. In Seltos and Carens, it is higher. Seltos is 40%, Carens is 45%, Sonet is 25%. If you see that 10 lakh+ segment, diesel is still in demand. We've brought a 1.5L more powerful engine this year. It is the most powerful one in the segment. It gives us a very strong presence in that space. And the demand for turbo has almost doubled from what it was earlier. 

RS: With competition heating up so much, with your sister company even, do you think it is going to be difficult, or will Kia continue with the tiger roaring?

HB: We believe in sticking to our plan and maximizing it. That's what we've done over the past years. We brought 5 strong products, 3 mass-market ones in Sonet, Carens and Seltos and 2 brand makers with the Carnival and EV6. So we want our brand to continue to become premium and become even better. 

RS: Now for the most important question, EV6 has been a great success; you've sold more than you expected, but what about the Carnival? It has become a favourite, everybody wants one, and we don't have the new one.

HB: We showcased the new Carnival at the Auto Expo and received a terrific response. We are contemplating bringing it next year; we are still under discussion as to things like features, pricing and manufacturing. Hopefully, we'll be able to bring it next year.


RS: Can you share some numbers about Carnival's sales?

HB: So we've sold over 10,000 Carnivals, which, again, at its price point, is a tremendous figure. We didn't expect it to sell so much, but the response has been amazing. There was no competition to it. We are still getting many queries about it. The residual values have increased after we discontinued it recently. 

RS: You're the leader at Kia; what's your daily schedule? 

HB: So I wake up around quarter to 6 because I am in the office by 8. I work out at 6—3 days of gym, 3 days of running and 1 rest day. Since I am a marathon runner , so strength and cardio are both important. I've done global marathons in Zurich, Boston, London, Oslo etc. 

RS: That's the reason why Kia is in the right hands. Because, as a marathon runner, your mindset is conditioned to finishing the set task at hand. Somewhere down the line, all these small little things make a huge difference. What about books, do you read a lot?

HB: No. I am not an avid reader, but yes, I go through some summaries of books because that gives me the juice of the content.

RS: Anyone you follow for leadership or mentoring?

HB: Nothing specific, but any book that strikes a chord with me, I love to take it on.

RS: What are the marketing strategies in Kia that you are looking to do? What do you think because Kia has been pretty aggressive? How do you decide on what to do?

HB: It is very consensus-based. If somebody has a great idea, we discuss and debate it, but importantly, we keep our long-term strategy and vision in mind. The consumer knows us from our marketing because we are a young brand that attracts youth, so we want to keep that up. That is the same for the new Seltos. We try to keep our brand campaigns that strike a chord with the youth. It gives us a more premium image because of their backing. That keeps us in pace with other brands.

RS: What's the waiting period going to be on the new Seltos?

HB: I think that on day one, we are already at 3 months; the automatics and top-end variants are almost the majority. This is also because of the top-end variant being the only one with ADAS; this shows that the consumers did want ADAS features.

RS: Do you think that Indian consumers are also changing? They want a full-fledged product now.

HB: Yes. Earlier, buyers were very price-sensitive, but now everyone wants a fully loaded car. They don't mind paying a bit extra, but they want a fully loaded car. That's what we try to give our consumers.

TopGear Magazine September 2023