Hyundai Motor India jumps into the mico-SUV segment to mark its presence in the ever-growing opportunities . Ramesh Somani, Editor and Publisher - of BBC TopGear India, talks to Mr Tarun Garg, COO- of Hyundai Motor India, about the new Exter, the future of the brand, electrification, marketing strategies, and a lot more.
RS- Why do you think the new Exter would be a deal-breaking in its segment?
TG- Ever since we introduced the name Exter back in February, the response has been phenomenal because we believe this car is path-breaking. The kind of things we have done in terms of safety with six airbags as standard and, of course, the SUV body type, which is the flavour of the market.
RS - Why the name Exter, What’s the thought process behind it?
TG - Two things brought in the name - Exter. One is - we have always tried to think out of the box; since the time Hyundai came to India, we have believed in pushing the envelope. The second thing is especially when you look at millennials - the whole spirit of being outside, enjoying your drive and having a fun life. I think that’s pretty much the whole spirit of really not only thinking outside but doing things which set the adrenaline up. The name Exter perfectly resembles all of these characters.
RS- Hyundai has a full-fledged SUV Tucson, Creta, subcompact SUV- Venue, and now micro-SUV Exter; when do we possibly see Coupe SUV?
TG- If you see our SUV segment, Exter is now our 8th car in that segment. We are very proud that now we have a full range of SUVs. If you remember, it was 2015 when the Creta was launched, and we are proud of its success. We strongly believe that in the less than 10 lakh Rupees segment, Exter could really become a big game changer because there are so many customers from hatchbacks and, of course, for people who are looking for a lot of space, technology and imagery. I believe Exter will really draw in customers.
RS- What took you so much time to bring up Exter in the Indian market?
TG- Everything has a time, and if you see Hyundai, we have always believed in being close to the market, understanding the customer - not only the spoken needs of the customer but sometimes also the unspoken needs as well, and we could sense that there was a clear need for something which has space and safety, something which is really game changer with six airbags as standard. We believe everybody has the right to safety, so we have really focused a lot on the safety aspects. There are 26 safety features as standard or optional and 40 advanced safety features as well. This car is really going to be very safe in terms of technology, the Kappa engine, the AMT, segment-leading fuel efficiency, and, of course, we have CNG optional as well.
RS- Hyundai is a close competitor to Tata Motors India. Do you feel the heat from the competition?
TG- Don’t get me wrong, we have been here for 27 years, so I do not think monthly sales really disturb us. It’s really about doing things right. At Hyundai, we have never gone after the output or the result. We believe that if you do the right thing, the results will be solved automatically. If you see the H1 of this year, we have grown by ten and a half per cent. We are the only OEM to have increased market share into the top 3 OEMs in the country. This is our 5th launch after Ioniq 5 and Verna.
RS- What are the sales numbers you are expecting from the Exter?
TG- 14-15 thousand bookings have already been made, 38 per cent prefer an automatic transmission, 24 per cent are CNG, and across geography - tier 1, tier 2, we are getting a very good response. If you see the segment, it's about 10000 units. I believe going forward, probably the segment can double, so there will be space for everybody.
RS - Launching a product is a big task; what goes behind the R&D of launching the new product?
TG - When the model is launched, it’s three-four years before we decide. Model planning happened in 2020, and now, in 2023, we are launching the car. As I said, we decide on what the customer wants. From the infotainment screen to features in the car, there are 12 languages, maps, and a dash cam; everything is decided to meet the needs of the consumers.
RS- What’s the thought process behind providing the dashcam?
TG - People want to really not only go for journeys, they also want to have those memories. I think this is something not only a segment-first feature but also really a tool to see and reflect. It really raises the benchmark. It also adds a safety net, as everything is being recorded, and if something happens - you can always go back and check. It’s a great convenience.
RS- Do you think Exter would hamper sales figures of Grand i10 Nios and Venue because Exter is closely stacked against them?
TG -We always know, whenever we launch a product, there will be some kind of realization; at the same time, the overall volume goes up, customer value proposition goes up, and that is what really gives us a lot of edges, and so we do not mind a little bit of cannibalization. The initial trend suggests that, of course, there is absolutely zero cannibalization with Venue. The overall numbers are definitely going up, and many new customers are being attracted towards the brand.
RS- If you were a reviewer, how would you describe your experience with the car?
TG - It’s fantastic. The NVH is minimal. It’s very comfortable. Customers are going to love it. I like the dashcam, and I appreciate having six airbags as standard.
RS - When can we expect the safety ratings?
TG - I am not somebody to comment on that, but what I can say is that we have really taken this aspect very seriously. Bharat NCAP is also around the corner; let’s see. We have done whatever we could to make this car structurally sound.
RS- Why is there no electric Exter? Why the CNG option with Exter?
TG- We have a very clear strategy as of now; CNG and entry-level cars make a great bet. In CNG, we have 27km/kg of efficiency and 19.2 km/l in AMT petrol, which is segment first. So good mileage is the key for CNG car sales in India.
RS- Do you really think a sunroof is a big deal because people buy the car for the sunroof but rarely use it?
TG - Last one and a half years, the trend is changing. It is not only about aspiration, but now people realize how it really gives an airy feeling; it gives you light and makes you feel you are seated in a much bigger car.
RS - How do you manage the work stress? What do you do to detox yourself? Share insights about leadership qualities.
TG - I have a well-disciplined regime. I have been getting up at 4 in the morning for the last 30 years. I reach the office before 7 am every day. The one hour in the office is all for me because, after 8 am, I'm a slave to my team's time. I leave the office at 5:30 pm and spend time with my family after 6:30 pm. So, I maintain a good work-life balance because that helps me to increase my productivity. I do meditation and yoga to keep my mind calm.
RS- How do you deal with difficult situations and people management?
TG- I believe in conducting a lot of Town Halls, where I give full freedom that anybody can ask anything. All my employees are there, and they can ask anything under the sun. I motivate them with relevant examples. For example, I started my career in logistics after an MBA from IIM; who would want to start a career in logistics, but then I always tell them that those four years in logistics made me fundamentally so strong; and also an ability to really outshine and really change some systems and process which probably a brand manager I may not have had that opportunity. So I think it is very important to have a much bigger approach and a much more positive approach rather than thinking otherwise.
RS- That’s why it’s rightly said - What you do anything will define how you will do everything.
TG - Absolutely.
RS - What have you learned from moving from a Japanese organization to a Korean organization in terms of management?
TG- There are a lot of similarities. The belief in India is very strong, the kind of investment that has been made. Last 27 years, we have invested around twenty thousand crores in TN for electric vehicles. We are thinking about capacity expansion and sustainable development.
RS- Before this role, you have been handling marketing roles, so what are the marketing principles you have asked your team to follow?
TG - A very good question. I encourage them to think outside the box because new-age customers look for something which is more customized. Hyper-local marketing is something which we really brought in, and today it has become a key source for our inquiries, and dealers are very happy about the same. New innovations like launching Ioniq 5 at Gateway of India. The launch became a sensation. We have an SUV community, we have the spotlight, we have concerts wherein topnotch artists perform. Today, it’s all about thinking outside and thinking Exter.
RS- How well have you coped with the new digital trends?
TG- One is sheer numbers; if you see today, 35 percent of inquiries today are digital. Earlier conversions used to be 2-3 per cent, but now we can see double-digit conversions. It’s still an evolving field, so there are various approaches which have been taken and sometimes veterans like me, who have spent 30 years in the industry, continuously have to learn. I am much more active on FB; I have started Instagram again. You have to be in the midst of things because that really helps you to get the pulse of the customer.
RS- Which car do you drive personally?
TG - Kona, I love the car. It was a game changer in 2019; people were really only talking about EVs, and there was a full-fledged SUV EV on the Indian road. So sometimes, you have to be the first mover, which creates the trend, and I believe India is going to be a very strong electric market going forward.
RS- When can we expect Hyundai to bring EVs around ten lakhs price point?
TG- I do not know about the 10 lakh price point, but as you have already heard, we have invested about twenty thousand crores in TN, most of which would go into the localization of batteries. So, I think that’s a very important step because that will help us to really localize and bring the cost of the car down. We have already announced a robust EV plan. You have to start somewhere, and that is where the Ioniq 5 is a game changer. 500 was our annual target, and we did it in the first six months.
RS- What are the sales numbers you have personally set for the Exter?
TG- I do not personally set the numbers; I set benchmarks. I would love it if customers love the car, and it solves their day-to-day life issues and adds quality to their life. Across the country, when the response comes, we feel good because it is also about the rural areas wherein customers want more modern, technologically superior cars, and so I think this car will appeal both to the city as well as rural buyers.