Motofumi Shitara makes no bones about the fact that his company has a long way to go in India.
“I am not satisfied with our market share, which is barely 4-5 per cent. Yamaha does not stand out and needs to be better recognised,” says the Yamaha Motor India Group Chairman during an exclusive interview at the Chennai corporate office.
It is barely six months since he took charge, but the time spent is enough for him to acknowledge the company’s “poor” market share and that products have not really touched the customer. “We need to be more appealing and this only means that the Yamaha brand differentiation is not so clear in India,” adds Shitara.
For the record, he is also Managing Director of three group entities: Yamaha Motor India (responsible for corporate planning and strategy), India Yamaha Motor (manufacturing) and Yamaha Motor India Sales. The exception is Yamaha Motor Research and Development India whose MD is Yasuo Ishihara.
The fact that Shitara is heading three of these operations, which had their own bosses till recently, pretty much conveys a strong message of his standing. It is perhaps also an indication of things to come in terms of convergence in goals and responsibilities. What is equally interesting is that during his 30 years at Yamaha, this is his first overseas assignment.
Shitara also assumed this new responsibility at the same time headquarters in Japan saw Yoshihiro Hidaka take over as President and Representative Director of Yamaha Motor from Hiroyuki Yanagi. The change in leadership only reaffirms the continuing focus on India, which has the potential of becoming the Japanese company’s top market in the coming years even while it is currently trailing Indonesia and Vietnam.
Yet, there is a lot of hard work ahead. “The most important task for Yamaha in India is recognition of the brand.
It is quite apparent that the message has not quite reached the customer in the way it is intended to,” says Shitara.
Hence, while the focus on making more appealing bikes and scooters will continue, it is equally important to increase the presence of the Yamaha brand in India.
Come July 1, the branding exercise will kick off with the blue colour that is synonymous with Yamaha Motor Racing in MotoGP.
“This is not seen in India and I want to bring this image here,” he adds. Once the blue Yamaha is part of the internal corporate set-up as well as the external retail landscape, Shitara is hopeful that it will do its bit both in building a stronger customer connect and being part of the differentiator exercise. The company is also shifting out of its present corporate office in Chennai’s MRC Nagar to another location on Old Mahabalipuram Road. Unlike the present set-up where teams are located on different floors, the new office will have everyone seated on one level. This also puts in context Shitara’s own role as MD of three entities.
“We want a clear direction on quick decision making and execution of plans. We also need to move faster in one direction. The Indian market is changing quickly and our decision making needs to keep pace with it,” he says. The direction, therefore, is intended to become clearer in terms of production plans, revenue as well as generating more excitement across different Yamaha entities.
Integrated decision making
This is where integration of decision making becomes the norm going forward as different heads report to Shitara directly. Consequently, there is no possibility of a host of power centres emerging within the Yamaha ecosystem.
“India is a market with very high potential and changing rapidly with more young people coming in. This is an opportunity for our company with our products, which are sporty and stylish with a lot of excitement for the youth,” says Shitara.
He admits that India is a price-conscious market but still offers opportunities thanks to its diversity and rapidly changing customer tastes. “Our differentiation is not so clear and my responsibility is to convey the message of performance and excitement. India’s younger generation also want more in innovation, which means we should think harder,” admits Shitara.
In recent times, Yamaha has been striving to drive home the message that it’s now a mobility company and just not into motorcycles. This is clearly a result of new behavioural trends arising from rapid urbanisation across the world. The Japanese auto-maker has in its portfolio electrical power-assisted bicycles and the three-wheeled Tricity among a host of mobility solutions.
As Shitara explains, India is already the number one two-wheeler market in the world and has enormous potential for other personal mobility options in the future. To that extent, it has a lot of strategic importance compared to traditional markets in the ASEAN region. The sky is the limit for personal mobility options, especially with a young generation seeking new alternatives.
“Perhaps, we can do more with other products in the future though these are early days yet. With faster motorisation, there will be changes but nothing is decided yet,” says the Yamaha India chief.
The company, he adds, will seriously look at options in terms of unique products for India in the future. After all, personal mobility solutions are its core strengths and this is where it will focus on meeting new transportation challenges of the future.
The three-wheeled Tricity motor scooter is already part of some markets in Europe and ASEAN but Shitara is not quite sure if it will work in India. “Tricity is a difficult option for India because of road infrastructure and speed breakers,” he says. With long traffic jams becoming the norm in many cities, it becomes difficult for a product like Tricity to fit into this landscape, at least for now.
Even while Yamaha has plodded on for three decades in India, Shitara is confident that things can look up in the future. He also acknowledges the overwhelming presence of Hero and Honda as well as TVS Motor and Bajaj Auto. Apart from these four, the likes of Royal Enfield and Suzuki are now stepping on the gas to grab a larger share of the two-wheeler pie.
“Yamaha is an attractive brand for the Indian customer but we have not been able to leverage its value optimally,” says Shitara. The company will now focus on its core DNA of staying true to the premium space in bikes and scooters.
“There is a lot of energy here with young buyers. Indians should eventually like buying Yamaha products and this is what I aspire for as a commitment and target,” says Shitara. It is doubtless a long haul ahead but the new Yamaha chief is determined to pull out all the stops and make a difference.