‘We look at build­ing a gen­uine re­la­tion­ship for a life­time’

Af­ter the drive in the new Lexus ES 300h, we had the op­por­tu­nity to sit down with P B Venu­gopal, Pres­i­dent of Lexus In­dia, to speak about the brand, their cars, and their plans

Car India - - INTERVIEW - In­ter­viewed by: Jim Gorde

The Lexus name is not new to In­dia. It was very well known in the lux­ury sphere. Would you say that the re­sponse has been more en­cour­ag­ing since the brand’s of­fi­cial ar­rival? At Lexus, we are build­ing our brand and, as you said, the aware­ness was quite good be­fore we even came here. The rea­son was that down south there is a lot of Mid­dle East­ern in­flu­ence and also a lot of peo­ple who go to the US and Canada, so there is a good aware­ness of the Lexus brand. At the same time, our vi­sion for In­dia is to es­tab­lish it as a lux­ury life­style brand and also as “re­spon­si­ble lux­ury”. From that per­spec­tive, our me­dia friends are help­ing us to talk to our cus­tomers and telling them our plans. That is one part. The other thing is that we have only been here for the last 18 months and within that time, we have got six prod­ucts. That’s quite good and cus­tomers are ap­pre­ci­at­ing that. From the brand per­spec­tive, we are im­prov­ing and pre­sent­ing our­selves as the hy­brid-elec­tric brand, with most of our port­fo­lio con­sist­ing of those driv­e­lines.

“Re­spon­si­ble lux­ury ” is one side of Lexus. You also have a cred­i­ble model line ded­i­cated to sporty per­for­mance. Will that play a role in the fu­ture? In the 18 months we’ve been here, we’ve been study­ing the mar­ket. We have four hy­brid ve­hi­cles [NX 300h, ES 300h, RX 450h, and LS 500h], one is a petrol [LX 570], and one is a diesel [LX 450d]. From the cus­tomers who pre­fer Lexus, 60 per cent of them said that hy­brid was one of the rea­sons for choos­ing us. One more as­pect is the cur­rent prod­uct range has al­ways met the as­pi­ra­tions of the cus­tomers. From the sport point of view, we are still study­ing [RC and LC], but with the RX and the NX, we have the F-Sport ver­sions also. The com­mu­ni­ca­tion of an idea is one thing, but the fea­tures on pa­per are an­other thing and the ex­pe­ri­ence is yet an­other. How do you con­vince them to get into the car, so they can find out ex­actly what your brand is all about? That’s a nice ques­tion. It would be very dif­fi­cult oth­er­wise to ex­press our prod­uct strength. We are work­ing on guest ex­pe­ri­ence. We call it “Omote­nashi”. What it means is hos­pi­tal­ity that is an­tic­i­pated. How we take care of the cus­tomer in an­tic­i­pa­tion. A sim­ple ex­am­ple would be if the cus­tomer is left-handed, we place the tea or cof­fee cup ac­cord­ingly, so it’s con­ve­nient to them. It is built on an­tic­i­pat­ing the need of the cus­tomer. Sim­i­larly, not only at the time of pur­chase, but also dur­ing the en­tire life-cy­cle, we look at build­ing a gen­uine re­la­tion­ship for a life­time. From that per­spec­tive, we have our Lexus re­la­tion­ship man­agers who work hard to un­der­stand the needs of the cus­tomer. Once that is done, we get them to our prod­uct and ser­vices. You have quite a few deal­er­ships or Guest Ex­pe­ri­ence Cen­tres. How soon are you look­ing to ex­pand to more cities be­yond met­ros? Many peo­ple else­where may want a Lexus but if the dis­tance is far too much, it could be a con­cern. Cur­rently, from our net­work ex­pan­sion point of view, we have four Guest Ex­pe­ri­ence Cen­tres [GEC], one each in Delhi, Gur­gaon [Gu­ru­gram], Ben­galuru, and Mum­bai. Apart from those, we also have au­tho­rized ser­vice cen­tres in four lo­ca­tions: Chandi­garh, Hy­der­abad, Chen­nai, and Kochi. We also have a full-fledged team in each of these lo­ca­tions, in­clud­ing b oth Lexus Re­la­tion­ship Man­agers [LRM] and Lexus Care Man­agers. This ac­tu­ally cov­ers 80 per cent of the lux­ury car mar­ket. But your ques­tion is very per­ti­nent. What if a cus­tomer is in Kolkata? We are study­ing this, be­cause we be­lieve in dealer vi­a­bil­ity and prof­itabil­ity, and cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion and de­light. We have to study and ac­cord­ingly see to the ex­pan­sion plan. Cur­rently, how we take care of our cus­tomers is that we have a tie-up with Toy­ota deal­ers. Lexus Care Man­agers travel from the GEC in Delhi or Gur­gaon and uti­lize the space of the dealer in Kolkata. This is how we do it, at the doorstep of the cus­tomer. Just to men­tion some ver­ba­tim feed­back from the cus­tomers is that they ‘have been ex­tremely happy with the way they have been sup­ported so far’. And be­cause we have a con­cept called a “sin­gle point of con­tact”, the LRM who de­liv­ers a car to a guest is the sin­gle point of con­tact for ser­vice also. We co­or­di­nate in­ter­nally be­tween the LRM and the Care Man­agers. There are trained tech­ni­cians and ded­i­cated bays at the fa­cil­ity, with a com­plete set of tools and equip­ment. I know you don’t give out num­bers, but what sort of num­bers have you seen of late and are they en­cour­ag­ing enough? What sort of num­bers would you need to con­sider lo­cal assem­bly? Not nec­es­sar­ily on your own, but with your par­ent com­pany, per­haps, in the fu­ture? The cur­rent re­sponse we have got from our guests has been ex­tremely en­cour­ag­ing. If we see the last 18 months, it’s well within our plan and at some places even be­yond our ex­pec­ta­tions, and that gives us a lot of en­cour­age­ment. We, along with our Asia-Pa­cific di­vi­sion, are al­ways study­ing lo­cal pro­duc­tion fea­si­bil­ity. One thing I can tell you is that the re­sponse we have got is much bet­ter than we ex­pected. Is there a best­seller in the range or is it one prod­uct do­ing strong in the north and an­other do­ing well in the south? If we have to broadly clas­sify our prod­uct range, the en­try level is the ES and the NX and then we have the core, the RX, and then we have our halo prod­ucts, the LS and the LX. They are the flag­ship for the sedan and the SUV. From the num­bers per­spec­tive, the ES and NX are do­ing ex­tremely well and that’s across the coun­try. We see a very good re­sponse. There is a good mix and re­sponse for the lux­ury sedan and SUVs. You also take care of past prod­ucts, we’re guess­ing. Many have had LX 470s and even 570s for years now. Are they be­ing cov­ered as well? Yes, they are. When it comes to ser­vice, all the cars are im­ported. So what is the sit­u­a­tion for parts in case of a ma­jor in­ci­dent? We have a full-fledged mech­a­nism. There are parts that are stocked, but there are also cases taken care of on a pri­or­ity ba­sis. The lead time we keep is seven days. We have never crossed seven days; it’s ac­tu­ally within four to five days. What is your pref­er­ence? Do you like a cer­tain car from the range? As a car per­son, what is your all-time favourite? My re­la­tion­ship with Lexus dates back to 2005, when I was in the Mid­dle East, of course, in a dif­fer­ent di­vi­sion. We used to have en­gage­ments in Lexus at that point of time. Per­son­ally, I used to al­ways re­spect the re­fine­ment, the kind lux­ury and cus­tomer per­spec­tive in how the ve­hi­cle is fully built and the kind of ser­vice sup­port. Com­ing back to In­dia, I’m proud to be as­so­ci­ated with Lexus and it’s very dif­fi­cult to pick a spe­cific prod­uct as a per­sonal pref­er­ence. All are lovely and I can­not dif­fer­en­ti­ate. We have a lot of big brands do­ing cus­tomer en­gage­ment. Are you con­sid­er­ing do­ing en­gage­ment events where po­ten­tial cus­tomers and their friends can ex­pe­ri­ence the cars? We are very happy to share that we are al­ways en­gag­ing with our cus­tomers. Be­fore our brand was even launched, we had the first few Lexus en­thu­si­asts whom we took to Ja­pan where we had an en­gage­ment at a race­track. We’ve also had en­gage­ments in In­dia for our guests as well as me­dia part­ners. We have al­ways been en­gag­ing and show­cas­ing our prod­ucts. Apart from these, we strongly be­lieve Lexus needs to craft events which are be­fit­ting to the HNIs [High Net-worth In­di­vid­u­als]. Our view is that we need to an­tic­i­pate what guest ex­pec­ta­tions are and plan ac­cord­ingly. It’s not a one-time plan. It’s right from the time of pur­chase and it’s for a life­time. There are many sto­ries to talk about when it comes to how our Lexus Re­la­tion­ship Man­agers en­gage with cus­tomers and fam­ily get-to­geth­ers. Our Guest Ex­pe­ri­ence Cen­tres also pro­vide the space for our guests. Some have had their busi­ness meets as well. That is the kind of re­la­tion­ship that we build.

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