Of Impeccable Taste: Getting Candid with Aston Martin's Lalit Choudary
The man behind Aston Martin in India, Lalit Choudary, Director-Performance Cars, talks about his chancing upon the car business in a candid chat with Luxpresso.
The Journey from Then to Now
Well, when I entered the world of investment banking, I already had this urge to set up on my own at some stage. Did I know it was cars? No, I didn't. I got into banking in India first for a year and then moved to Hong Kong with Lehman Brothers. I came back to India in 2006 to set up Lehman Brothers' offices here. My family was in the trucking business in Hyderabad and I had spent a year doing that before I joined business school. It got me thinking that maybe I should do something related to this field. If not cars, it would've been something else, but it happened to be cars, and it just worked out. The timing was such that when we came back to India, BMW was also coming in. That's how things got started. I stayed with Lehman Brothers till 2009, and Pooja, my wife volunteered to get into the front-end of the business and get it started. She is now up there running the whole show. I joined her after my stint at Lehman Brothers and since then we've been in it together.
I think it's done well. I think the whole market, economically speaking, has seen a rather sluggish environment. The duty structure has also increased tremendously in March, this year, by over 15 per cent, there has been an increase in registration charges and the currency has weakened, meaning that the same car costs a lot more. So, amidst this whole economic background, I think our volumes have been fairly sustainable. The same volumes we saw last year have repeated themselves this year, so it's been good for us considering the environment here in India.
Best-Sellers and Launches
Undoubtedly, the Rapide is one of our best-sellers. It's a very functional, four-door, elegant sports car with ground clearance and very unique with nothing to compare in the market today. It's such a lovely drive, even with the bad road conditions in this country; it gives you an almost sedan-like drive quality, so people really like that. Apart from the Rapide, the new Vantage has done pretty well too. It's an entry-level two-door car, so anybody who aspires to own an Aston Martin can invest in one. We've just launched the new Vanquish and the DB9, which I feel are going to contribute to the sales.
Aston Martin's Playbook
For a brand like Aston Martin, we aren't looking for a large volume play. We are looking for customers who want to own these cars and these people will make the purchase regardless of external factors. They've been waiting to own great, fast cars for a long time and the whole segment has opened up only in the last 18 months. Within that, amongst the brands that are available, Aston Martin has a lot of functionality to offer to an Indian customer. The fuel tolerance is very good, the ground clearance and drive conditions are excellent, and there are absolutely no issues with the clutch or gear box that some of our competitors have at low speed driving. Plus, it's not in-your face opulence, but instead an understated elegance. There are a lot of things about this car that appeal to the Indian buyer.
Each car is customised and takes about six months to build, so it's not really the case where the festive season sees a hike in sales. That said, there are some instances, where I have a car available at the showroom and the likelihood of it being picked up during the festive season is much higher.
The Natural Progression
Once you move up the price points of Rs.10 lakh, Rs. 20 lakh, Rs.1 crore etc and there's enough of uptake, then the next segment comes in, which in this case would be the luxury sedans which will be in the ` 3 crore category, and finally, what's left is the two-door and four-door sports cars. So, there's a buyer universe that has migrated through the ranks and is now ready to buy these cars, which is why we're here.
Aston Martin in a sentence
An Aston Martin car is classy, understated and portrays great taste and a touch of royalty.
The Jewel Box
When we were first setting up Aston Martin, the thought was to choose an address that the whole country would know because we were looking to sell from Mumbai to various parts of the country. With this thought, we chose Kemps Corner because it's 'Old Bombay', a prominent address which is well known. The idea was to showcase in a very accessible and premium neighbourhood, but in a facility that is very personal. It's like a jewellery store in that sense because when you walk into a high-end jewellery store, there are a few products on display, with a few attendants to look after you - your interaction is kept very private.
The Road to Future
The future is primarily the launching of new car models that we offer. We won't necessarily be opening any new stores. We'd rather have a central place that customers feel comfortable to visit!