The President and Managing Director of the Volvo group, India, Mr Kamal Bali joined NewsX for an exclusive round of interview. Mr Bali has a distinguished career traversing over 3 decades, predominantly in the automobile division.
He addressed what a stressful and unprecedented sort of situation the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has created for the automotive industry. “This pandemic came out like a bolt from the blue and no one was prepared for it and especially our industry, the automotive industry which was already reeling under a demand slowdown towards the end of last year”.
Mr Bali was looking for better times with a lot of optimism, especially with the new emission norms coming in and lots of new models which were to come in for the entire auto industry. He told how the automotive industry’s slowdown impacts the entire country. “It was very big of a U-turn for the auto industry, it accounts for 7-8 per cent of our GDP, so it is a big jolt to the country and to the whole economy as such”.
Mr Bali believes that in terms of numbers, the recovery in the sector will be very slow. “The reason is that the industry was already going through a slowdown as I mentioned and in the current financial year 2020-21. There are estimates of different kinds but its likely that the industry will see a further contraction of between 25-35 per cent”.
According to Kamal Bali, it’s very difficult to say that what exactly they will end at because it will depend on the pathways of the pandemic. “How it does, how as an industry and how as a society we come in terms with. As ultimately, itsalso a question of lives and livelihoods”. So he thinks that its going to be challenging but he is still optimistic.
“Seeing numbers in June, there has been some improvement over May. May to June has been a huge, a positive reinforcement, which is good news for the industry even though it is much much lower than the June of last year”. So he thinks that there are some positive things but he also thinks that a lot more can be done. “Of course, it won’t be business going forward as usual but, a lot of other factors are going to come into play but I think if we can get a good fiscal stimulus, this industry can bounce back sooner than we expect”.
The Volvo President appreciates the limited elbow room, the finance minister had, and he thinks that despite that, she did a wonderful job. “I think the supply side thing was largely addressed, a lot of liquidity and monetary measures have been taken for the economy as a whole and also, addressing several vulnerable sections of the society and economy including the MSMEs and people at the economically weaker sections of the society, having said that I think the demand side also needs to be looked at now, this is the right time”.
He further said, “I think as the supply side is getting addressed, as factories have started manufacturing and remanufacturing, now, we have come to levels of 50-60 per cent of our original pre-COVID levels. I think now is the time when we also need a demand stimulus because discretionary demands have gone down. Since the economy is not at its full throttle the demand is not there”.
Mr Bali feels and what according to him the industry would like is four or five key things. “One is, a temporary reduction in the GST rates, things like trucks and buses fall under the luxury rate of tax which is 28 per cent GST. If this can be brought down to 12 or 18 per cent, if not permanently then at least for the next 6 months”.
He thinks that this can be a big boost because in any case, the industry has to spend more cost on the vehicles because of “transition from BS 4 to BS 6”. So this cost probably cannot be passed on fully to the customer as there are weaker sentiments in the marketplace.
So, if this reduction in the GST can be done temporarily, just to jump-start the economy, that’s one. The customers would be excited and they would like to look at the possibilities. “The second thing is lower interest rates, if some subventions can go on from typically 9 to 10 per cent to 6 per cent, I think that would be a big booster”.
According to Mr Kamal Bali, the third thing which could be the game-changer for the industry is the “scrap pitch policy”. He said, “So if they can decide on a 15-year or an 18-year scrappage policy, I think that could be a game-changer for the industry”.
Talking about the “Aatm nirbhar” campaign of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr Bali called it a phenomenal initiative. “We completely support it. I think this gives very very good confidence to the industry and the society at large. If you look particularly at the automotive industry, we are in a large way self-reliant. Our industry as such is well matured. There are still some gaps, which of course we will, if global companies can start doing more and more work in India, I think we can fulfil the dream of aatmnirbhar Bharat”.
He said that as far as Volvo is concerned, they are fully committed to India. “We have been serial investors in India. In fact, over the last 20 years, we have made serial investments”. Mr Kamal shared an anecdote about a venture Volvo made with Eicher motors. “Eicher motors, which is a very very successful joint venture as well. So we believe in the India story and we believe that India is the market which is going to grow. There can be a temporary pause because of pandemic and because of certain other structural reasons. But I think, our trajectory, our direction is spot on”!
He thinks that they need to make the supply chain more integrated with the global supply chains. “I think the industry will respond to the clarion call of the Prime Minister for making India aatmnirbhar”. On behalf of the Volvo group, he said that Volvo group is completely committed and will do whatever is required in the interest of the country as well as the group itself.