TG: First off, hope you are doing well during this difficult time. Could you please describe to us Yamaha India’s performance in the last 8-9 months post-opening of the lockdown? Has the second wave delayed plans further?

MS: Yes, thank you. Hope all is well with you and the team. In 2020, during the lockdown, we had directed our focus to relook at our business strategies to tackle the new normal and ensure that when the market opens, we are not only able to revive the retail growth but also aim to perform better than the previous year. We also stayed in touch with potential customers with the help of various internet-based platforms during the lockdown, which was followed by some aggressive on-ground engagement programs under “The Call of the Blue” campaign.

As we have faced a similar challenge before, we are a lot more prepared to take charge of the 2nd wave of COVID-19. Also, this year the state governments are directing lockdowns. As a result, the impact is limited, with a clearly defined timeline, unlike last year. This has allowed us to devise a plan that is in sync with our priorities – be it potential market, customers, production, and sales targets. We are also working very closely with our dealers and suppliers to minimize the impact of this interruption and focus on the optimisation of stocks, allowing us to channel our economic activities more efficiently, for a strong comeback.

TG: What are the kind of expectations do you have in terms of growth in the Indian market?

MS: Irrespective of what market you look at, the mobility space is undoubtedly one of the largest sectors to offer innovative ways to make day to day human life a stress-free experience.

Within the personal mobility space, two-wheelers prove to be the most viable option of commute; courtesy of low maintenance, easy manoeuvrability, and convenience of tackling various riding conditions. Considering the benefits, I just pointed out, the Indian two-wheeler industry has a strong and reassuring future.

Ever since Yamaha entered India, we have witnessed a major shift in trend wherein customers are now opting for more lifestyle-driven mobility as opposed to conventional use, seen earlier. The paradigm shift in approach towards two-wheelers has been mainly because of the new generation’s fascination towards not only owning technologically advanced, stylish, and sporty motorcycles but also exploring new arenas and gathering new experiences.

In line with this shift in interest level, Yamaha introduced the YZF-R15 and FZ-S Version 3.0, which was widely accepted by customers in the same way the all-new MT-15 is. Our new 125cc scooters have also acquired a special place in the hearts of Yamaha fanatics, as their latest safety features, technology, riding comfort and fuel efficiency is being widely appreciated.

Hence, we are aiming to achieve a 10% market share by 2025 and we will continue to introduce and strengthen our technologically sound range of premium products with a key focus on style, performance, uniqueness, and safety.

Currently, Yamaha India’s two-wheeler portfolio in India focuses mostly on commuter motorcycles. Do you feel that will change going forward? Will there be a greater focus on the premium segment in both motorcycles and scooters?

Rightly said, we hold a strong 19% share in the new age commuter segment, which consists of 149 cc – 155 cc motorcycles. There is a lot of potential in this segment in the future.

Now, 51.6% of the total entry-level two-wheeler market comprises models up to 125 cc segment. We are positive that most of the buyers from this segment will eventually upgrade to a more premium product in the 150 cc class as it offers more excitement, style and sportiness.

Yamaha’s target customers are young at heart. The priority of this segment is to find their own identity and riding personality along with exciting performance. This target group is more feature and tech conscious, and our efforts have always been to satisfy this age group with our innovation, latest technology, and advanced features.

Our priority remains to establish a strong brand presence in the Indian market through 125 cc scooters, 150 cc and 250 cc premium motorcycles. We will continue to expand our product portfolio in these segments in the future as well, to meet the requirements of the youth. We will also ensure that our customers are one step ahead in experiencing the latest technologies and advanced features.

TG: In terms of Research & Development, does Yamaha have greater plans for localisation and development in India in the near future?

MS: Compared to the ASEAN region, YAMAHA’s localization ratio in India is little low because of the smaller number of Japanese suppliers in India. For various parts or components, we still have to rely on the suppliers in Japan. Indian suppliers are dynamic but there are certain areas where there is a huge scope of improvement. They have the potential to adopt new ideas and technological changes as per the required specifications. At this moment, we are working towards strengthening our cooperation with the Indian based suppliers. Yamaha Motor Research and Development India (YMRI) aims to achieve the localization target of 100% in near future.

We also plan to reinforce our research capability as per the Indian market requirements, collaborate with software development outsourcing companies and expand development capability to electric parts such as cluster, lamps, IoT devices and EV-related components. Yamaha would like to raise the future image of mobility beyond just being a tool of transportation and developing technologies that create new values for the customers.

TG: What would you be your perspective on the EV segment, both in India and globally? Will we see a push from Yamaha in this direction soon?

MS: While the EV market is still evolving, there are quite a few start-ups that are fuelling this industry as they look forward to making a mark with their technology and products. Aiming high on their advantage of adaptability, and to make their own name as one of the pioneers to enter this space, these new start-ups are making an effort to leap over players that have been in the industry for decades now.

However, considering the sheer volumes generated by the world’s largest two-wheeler market, it can be said that these start-ups have just begun scratching the surface, while laying down a stronger foundation for electric mobility, in terms of vehicle manufacturing, charging, battery swap infrastructure, and Service. This is also resulting in the emergence of new business models by the government.

But customer acceptance on a large scale is vital for the success of EVs not just in India but globally as well. And that isn’t possible unless challenges related to investments in infrastructure, battery production, safe disposal of batteries, battery charging and swapping stations are not addressed by governments.

Speaking of Yamaha’s move towards EV, we already have a dedicated team at our Headquarters in Japan, working on an all-new electric vehicle platform for India and other global markets. Also, we have been manufacturing EV models in Taiwan for the last two years now, in association with Gogoro. So, the technology and the expertise required to develop and manufacture EV models is already in place.

Once a proper road map is provided for transition to EV, we will shortly introduce new technology into the Indian market.

TG: Could you take us through the strategy, concept and roadmap for ‘BLUE SQUARE’ stores in India? When do you think we will start seeing them in India?

MS: Yamaha Motor India is focusing on building the market for its future range of premium motorcycles and scooters, through the concept of ‘Blue Square’ stores, which is also a part of ‘The Call of the Blue’ brand direction. The theme and the design of ‘Blue Square’ showrooms are inspired by Yamaha’s impact in the world of motorsports with ‘Blue’ characterizing the brand’s racing DNA while ‘Square’ defining a common platform where can customers can get together to access information about their favourite products, explore the wide range of Yamaha accessories and apparels, and also exchange their thoughts on riding.

Yamaha’s core focus is to present a customer-centric brand experience through its ‘Blue Square’ concept. The showrooms have been designed to offer a sense of community, providing customers with a platform to connect with Yamaha’s ethos. ‘Blue Square’ stores also feature a café, allowing customers and staff to casually interact, talk motorcycles and plan rides. ‘

Apart from showcasing an exciting and premium range of two-wheeler line-up, ‘Blue Square’ showrooms also have a wide range of Genuine Yamaha accessories and apparels for Yamaha fanatics, as they too are Yamaha’s prime focus at ‘Blue Square’.

‘Blue Square’ outlets are also equipped with digital tools that empower the Dealer to maintain a digital record of all customers, which further boosts one-to-one marketing, ensuring timely communication and speedy responses. Customers can also download product brochures by scanning QR codes of vehicles that interest them the most, allowing them to gain easy access to product information while also maintaining a hands-free approach for their safety.

Currently, we have set up 25 outlets across the country covering Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha, Assam, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and the other North-Eastern States. By the end of 2021, we aim to have 100 ‘Blue Square’ outlets PAN India, with a target of setting up 300 such premium outlets in the next 2-3 years.

TG: What products can we expect from Yamaha India going forward? Do you think there will be a greater concentration on the premium segment, or will there be a greater push to bring out new budget-friendly products like before?

MS: We hold a strong presence in the premium 125 cc scooter, and the 150 cc, 250 cc motorcycling space, and one of our strengths is a strategically planned product portfolio that consists of two-wheelers for every rider, be it novice or experienced.

The young generation wherein customers try to identify their riding personalities and like to experience power and technology, is Yamaha’s target audience and we have always strived to ensure that we fulfil their urge with industry-leading innovation, safety and technology. We will continue to introduce the latest technology and features in our existing models, while also launching new models that fit the customer’s riding preferences.

Ever since ‘The Call of the Blue’ campaign was introduced, we have set a benchmark in offering products that are exciting, stylish and sporty. As we move forward, the company will continue to stand by its commitment towards offering an exciting range of two-wheelers as a part of this campaign and introduce the global excitement of racing and motorcycling culture in India.

TG: Given your vast experience in Yamaha, what are some of the principles you would like to see implemented in India? How would you describe the Indian market and how is it different from the markets you’ve handled before?

MS: I would like to see every customer in India relate to the brand’s core competencies and its racing DNA. We launched “The Call of the Blue” brand campaign in 2018 to deliver the uniqueness of the brand to Indian customers. The campaign aimed at positioning the brand with its global appeal of racing along with various on ground activities as well as digital initiatives. Being a #CustomerFirst brand, it is our duty to create delightful experiences for customers that can enrich their lives in the long run. Today, I can proudly say that the campaign has succeeded in conveying the brand’s commitment to offer world class mobility options backed by exciting performance and style factors among the Indian customers. Going forward, I would like to expand the campaign in the other potential and untouched markets with a strong customer base.

India is a diverse market due to different demographics and different buying preferences. However, despite this, it is one of the largest two-wheeler markets and with a lot of potential. India is a young country where majority of youth is digitally connected, well informed and understands technology and are always looking to upgrade themselves with products which are superior in terms of power, style, and features. At Yamaha, our strategy is to target these customers for whom motorcycling is a lifestyle.