Till Conrad is head of region overseas, Mercedes-Benz Cars. Fortune India caught up with him at the launch of the new C-class in Delhi to talk about the German automaker’s India operations, its hopes of crossing the 10,000 sales mark, and why it will never buy market share. Edited excerpts:
It has been a good year [FY15] for you so far, with sales in the first three quarters at 7,529. So, you may cross the 10,000 mark for the first time. What has worked in your favour?
First, a strong product portfolio, with 18 launches in the past two years, of which 12 have been brand new cars. Second, with 67 sales points in 37 cities, we have the densest network for luxury cars in India. Our aim is to add 14 dealers this [financial] year; nine have been appointed. Of course, all that has come together with a strong team under managing director Eberhard Kern.
How is the experience of doing business in India?
The tax and duty structures are different, but the experience isn’t much different. The development of segments such as SUVs [growing], sedans [stagnating], and entry-level vehicles [growing] is similar across markets.
What’s unique to India—different from, say, Brazil, South Korea, and Russia?
It isn’t that different. Even the customer profiles are similar. Young customers are buying our cars—60% of customers of our New Generation portfolio are below 40.
How does Mercedes go for profitability without diluting its premium positioning?
We achieved 30% and 16% growth last year and this year, respectively, and we don’t have to buy market share. We won’t get into discounts. We are ready to wait one year.
What’s your take on the safety standards followed by the Indian car market?
The cars we offer here are identical to those elsewhere. Safety is key to our DNA.
Your rival, BMW, is set to launch the i8 in India. What are your plans?
It’s an important field and there’s a lot of buzz around electric. We have had these vehicles for a long time. We are watching market developments. If it makes sense, we will launch a car. We are [following the same approach] overseas too. We continue to invest in electric [cars], but it must have business potential.
How does your Bangalore R&D centre, one of five globally, contribute?
We are moving from a German-driven design to worldwide design. Design is either good or bad, not German or Indian.
The price of the new C-Class, at Rs 41 lakh plus taxes, will curtail sales.
It redefines its segment. Because of income disparity, the share of luxury cars is just 1%. But it is also a big potential for growth.