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German luxury auto manufacturer Audi has officially made changes to it's top level leadership, and will now have an India-born executive to lead local operations. The change in leadership comes at a time when the company's sales have been dropping faster than before. Sales numbers have dropped to under 6,500 units last year, from over 11,000 units during 2015.
Balbir Singh Dhillon, an industry veteran who has spent almost 12 years with the Volkswagen Group, will take the reins of the company's India operations. He is replacing German born Rahil Ansari, who is on his way to the group's global headquarters in Germany. Surprisingly his move to Germany is nearly six months ahead of the usually-stipulated three-year term. Mr Dhillon currently serves as Head of Dealer Development for Audi India.
Mr Dhillon, who takes charge starting September this year, said, "Times are challenging in India, but I am confident that we will manage to turn around the business over the coming years as new models come in and buyer confidence improves."
"My singular focus will be on taking Audi ahead in a sustainable and profitable manner with delight for all our stakeholders in addition to customers. Rahil has already set in motion a new momentum for us and I look forward to build on that foundation as we move towards era of electrification and digitalisation in India," he added.
Speaking about Mr Dhillon taking over, Mr Michael Frisch Vice President Region Overseas AUDI AG, said, "Balbir has been a part of the Audi team in India and Middle-East and we are confident that he will take the brand forward in India even as market tries to buck external factors and grow. He brings with him a sound knowledge of the brand, the luxury segment and automotive sector spanning his 23 years of local and global experience, which bodes well for us."
Mr Ansari joined Audi India as Head of Operations in February 2017. He has been leading a tough campaign of managing operations as competition has increased, and troubles from Volkswagen's global diesel engine cheating scandal had negative implications towards the flow of new models, technology, and investments.
Mr Ansari said, "I firmly believe that the experience I have gained in India in my various stints has gone on to help me in my global assignments. If you are able to delight the Indian customer and navigate the Indian market complexities, you gain insights which are invaluable. While I am looking forward to my new stint, I will truly miss the great team and Audi India family with who I had some fantastic times. I have known Balbir closely over the years and am confident he will play a pivotal role in realising Audi's objectives in the country."
Mr Frisch, said, "Rahil's contribution has been immense for Audi India. He was a true representative of Brand India at AUDI AG and has created the foundation for future success. The work he has done will provide the basis for a sustainable business and profitable network in India with new digital customer centric activities. Rahil's strong business acumen has been highly acknowledged in the HQ, which is why he has been offered such a senior position."
Audi started operations in India in 2007, and rose to the number one spot in the luxury car segment, beating both BMW and Mercedes Benz. The company achieved peak sales of 11,192 units in 2015, but has seen slow growth and sales since. Audi closed last year with 6,463 units retailed, as compared to Mercedes and BMW with 15,500 units and 11,105 units respectively.
Audi feels that a change in leadership, complimented with introductions of new models will revive their sales. The company plans to launch the A6 and A8 sedans, the Q8 SUV, and the Audi e-Tron electric. Audi says that non-electric cars will be available only with petrol engines, in line with the government's focus to push for clean mobility.
Both Mr Ansari and Mr Dhillon said that the market remains challenging as a slower economy, credit squeeze, and high taxation on luxury vehicles keep customers away. Audi also said that it could take between 18 and 24 months for a credible recovery.
Thoughts About An Indian-Born Executive Taking Over Audi's India Operations
Congratulations to Mr Dhillon. And a fantastic move by Audi. Foreign manufacturers need to understand that an Indian knows the Indian markets better than a foreign national. Sure, there is a difference when dealing with say Europe, but the sheer size of India, it's different peoples and languages make the market here very volatile. We hope this move works for Audi and we wish them all the luck possible.