There is only one boss, The Customer

Mr. Keshab Chandra Sen, CEO & President at MLR Auto, an up and coming 3 wheeler and compact CV manufacturer, shares his insights on a topic, very close to his heart: Commercial Vehicle Customers.

Mr. Keshab Chandra Sen:

1. The old days of wham, bam, sold that van are over. Today’s Commercial Vehicle Customers are more sophisticated, demanding uniquely tailored solutions. Since you have been part of the industry for more than 3 decades, can you share some insights as to how the customer has evolved?

Mr. Keshab Chandra Sen: India has evolved in last 3 decades and Customer has evolved with time and country’s progress. With GDP and per capita earning or spending capacity the customers’ needs change as well. To further elaborate, the most popular car today – Maruti Swift, couldn’t have sold even few hundred units in 1960s. In the recent years, the customer has moved from “kitna deti hai ?’ mileage obsession to features and assumes performance and reliability as hygiene now.

Similarly, in commercial vehicles, besides Earning per Kilometer – the customer is shifting his needs to much more advanced features. For example, the wooden cabin used in trucks is facing extinction. The fully built trucks with many features for performance, reliability, safety etc. are becoming more popular. With reliability improving, the service and parts industry and business is also rapidly evolving. The warranty terms and period are more customer friendly and they are long enough to see the EMI payment cycle through. Service is no more break down attending, it’s like support to a healthy man, where annual health check-up acts like preventive and predictive maintenance are carried out. Advent of Electronics and almost mandatory use of microprocessors has made the vehicle more reliable.

2. In the past, commercial vehicle manufacturers were mainly focussing on providing to the end customer, a product, which is good in terms of operating cost, so as to ensure profitability. However, owing to policy intervention and changing market dynamics that is evolving. How will this change the game play for the CV manufacturers?

Mr. Keshab Chandra Sen: The focus will continue to be earning for the customer without doubt. The manufacturers have come under severe pressure as of now due to policy interventions. This is not because of their intrinsic capabilities, but the cost of implementation and its return of investment. To further elaborate, BSIV implementation costed the Industry a lot. The Manufacturers are caught between regulation and Customer. The acquisition cost and running cost change with change in environmental/regulatory norms. The profitability of manufacturers will remain a concern and it will be compounded with lesser gap between BSIV and BS VI. Another point is that Automobile sector is seen as villain by many for Pollution and Safety, which is not the case. The user, driver, owner and Government all have to be in sync to achieve the ultimate goal of safety, environment etc.

3. Owing to the impact of digital, new business models are emerging and the end user is evolving. How is that going to impact OEM business plans? What sort of changes in positioning and go to market strategy would be required by CV Manufacturers?

Mr. Keshab Chandra Sen: I see this as huge opportunity. Finally the days of smart vehicles and intelligent system has arrived. OBD and many more features are going to change the shape of the product, customer need and industry rapidly. If I take an extreme case, which is impractical but just to drive the point, let’s see the Mobile, Tablet, Laptop and Camera industry – they are hit by VUCA in true sense. So, can the Automobile Industry be spared in few years. The rapid changes will be order of the day. Electric Vehicles are round the corner, they have to be under some kind of Vehicle Management system not battery management system alone. So far we have managed engine or drive line, but I strongly feel the smart vehicle is not very far. Therefore the CV manufacturers have to be collaborative with the electronics Industry. Medical industry was first to realise and capitalise on it. The diagnostics and actions after that will also become part of CV just like medical sector is extensively working on it

4. Do you feel that the recent spurt in CV sales, is here to stay?

Mr. Keshab Chandra Sen: Yes, I strongly feel it’s going to stay. It may not be a Hockey Stick phenomenon but it’s going to grow. The two basic reasons are:
a. The GDP will continue to rise more stably due to many structural corrections and CV specially Heave Commercial Vehicle growth curve closely matches with that of GDP growth.

b. The cyclical nature of the CV Industry can become bit more smoother due to Exports, which is now a key focus strategy for most of the Automotive manufacturers as India has come a long way in quality and low cost production.

5. Lastly, it would be great if you could let us know what excites you to be a part of upcoming Commercial Vehicle Forum 2018 (taking place on 26 April 2018 at The Westin – Pune)?

Mr. Keshab Chandra Sen: The CV Forum never stops surprising me. The delta change between Version 2016 to Version 2018 is huge and positive. Not just the Start studded Speakers form top Companies, the content and the format is beyond attending a conference or lecture series. It’s not networking alone, its offers true opportunity to learn with examples and face to face meetings.