In an interview with The Pioneer’s Kushan Mitra and Evo India’s Sirish Chandran, newly-appointed Head of Audi India, Balbir Singh Dhillion lays out his vision for the carmaker in India and talks about the future during the preview drive of the upcoming Audi Q8 in the desert outside Dubai.
Audi India has been relatively quiet over the past year, but what can you tell us about Audi’s plans for 2020?
We have a lot of plans for 2020, some of which I can share and some that I cannot divulge now. We already know that the Q8 will be launched on january 15 and that will be followed up with the new A8 in early February and there are a lot of beauties to come thereafter.
Will that include the new Q3?
Well, let us keep some secrets for the time being.
There is the e-tron (electric SUV) for sure, since you already showcased it…
Yes, but which month we are still working on, and we will share the information with you soon.
So Audi’s India plans for 2020 start on January 15, 2020
Actually, I would stay that Audi India has already started their plans with the launch of the A6 a few weeks ago.
This is also the new era of BS6 cars in India. And not just about the emissions, but also the new looks and new technology that comes with these cars.
Balbir, we have come to learn that from April 1, 2020 (the introduction of BS6 norms) Audi India will sell no more diesel-engined cars, and this can be seen as the fallout of ‘Diesel-gate’ but there are many of your buyers who love their diesel Audi’s. What do you tell them?
There is no doubt that India is a diesel market, we sold almost 95-97 per cent of our stock as diesels, but of late, there has been a shift towards petrol in the market. In totality, we have reached 30-35 per cent petrol and I know that from April 1, some customers who want diesels might not be happy.
That said, we have not given up on diesels, the answer is no. We are still evaluating and diesels are a part of our portfolio offered globally, but I am holding onto them now because I want reduce complexity as we start rolling out BS6 cars, but are looking at diesels.
But for the time being, we are moving with petrol. And as for our diesel fans, we are coming out with compelling programs for those customers and will make them want to experience our petrol cars. There are perceptions in our minds about diesels after running them for years and years, and that perception needs to be broken by all of us.
How far do you see electric vehicles being in India?
This is a topic very dear to me and also being driven by the government but it is not going to happen overnight. Infrastructure does need to be available, I need to be very, very careful when I launch these cars because they have to be successful. I do not want to launch cars and then a few months later question the decision.
We are definitely going to get these cars but we need to understand these customers a lot more. To that end, we will do some customer studies, especially in the metro markets.
What are their needs? Are their needs inter-city needs or for cars like this, intra-city needs? I also understand that many customers who buy these cars will not have this as their only car, and there are those customers who want to be a first mover.
How are you going to position the Q8, it will definitely be above the Q7 and it will be an imported unit, so it will have high taxes and expensive (around Rs 1.5 crore), how will you market this new car?
This will not be a mass car, this will be an exclusive car where customers can configure their own car. For example, 54 interior colours, nine interior colours, other multiple options you can choose from.
So every car is going to be unique and will be very exclusive. This car is not one to be driven in, but drive yourself. The focus of this car is to drive, so people who are successful, who gave arrived and also love driving, this car is meant for them.
So this not going to be a (Lamborghini) Urus fighter then, you gave something else for that…
Well, it is not a secret anymore, we have the RS Q8, and that is also a product that is on the table. But we are yet to take a decision on which way to go on that.