‘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
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.