Luxury car mkt projected to reach 2018 level by 2022: Lexus India president

P B Venugopal, President, Lexus India
Lexus India, the luxury vehicle division owned by Japanese auto major Toyota, which came to India in 2017, has been the last mass luxury brand to enter the country after Mercedes, Audi, BMW, and Jaguar. Country head P B Venugopal tells Pavan Lall that hybrid roll-out is going to dominate the firm’s product strategy. Edited excerpts:

You’ve come late to the party and you’re competing with strong players in a small but crowded space? What's the plan?

We are about responsible luxury, and our customers are proud they drive carbon-neutral cars that do not sacrifice the driving experience. We have almost our full range of cars here including the ES, LS, NX, RX, LC, which are all hybrid. We also have the petrol LX 500. So, in India, a majority of our cars are hybrid, with five out of six cars self charging.   

Our direction of electrification is the right one, given the environmental challenges and the current infrastructure. Of the 91 countries that we market our cars in, this is only the fourth country where we are manufacturing. 

Do you plan to export from here?

Not now, but we do have a plan to set up four more dealerships, which we call ‘guest experience centers’, across key cities that will take our total up to seven.

Learnings in the past three years...

We assumed that about 60 per cent (of sales) would be driven by the hybrid factor but realise now that it’s higher at about 70 per cent. The other learning is that we get a lot of calls from millennials who — believe it or not — have a large influence over the purchase of luxury cars in the household. 

Since 2015 — which was when we were planning to enter India — the firm has understood  through several studies that the environment has been the topmost concern for the mobility sector for a while.

Your cars start at around Rs 55 lakh, which is in the same league as the German Trio and the JLR. What's your differentiator?

We have a craftsmanship approach to luxury that is geared to make you feel like you're in your home. The other is that our competitive cost of ownership isn't just a point we make on paper. 

Some of our customers get cars back after a service, and actually ask if there is a zero missing. A Lexus guest saves 60 per cent of his cost on servicing when compared to other brands.

Do you see luxury being the last or the first to recover?

Since the start of the March lockdown until middle of June, the situation had come to an absolute standstill. However, July has returned customer confidence. If you look back, following the 2008 setback, the segment saw a V-shaped recovery. We see a W-shaped recovery for luxury cars that may come back to 2018 levels by 2022. 

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