From Army to Adventure Freaks: How This Global Automobile Company is Fueling its India Expansion
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Whether it is a biking-hiking trip in the Himalayas or an organized adventure within city limits, All Terrain Vehicles are every speed-ride enthusiast’s favourite. But when it comes to the manufacturing or purchasing of these vehicles in India, there are very few players that manage to stand out. Given the rules and regulations that cloud this space, denying these vehicles to be used on Indian roads, the industry sees a very niche audience.
But making inroads into the Indian market is Polaris India Pvt Ltd. The American automobile manufacturing company’s Indian counterpart has managed to make its mark in the country.
They have also roped in Pankaj Dubey, the man who is credited to have turned around the business for Yamaha and also launched Intex mobile phones, as their Managing Director and Country Head. Entrepreneur India caught up with Dubey as he spoke about creating an industry in India and the challenges of the same.
Catering to a Niche Audience
One of the biggest challenges that Dubey faced was that people didn’t know much about the products Polaris had to offer. And while they claim to have the industry-first advantage, it also meant that they had to work through the rules and regulations as there was no precedence. Their core target audience is in the age group of 30-55.
The vehicles are not allowed in the streets of India, even though they are allowed in countries like the US. “In India, people are used to driving anything on the roads and when they see our product, which has four wheels, they want to know why they can’t drive it on the roads. So again, we have to create awareness about its usage,” said Dubey.
Considering that they don’t cater to the masses, their marketing strategy too doesn’t work like other automobile manufacturers. Mass media does not top their list of advertising spends. Instead, they indulge in events. “We take part in a lot of government and defence expos. We have also created Polaris Experience Zones for people to come and have a fun time. We conduct a lot of rides and racing events as well,” said Dubey. Recently, the team had also organized a Kanyakumari to Kashmir ride to spread awareness about girl child education.
And while talks about e-vehicles are already doing the rounds, at Polaris they already have electric vehicles but Dubey said they wanted to wait and see how the market reacts to the same, before they get more such vehicles from their global branches.
Indian Army – One of their Biggest Clients
Over his career span at Polaris, Dubey said the biggest change has been that Indian armed forces — Army, Paramilitary and several other police forces — now have better off road capabilities. “Whether it is snow or desert or some hilly terrain, they now have solutions with which they can move at a fast pace,” he said.
Another change he has been able to bring about is the increased tourism activities with Polaris Experience Zones. They have also introduced Indian motorcycles – a luxury, high-end product.
They have also done a lot of social work during the flash floods in Kedarnath, when they supported the Uttarakhand government by supplying vehicles free of cost. “We had also sent vehicles to Nepal, their Army Chief had even sent a letter of appreciation. We take pride in being the lifeline of the Indian Army,” he said.
Effect of Demonetization and GST
Both the revolutionary changes have hit the automobile sector. Dubey, too, went on to say that both the reforms had some effects on them for a short term, but they would prove to be beneficial in the long run.
“The demonetization impact is almost over and didn’t have a huge impact on us anyway. In our business, there were few who would come with hard cash,” said Dubey.
Before the implementation of GST, there was differential pricing but post its introduction, it gave a sense of security with a uniform tax regime in place throughout the country. But it also brought with it one pain point. “Destocking became a huge issue. The execution of GST was not done well. Dealers wanted to exhaust all their stocks before GST rolls out. So, every company started giving out huge discounts. Now, customers are still expecting the discounts and companies don’t have that resource,” said Dubey.
Partnering with Entrepreneurs
For all of their Polaris Experience Zones, they have partnered with entrepreneurs to build the business and take care of it. On the manufacturing aspect, while they haven’t tied up with any entrepreneur, Dubey said their eyes and ears are always open.
For Dubey, who has been in the automobile industry for long and moved away only for a short while to launch Intex mobile phones, it’s the opportunity to create this niche industry that’s exciting. He almost feels like it’s a start-up experience, building an industry from scratch. “You have to make sure that not just the company but the industry is successful,” he said.