Ravindra Chandra Bhargava, the Chairman of India's largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki, is a special awardee at Business Today MindRush 2022. Bhargava is credited to be the man behind making cars accessible to Indians. From 1982 when he quit the IAS to work with Maruti as a director to today, when the auto industry is at the cusp of a new dawn, Bhargava has certainly come a long way.
Soon after the company's first car, Maruti 800, was launched, Suzuki launched its Asian bestseller pick-up truck Carry (called Pickup in India), expecting it to account for at least 20 per cent of total production. But it couldn't compete with much cheaper diesel vehicles. In his 2013 book, The Maruti Story: How a Public Sector Company Put India on Wheels, Bhargava calls it a serious error of judgement. "This experience was a reminder to Maruti on the importance of correctly assessing the behaviour of Indian customers, and the dangers of transferring experience of other countries to India, without careful examination," he writes.
That lesson stays with Bhargava till date and is probably the reason why he has been famously sceptical of jumping onto the electric vehicle (EV) bandwagon right away. "The Indian market is very different from the markets in Europe, America or Japan. We need to devise our own decarbonisation strategies instead of copy-pasting what works in the West," he says.
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Maruti Suzuki has dominated India's automobile space since its inception in 1983, first as Maruti Udyog, a joint venture between the Indian government and Suzuki Motor Corporation (SMC), and then as a subsidiary of Suzuki, after the government divested its stake in 2003. It has, for decades, boasted an unprecedented-some say unnatural-market share of 50 per cent-plus, making India Suzuki's single-largest market globally, even ahead of its home market, Japan. Maruti contributed nearly 55 per cent to SMC's sales volume in the first nine months of FY22.
The biggest challenge now for India's top business icon is to lead the EV transition and for that, he knows he needs to address the needs of the two Indias. The country today is divided into two distinct markets, says Maruti Suzuki India's 87-year-old Chairman: "There's a Bharat, which buys a two-wheeler because a car is too expensive. And then there's an India whose buying capacity matches any other part of the developed world. The only way forward is to cater to the transportation needs of both."
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