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Maruti Suzuki chairman RC Bhargava said road transport minister Nitin Gadkari’s call for an end to automobiles driven by fossil fuels shouldn’t be interpreted literally but as a statement of intent on implementing the government’s plan to only sell vehicles running on electricity by 2030.
While Maruti supports the government’s intent, he said the company can’t force the customer to buy electric vehicles (EVs). “Unless the EV is good for the customer, I can’t push him to buy it,” Bhargava said in an interview with ET.
“Before I start pushing EVs, I have to make sure they give him the value that they should give to him, which is what a customer expects from Maruti.” Maruti Suzuki is the winner of The Economic Times Company of The Year Award. The minister’s statement was aimed at persuading the industry to reorient itself, he said.
“Mr Gadkari and the government are not going to kill this industry,” he said. “They can’t, they won’t, why should they? This industry is a huge generator of wealth and employment for the country. But they (the government) want the industry to adopt a new direction and to tell the industry that we are serious about it.”
“That is all that they are doing. So, it is now for industry to see how to make it happen and make a sincere effort to make it happen,” he added.
The minister said last week that such a move was imperative in order to clean up the atmosphere and slash oil imports. “We should move towards alternative fuel... I am going to do this, whether you like it or not,” Gadkari had told automakers.
“And I am not going to ask you. I will bulldoze it. For pollution, for imports, my ideas are crystal clear... The government has a crystal-clear policy to reduce imports and curb pollution.”
Bhargava said the concern that the government wasn’t hearing some segments of the auto industry needed to be addressed. “My view is that we have an association which represents commercial vehicles both heavy and light, represents two-wheelers and cars, which has diesel and petrol makers, mainstream and luxury,” he said.
“With such representation, how do you get a consensus and a common policy view. The way out is not easy. The government has to decide, I can’t tell government what to do… One possible way for the government is to pick one or two representatives from each segment who they think would give them current kind of inputs.”
At a time when many in the automotive industry have raised concerns over the government’s aggressive push toward electric vehicles in the next decade, Bhargava endorsed the intent behind the policy while acknowledging that cost dynamics, and charging and storage solutions need to be examined. He hailed the minister for tackling one of the weakest aspects of government policy.
“I think in some ways I appreciate what Mr Gadkari is trying to say because by and large the government announces things and says things but doesn’t follow through in implementation,” he said.
“Implementation is our weakest area. If Mr Gadkari says he is going to bulldoze, and I hope by bulldoze he means get implemented, what could be better? So, in some ways I am quite sympathetic with what he said.”
He said benefits are likely to accrue from parent Suzuki’s alliance with Toyota. The partnership, the contours of which are being firmed up in Japan, may help the company gain access to alternative tech and to larger vehicles.
“Toyota’s tech bank is far bigger than Suzuki’s,” he said. “If that becomes available, we have access to technology, which will take us way into the future and we will in many ways remain in terms of the technology availability, as good as any other company in the world… Depending on what they agree, I could get bigger products from Toyota to sell, which will be engineered for India.”
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