I have always admired the fact that Jeep India is the only major player in the premium automobile market with a strong ability to pull buyers into showrooms with just one really good mass-market product. At the press drive of the Jeep Compass Trialhawk I decided to pull Kevin Flynn, President/MD, FCA India aside and ask him a few questions about Jeep in India, it’s products and what the future holds for the brand.
MO: With the Compass Trailhawk now here what kind of activities are being planned for customers?
KF: We have been quite active with a thing called Jeep Trails. And that has allowed the owners of Compass, Wrangler and in fact, the whole customer range where we have gone up to expeditions to places to Ladakh for a 10-day journey and took them through many different terrains of fun driving. Obviously, with the Trailhawk we have taken things to another level and capability of our 2WD vehicle is good but the Trailhawk gives us the opportunity to make our customers experience some focused programs and really get them to perhaps experience some excellent off-roading and also make them believe that not only do they have a fantastic car that can manage urban responsibilities but also turn off the beaten track you have supreme capability.
MO: My second question is about Mopar. Mopar in India, is it going to expand and have more roles? Abroad Mopar is known as a performance and accessories division. Will they take on such a role here too?
KF: Our idea in bringing Mopar and their work philosophy to India was not only good service but also give the Jeep owner confidence too. We were aware of the brands recall in the country and also how the word ‘JEEP’ describes a segment. So the essence of service and the after sales package, so we took a lot of lessons from the North American business model. This whole operation goes further and also combines with our process for handling parts. We have just moved into a brand new warehouse, we just increased the stock-holding for right across the brands we represent in India and yes we will go from strength to strength in this field.
Also, the accessories side of the business is also something we are very interested in. And we are developing stuff in the Compass arena especially here that is important to us. We will get Mopar approvals for them and Mopar quality checks done.
MO: Mopar approval for accessories developed here in India?
KF: Oh yes, we can actually develop and localize the components and get them through a certification program that is handled by Mopar.
MO: Coming away from accessories, now Jeep has a good line-up with the Compass range. So do you think there will be more variants of the Compass? Or do we stop here with Trailhawk?
KF: I think we have covered the bases well. We now have a very solid portfolio for Compass. But we do have a few ideas still there. So yeah you will see a lot more from Compass in the form of Limited Editions – for instance, we have recently brought the Black Pack which has come and gone. We did the Bed Rock edition and that was very successful. Those limited edition products keep the interest and freshness up in the showrooms.
MO: What’s the onward plan for dealerships? Are you planning to expand further into tier 2 cites for more penetration into the rural sector?
KF: So we are at about 82 outlets now. We also have this thing, Jeep Connect. Jeep Connect is where we have a dealership in one part of a major city but we need a representation on the other side of the city or indeed they have a territory which is far away – in those instances the Jeep Connect facility comes on. We have got a few more showrooms coming soon but we are probably at the right size now. We will expand as our range expands.
MO: Do you believe in the philosophy of one dealership for one zone or city?
KF: Depends, how we have looked at that particular location and what that city needs, how that market sits and how we can have that covered. We don’t have a fixed approach and have multiple dealers in some cities and in other cites two dealers with separate sites.
MO: Apart from these questions, the one question many will be asking you, what will be the next product for Jeep? The Renegade? Any timeline on this product? Or is Compass and its success the focus?
KF: We have Compass and it’s at the core of what we are. Also, Compass was important for measuring our manufacturing capabilities in India and our capability to export too. Unlike the majority of car companies in India, we build a global car and we sell that car here and also export it to right-hand car markets around the world in places like Japan, South Africa, UK and Australia. That means we have a high level of localization. About 75% localization and we are exporting proper Make in India products to developed markets. Such a project is not done, achieved or sustained overnight. In doing so, we can then broaden our portfolio. There was an announcement made by the senior members of the board in Detroit where they said that we are going to be exploring a product in the B SUV segment below Compass and in the three-row segment, above Compass. So those projects are progressing well and we will make sure we make announcements about that soon.
MO: Fair answer. Two questions now that are not product related. Where do you see growth going after the elections? Are you looking at a good year ahead? Especially with even the markets volume churners like Maruti posting losses in the quarterly results.
KF: In certainly hoping that the second half of the year will be more fruitful than the first half. And I’m optimistic. Clearly, if we can be honest the automotive market has been in recession this year and that cannot be healthy. So we monitor the unique C-SUV segment that we have created and the completion we have. It was interesting to see how that segment has dropped by 10% in May. While the drop is insignificant and I’m happy with our performance, the expectation and planning is based on the segment growing and not declining. So I’m hopeful that the election is out of the way and we have some clarity on policy moving forward.
MO: Which are the next few cars that you are looking forward to coming to India? Not Jeeps. Are you following any of the new brands? MG, KIA and others? Any brands you are looking at?
KF: I’m not. I’m looking at Jeep.