Q: You went from a premium European maker’s R&D to one of the world’s largest two-wheeler makes with a very new R&D? Talk us through the transition and its challenges
A: Once I got to know the numbers that Hero was working in, I was completely impressed. 6.5 million vehicles a year is unbelievable from a European or American perspective. Seeing, manufacturing, delivering vehicles, every 16-17 seconds is incredible. So from an engineering perspective, I knew we will not talk about high end technology. We do talk about different kind of technology. About affordable technology. About engineering, an engineering way which suits the manufacturing process in mass production. So there are lots of challenges, but the good thing is that it is in the same area. It is an engine driven two-wheeler – which I do come from, where I belong to. The work process, like the development process is the same. It’s only about high technology or affordable technology and bringing it to mass production.
Q: How did you become a motorcycle racer?
A: It was one day before my 48th birthday. Already quite a long time back and I went into racing when I joined BMW motorcycles since riding motorcycles from my 13th year. I thought I would be a very good, experienced motorcycle rider in addition to being the head of the R&D, finance, production etc. But after the first test session with my people over there, they showed me the completely different level that they had. So I was kind of worried and I really wanted to understand and get the feedback from specialists as well.
So I started practicing. I also got one of our best instructors to help me. We were trying really hard and he was really pushing me. As you know, riding one metre, half a metre behind the bike without fear… The best message he came up with was, “Everything behind the front axle is in the past, forget it.” So I practiced very hard and then he came up with a new idea. As the head of the R&D, I should be riding in a motorcycle race. A Boxer Cup race. So I went with this idea and planned for the Brno race. Randy Mamola was our brand ambassador and I told him, that I would race if he were to give me a signed helmet. So I started the race with 44 riders and I came in 21st. I was very proud, I got the helmet and I brought it to India with me and it is in my office as a kind of trophy.
Q: What was your role in the scooter project
This needs to step back a little bit. The project had already started two and a half years ago. I joined a year ago and I supported the last mile. But the clear focus of the two products was to have a distinct character, a distinct precision and to feel all the features to strengthen this character. The clear idea was not to copy anything in the market – because you cannot capture a market like that. We wanted the Maestro Edge to have a balanced performance, handling, safety orientation but with clear signs to distinguish it from all the other vehicles in this space.
Same to the Duet, which is the first time for us to make a commuter scooter, focusing on all the family offering on the one hand easy handling and easy access to the bike. But with utility as well, accommodating two people, even three because in India, sometimes people do that. And of course, the body had to be metal. But we came up with a clear, decisive language which makes the Duet different from the whole crowd. This was the approach and the styling lives up to that promise. The last mile means that the product has to fulfill that promise when you ride it. So we were really focusing on this last 20 per cent. Handling, performance, features as well as fit and finish. These two vehicles have not just brought us to a different level. They’ve also pushed the suppliers as well as ensured proper assembly process and manufacturing as well.
Q: How does your prior experience fit into a price sensitive market like India?
For me, the first thing is to learn. To get to know what are the customer needs and the capability of the companies [Hero as well as suppliers]. Since being here for 12 months, I spent my first two weeks with the national sales teams, exploring the reaches, meeting the dealers and our customers. With this understanding as well as the way we are developing, I think we have a good mixture. Bringing technologies, processes and activities that will step by step further enhance our skills, the way we work, the way we approach technology and the way we work towards delivering all these vehicles required for us to maintain our market leadership.
Q: The plan ahead for motorcycles?
A: I would say that the plan is very obvious as well. Remaining the market leader in 110-125s and clearly gaining market share in the 150 space. What has happened over the last few years in the 150 space is not fitting to the brand and we are all convinced that we can do better. This is what we are working on but our challenge is to remain on the high level of 54 per cent market share – which is huge. But we really have to focus as well on our current products. We cannot just produce the same bikes for the next 5-10 years. We have to take into account that our customers expect further features, further performance and styling to change as well as to fit the brand image. The 150cc segment is really different and we have to look into more performance and depending on the segment, much more style.
Q: You’re about to move to your new office in Jaipur?
A: That is a very interesting question. Right now R&D is located at the Dharuhera plant. We have our own building, our own site and a few of our people are at the Gurgaon plant. There will be a huge advantage in getting these people to the same spot – in Jaipur. Just being together is an advantage. On the one hand we have the testing facilities – we talk about 15 tracks, whatever is needed. We talk about the facility from the development point of view. I am talk about labs, workshops. Of course, we have offices as well, all in the same spot. This is unique in the world. Usually the R&D setup is sometimes thousands of kilometres away from the testing track. Here we do have an opportunity for the people of not just R&D but suppliers, sourcing and project engineering in terms of manufacturing colleagues who will all work on the same spot, to work product oriented, at the bike, to go on the test ride, to evaluate it and come back and make changes. This will completely change the way we work.
Q: How does R&D work? It is a creative process? An engineering process?
A: This is a combination, combination starting with discipline. Discipline starts once you know what you want and this needs to be ensured across the complete company. Product strategy, sales and marketing, customer understanding together with R&D to define the right characteristics, objectives and specs. First to freeze it. Then to execute it. To get it done. This is discipline. But styling and design? It’s not just about discipline. It is to have the feel for the customers, for the styling and it needs the right balance between engineering driven focus and styling driven focus. To reach it in the right way will deliver the right product based on customer understanding.
Q: Moving to Jaipur? To India? Personal challenges?
A: First of all I have to get more on the bike again. These 12 months have been really challenging work wise. The family also has to settle in and I didn’t get the time I wanted on the bike even if I am riding. So I am really looking forward to move to Jaipur. I will get on the bike, I will practice and let’s see what happens then.