Johnny Oommen, Head of International Business, Passenger Vehicles at Tata Motors was recently in Nepal to launch the new Tata Tigor. In conversation with Waro Basnet from THT Auto Plus, Oommen details Tata’s future plans and his hopes for Nepal’s automobile market
You’ve worked for many automobile brands, what makes Tata different?
I think Tata is unique because it is the only passenger vehicle manufacturer from India that’s trying to make a mark across the world. It is a challenger in many markets, but from what I have seen over the past few years and with the launch of our new product range there is now widespread acceptance for an emerging brand such as Tata.
How do consumers perceive Tata Motors globally and in Nepal?
People view Tata as an entry level car manufacturer. We on our part are slowly expanding this definition to include the entire passenger vehicle range. We are trying to bring vehicles in every possible segment so that we address a much wider market and so people view our brand as one they can trust. People view us with a great deal of optimism and say Tata is a young brand trying hard to innovate within the car industry.
What is Tata’s position in the Nepali market? What is its current market share?
As we all know there are fluctuations in Nepal’s market with respect to positions. I think we are somewhere between the top three and four at present. Our ambition is be in the top three in the near future and then go even higher. Our market share last year was about 12 per cent. But this year, we have seen our market share vary quite substantially. Last month it reached 17 per cent and so far this year it has been 15 per cent.
What are Tata’s plans for Nepal?
We have very exciting plans. During the last two years we have launched four models here which is a very aggressive approach by any standard. I can confidently say that in the next one year, we should see at least two more products in the market.
All car manufacturers only have dealerships in the country; do you think it’s likely the country can become a manufacturing hub for automobiles?
The up front answer is of course yes! But for a country to be a manufacturing hub requires its market to reach a certain size. Today Nepal is still a very small market, so a manufacturing economy is required in order to set up the plan and get substantial volumes. And it’s not something that Nepal offers currently to most manufacturers, which is why there are no manufacturers here.
Will Tata join the trend of investing in autonomous technology (driverless cars)?
In the West we have already seen great strides in the field. But we need a lot of development for this kind of research in developing countries. Autonomous vehicles are dependent on a company’s infrastructure. So I think it will take some time in a developing market.
Tata is often associated with commercial vehicles, how do you plan to change this image?
Tata is associated with commercial vehicles because we started our journey with them. We now have a full range of passenger vehicles so we can say with confidence that over the next few years, with more products being introduced, people will come to see Tata as a complete vehicle solutions provider.
What are the new launches being planned by Tata?
We have new launches planned in two more segments. We are looking forward to launching both segments next year.
Which consumer market segment are you targeting with Tigor ‘Styleback’?
Tata Tigor is aimed at the ‘young at heart’, which means it is for people who want to have a very unique impact on their friends and for a family that wants to drive something that is distinctive yet loaded with features.
Do you face a lot of competition in the Nepali market?
We see that Nepal’s market has been going through many ups and downs. Lots of players have come into the country in the last two or three years. So the market is expanding. As for competition I would say that there is space for everyone to participate but the winning brands will really be those who are able to identify micro-segments and really say that here is where we can make a difference by offering something nobody else has.
What is the biggest challenge for Tata Motors at present?
The biggest challenge for us is the unfortunate tax structure. It is something we would like to call an unnecessary burden on customers. Another challenge was the crisis in liquidity that we all faced more recently.
Will you be releasing any hybrid or electric cars in the future?
In Nepal, we don’t see the emergence of those cars yet. But we are working on these technologies across our R&D centres.
A version of this article appears in print on August 15, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.
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