“We have consciously stayed away from the strategy of introducing cheaper products” March 2018 issue

Joe King, Head, Audi India

“We have consciously stayed away from the strategy of introducing cheaper products”

The king has got his crown – the numero uno title among the German Big Three. And it didn’t come easy considering that Audi was the last to enter India, the world’s fastest growing luxury car market. But then, easy is not something Joe King, Head, Audi India, looks forward to. In an exclusive interaction with The Dollar Business, he talks about what took Audi to reach the top and much more

Interview by Neha Dewan | The Dollar Business


TDB: It has been over a year since you took over as the Audi India Head. What have you learnt about the Indian consumer? How different is he/she as compared to those in other countries?

Joe King (JK): I have observed that people in India are quite optimistic and their aspiration level is very high. The trends are followed much faster and there is a latent hunger for luxury. We believe that the Indian customer is value-sensitive and not price-sensitive. Our growing number of younger customers prove that if an Indian buyer sees value by way of a product offering features and performance, he/ she is willing to pay a higher price for the same. We have several examples of Audi Q3 and Audi A4 customers who have jumped price bands to buy our luxury cars. These customers are looking for better value and not for a lower price. As the Indian buyer is a discerning buyer, we have consciously stayed away from the strategy of introducing ‘cheaper’ products. For example, we introduced Audi Q3 at a higher price than the competitors, but with a lot more features. Audi Q3 received an overwhelming customer response and it continues to be a favourite among customers. I think the difference with India is that it continues to grow and there is a huge potential here. The Indian luxury car market will develop further and there will be opportunities going ahead.

TDB: Last year, Audi toppled both BMW and Mercedes to emerge as the best-selling luxury car brand in India. Help us understand the strategy that was behind this feat.

JK: We achieved a hat-trick of best-ever sales in our seven years of operation in India in the first quarter this year – the best-ever quarterly sale of 2,740 units (Jan-March 2014); best ever monthly sale of 1,404 units in the month of March and the best ever financial year sales of 10,126 units (FY2014). This achievement was also a first for the luxury car industry in India, as a whole. This is a testimony to the fact that Audi continues to grow strongly, and is in fact, playing an instrumental role in the growth of the luxury car segment in India. For the Indian market, the strategy has to be right and ours has been on track.

We attribute our success in India to four strong fundamental pillars – expansion of product portfolio and service offerings, expansion of our dealer network in the country, progressive customer connect initiatives and a talented pool of human resource. I think what also strikes me is the strong connection that Audi has built with its consumers in India. There is constant consumer interaction on social media as there is a younger demographic here than in other parts of the world. We have really made sure that we are engaging with the consumer and understanding the consumer. This also flows to the products that we have offered in the market, which is undoubtedly a big part of the success story here in India.

TDB: You were the last among the German Big Three to set up shop in India. So, just in terms of brand equity, where would you rank Audi vis-à-vis Mercedes and BMW?

JK: Even though we were the last to enter the market, we made history in 2013 by becoming the first-ever luxury car manufacturer in India to sell more than 10,000 units in a single year. We crossed this historic milestone by registering a sale of 10,002 units in the January-December 2013 period. Every single year Audi is creating history in India and getting deeply etched into the minds of Audi fans and enthusiasts. Having been the last to enter and the first to achieve that, I think is a huge feather in our cap. We are also especially proud to have achieved this feat in a challenging year.

We also have the largest fan following among the luxury car brands in India on Facebook with over 3.66 million fans on the Audi India Facebook page. We also have over 49,600 followers on Twitter. This certainly speaks volumes of our rapidly increasing brand aura and presence, which has continued to see a further upward swing in 2014.

"Our bespoke cars will always come from Germany. Other local production of models will depend on logical volumes here in India"


TDB: Tell us a bit more about your emphasis on social media.

JK: Being a progressive brand, Audi’s marketing strategy too is progressive and in line with the ever-changing market dynamics. Our customers are getting younger and want to make a statement about their individuality. India is also a market full of young aspirants, so we continue to touch their pulse through progressive marketing strategies and product launches.

We have also expanded our horizon and have ventured into new areas using music and brand channels like the Audi YouTube channel and the Audi Magazine. We regularly carry out brand promotions on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. Currently, we have the largest community of followers on Facebook in the luxury car segment with over 3.66 million fans and have over 49,600 followers on Twitter, who contribute to positive word of mouth. Realising and identifying these opportunities and marrying it with our business goals is what we strive for.


TDB: The Indian luxury car buyer is now spoilt for choice, with new launches almost every other month. So, in what way(s) do you try to stand out in the consumer’s mind?

JK: India is a market full of young aspirants, so we continue to touch their pulse through our progressive marketing strategies and product launches. We focus a lot on the requirements of the customers and their demands. We fulfil their need for exclusivity and add a personal touch to make them feel that they are a part of the Audi family and not just buying a product. For us, customer experience and customer loyalty is priceless and as a continuous commitment to enrich it, we have rolled out a gamut of initiatives, including various customer connect initiatives like the ‘Audi Club India’.

Our marketing strength and progressive customer engagement initiatives have enabled us to reach out to more and more customers and they have been a key differentiator for us. Our marketing strategy has been consistently successful in communicating the brand values of sportiness, progressiveness and sophistication that define our brand. We have been instrumental in bringing about a special connection of automobiles to sport and luxury lifestyles that delight the customers across regions in India. The creation of unique driving experience programmes – Audi Q Drive, Audi R Drive, Audi Women’s Power Drive, Audi Multicity experience, Audi Ice Driving experience, Audi sportscar experience, among others, for our existing customers as well as enthusiasts who want to be a part of the Audi family – have also contributed immensely towards building and sustaining brand loyalty.

TDB: But in India, you don’t associate yourself much with sports. Instead you seem to prefer fashion shows to boost your brand. This is very different from what you do in Europe…

JK: Audi India has various associations with sporting as well as fashion events in India. We evaluate the associations based on their connection with our brand values of sportiness, progressiveness and sophistication. Some of the events we have been associated with are Audi Autumn Collection 2015 (in August 2014); Audi Autumn Collection 2014 (August 2013), when Audi partnered with ace fashion designer Varun Bahl, to create a stunning collection inspired by new Audi cars; Audi quattro Cup, which has gained a lot of popularity in India and is ranked amongst the biggest and most popular amateur golf tournaments worldwide; and Audi Football Summit, which was played in 2012 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi, with the Indian national team taking on German football giants FC Bayern Munich. The match also marked the farewell game for long-time India captain, Baichung Bhutia

TDB: India has the highest import duty on cars, with that for top-end cars exceeding even 200%. Don’t you think manufacturing some of your top brands in India would give a major boost to even that end of the market?

JK: Our bespoke cars will always come from Germany. Other local production of models will depend on logical volumes here. For decisions on localisation, we look at possibilities of business models in terms of response and the market here. We have significant capacity at Aurangabad. On a single shift, we can produce 14,000 cars and we also have the option of doing double shifts. In addition to that, we also have the strength of belonging to a group (Volkswagen), so that gives us a huge potential across the group. We produced more than 9,000 cars in 2013 and plan to produce more than 10,000 cars in India in 2014.

TDB: Which newer and untapped markets in India are on your radar? Do you have a separate strategy for rural India?

JK: We have seen a huge potential in tier II and tier III cities, where customers are exhibiting an increased appetite for luxury cars and are aware of the product portfolio and quality our brand offers. We want to bring our class defining products to all the luxury aspirants, wherever they are. We, at Audi India, have worked hard on our expansion strategy with the launch of class-defining models and strengthening of our dealer network not only in metros, but also in tier II & tier III towns of India and we will continue to do so.

We have forayed into cities such as Kanpur, Lucknow, Bhopal, Udaipur, Visakhapatnam, Nashik and Kozhikode, where customers aspired for the Audi brand. We are also looking at entering Guwahati shortly. We plan to expand our network to 40 dealerships by the end of 2014 and reach out to Audi loving customers pan India.