Fiat Chrysler Automobiles India (FCA) is presently in the middle of a transition period, wherein it is trying to bolster its product line-up in the country. It is imperative for the company to make things work since it is one of the few companies that continue to struggle in making the Indian market a key contributor to global numbers. On the sidelines of the Avventura launch, we caught up with Nagesh Basavanhalli, President and Managing Director, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles India, who spoke of the company's strategic actions, its separate brand identity and global development capabilities.
NEW AND FUTURE PRODUCTS
The company has launched three new models in India this year – the New Linea, Punto Evo and the Avventura, which has been launched exclusively in India, with India-specific design features. The next car that the company plans to launch this year is the Abarth 500.
On a larger scale, as part of its five-year plan, FCA is looking at introduction of the Group company's other brands and products by 2018, Basavanhalli noted. The Jeep brand, for instance, is expected to be launched in 2015, having been put off a number of times. Basavanhalli attributed the delay to the fluctuations in foreign exchange, as well as unfavourable market automotive conditions.
Responding to a question on the company's focus on downsized engines, and the available opportunity in automated manual transmissions (AMT), Basavanhalli said although FCA has technical capabilities in these areas, it is currently not on its radar. He added that these developments can be made in a short period of time, with the competency available in the company's technical centres. Fiat's component arm Magneti Marelli already supplies AMT to Maruti Suzuki and Tata Motors.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
The company has two technical centres in Chennai and Pune, which together form the largest R&D division for Fiat globally. Combined, these technical centres employ over 1,000 engineers, who are not limited in developing domestic products alone, but also work with technical teams in Europe and Detroit on global platforms. Since the technical centres work on future projects for global markets, the technology and competency of these employees can easily be tweaked and used for India, Basavanhalli noted. In addition, the local engineers have been playing a large role in the development of new products that have been launched in India, because of their in-depth understanding of the local needs.
The technical centres carry out all types of development work for global platforms, including systems and components engineering, which works on the development of seat programmes, instrument panels and vehicle body. The engineers also undertake computer-aided engineering (CAE) simulation work on the group's products, relating to crash, durability and noise vibration harshness (NVH) level analysis, among other standards. Another important development work carried out by the technical centres is with regard to electrical validation techniques, which includes hardware-in-the-loop and software-in-the-loop simulation, Basavanhalli said.
Following the fallout of Fiat and Tata Motors' alliance in the Indian market two years back, the Italian company has adopted a three-pillar strategy – expansion of dealership network, brand building and introduction of new products. The goal of the company was to set up 150 dealerships across the country, which currently stands at 125 and continues to expand.
Towards building its brand, the company has reached out to its customers with its renewed identity, across various media. The final pillar in its strategy is with regards to the launch of four new products this year, of which three have been launched and the fourth one is also expected within the year.
Yet another factor that has not gelled well with Fiat's customers is with regards to availability of spare parts and their costing. To correct this, the company replicated the global service standards followed by the Fiat Group, along with related processes, tools and infrastructure, Basavanhalli said. The processes involved the system of work that is to be followed, while the tools included training of technicians at the Pune facility.
In terms of inventories, the company has directed dealers to stock the top 200 spare parts at all time for quick access of spares. The company also has a warehouse in Chakan, near Pune that stores spares in an area of over 60,000 sq ft, ensuring the availability of parts in a short amount of time.
DIESEL FUEL PRICE DEREGULATION
Fiat Chrysler India sells a large number of diesel engines to major automakers in the country under licence, who use it in their hatchbacks and sedans. Basavanhalli said deregulation of the price of diesel would not have any adverse effect on the company, even if sale of cars using these engines falls. The main reason, he said, is that Fiat Chrysler has a flexible manufacturing model that can change between diesel and petrol engines quickly and easily.
Text: Naveen Arul