“The pandemic has changed consumer buying behavior”

With automobile industry in India impacted by COVID 19 pandemic, how has ŠKODA managed to overcome the situation?

No one had ever imagined or was prepared for the pandemic (COVID 19) that we are witnessing currently, it has unsettled and impacted everyone. Especially for the automobile industry which was struggling for over two years now, this has been a difficult period.

Having said that, ŠKODA AUTO India and ŠAVWIPL stood by its commitment towards the Indian market and did not slow down its investment plans. We took this opportunity to be innovative and offer simply clever solutions, prepared for digital launches during the lockdown period and invested in digital sales platform to launch the buyŠKODAonline.com portal.

Online bookings have helped us reach our prospective customers of the all new KAROQ, RAPID 1.0 TSI and SUPERB during the COVID-19 pandemic. We supported our dealer partners with financial initiatives to ensure sustenance, extend free service as well as normal and extended warranty periods for customers. For our employees, sales consultants and service advisors, we conducted several upskill training sessions virtually to keep the workforce motivated towards achieving business goals. During the COVID 19 pandemic we ensured all the safety norms were complied with when the business resumed its operations.

ŠKODA AUTO has completed 125 years and is one of the world’s oldest leading automobile brands. What are your future plans for Indian market?

ŠKODA AUTO, is one of the oldest car manufacturers in the world. Its history stretches back to 1895 when Václav Laurin and Václav Klement set up a company that gave rise to a tradition of manufacturing Czech cars which has continued for over a hundred years. ŠKODA stands as a – Simply Clever Company for the best mobility solutions. Over the years many ŠKODA models have set benchmarks in their respective segments in terms of technology and performance.

In India, we recently launched three cars together through a first of its kind virtual press conference – RAPID 1.0 TSI, SUPERB and all new KAROQ SUV – in the month of May 2020, followed by RAPID AT in September 2020. We are not going to stop here. 2021 will be an exciting year for the brand as well as the customers, as we have plans to launch the KODIAQ TSI, new-generation OCTAVIA, much-awaited A0 SUV based on the VISION IN Concept and a brand new made in India sedan in 2021.

Has the Pandemic (COVID 19) affected your India 2.0 Project? What is the status of development of the new models that will be based on the MQB A0 IN platform? When do we see them on Indian roads?

The India 2.0 plans are on track. We are currently ramping up our production facilities for the upcoming products under the India 2.0 project. The A0 SUV based on the VISION IN Concept and built on the MQB-A0-IN platform will be launched in 2021 as planned. Furthermore, we also plan to launch a mid-sized sedan, developed on the same platform in the later part of 2021.

What has been the consumer response to the newly introduced three cars and a complete petrol line up?

Consumer response for the launch of the RAPID 1.0 TSI, SUPERB, and all-new KAROQ, has been fantastic. These cars were launched through first-of-a-kind virtual conference in May 2020, which witnessed an overwhelming viewership. All the three cars feature best-in-class TSI engines designed to deliver an exhilarating performance, while maintaining a healthy fuel economy. RAPID 1.0 TSI received the best response among the recently launched cars and it underwent a waiting period soon after the launch. Additionally, it has also managed to grab 11% share in the segment in which it operates.

To give a perspective, we sold more RAPIDs in September and July 2020, as against the same time in 2019. The SUPERB on the other hand has received great reviews from prospective customers where they have rated its value for luxury proposition highly. The all-new KAROQ takes forward our SUV strategy in India. I am very happy with the way consumers have accepted the new KAROQ as a well-packaged SUV, which has best-in-class safety, luxury, and connectivity features.

How has been the recovery from zero sales in April, 2020 post the COVID-19 pandemic?

The journey from zero sales in April to 7% growth in retail sales Y-o-Y in September 2020, has been quite challenging for ŠKODA AUTO INDIA. We have got great response for our newly launched RAPID 1.0 TSI, SUPERB and the all new KAROQ that helped us retail 1328 units in the month of September 2020, resulting into a 7% Y-o-Y growth. Apart from that, we also registered a monthly growth of 28% in September 2020 over August 2020. We hope that the growth graph continues its momentum during the upcoming festive season and gives us all a reason to celebrate.

ŠKODA AUTO India recently ventured into the used car business. What do you aim to achieve through this foray?

ŠKODA AUTO India’s Certified Pre-Owned Program is part of our growth strategy in India as we are extending our business model to match our aspirations. The pandemic scenario has not only disrupted the auto sector but has also changed the buying behavior of the consumers. With personal mobility gaining significance in the current scenario than ever before, we see great potential in the pre-owned car segment. In the long term as well, this segment will see a huge growth as Indian customers are looking to frequently upgrade their vehicles. Through this program, we will be offering our customers with the best quality multi brand pre-owned cars as well as the choicest products from ŠKODA AUTO’s stellar portfolio.

Please tell us about your dealership expansion plans in India? Your plans to expand the reach in Indian market?

Strengthening our dealership network in India and reaching to the last mile consumer are very crucial elements under the ‘INDIA 2.0’ Project. Our plans to do so remains undeterred despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. We are targeting to reach 100 customer touch points by end of year. We plan to introduce 130 plus facilities across 120 cities by the middle of 2021. Over the next three years, we will double our network penetration and expand to 50 new cities.

Born in Northamptonshire, England in 1970 to Marion and Geoff Hollis, Zac Hollis spent his formative years on the family poultry farm. This led him to have a strong association with nature and farming. A fortuitous interview with Volkswagen in 1990 kick-started his passion for the motor industry.
At 48, Zac has now spent 28 years in the Volkswagen Group worldwide while contributing almost 20 of those to the Czech Brand, ŠKODA AUTO.
Zac took his first brand management role as Managing Director of the ŠKODA brand in Ireland in 2010. By 2013, he had led the brand to a record market share and profit and bagged 3 Importer of the Year awards from ŠKODA AUTO.
This success was quickly noticed, and in no time, Zac was appointed Sales Director for the ŠKODA brand in China. Following the addition of new models, and under the expertise of Zac, ŠKODA’s business in China increased from 180,000 to 320,000 in three years.
This success soon brought him to India in November 2018, where he was assigned the challenge of preparing the ŠKODA brand for the ‘INDIA 2.0’ project. With two new products to be launched in the first phase of the ‘INDIA 2.0’ project and more to follow, Zac has been entrusted to steer one of the most important markets for ŠKODA worldwide.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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