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New drivers for German lux car race in India

autos Updated: Sep 15, 2010 01:24 IST
HT Correspondent

At a time when competition among the German troika of auto makers is peaking, the race for the leadership position in the country’s burgeoning luxury car market will be driven by three relatively ‘new to India’ bosses.

The founder heads of BMW and Audi in India are already gone. And last week, Mercedes Benz’s CEO of the last five years also called it quits.

Mercedes’ Wilfried Aulbur is undoubtedly more Indian than the others. Married to an Indian, he has been at the helm of the company for five years and was gunning for another extension.

Sources say he quit because he was unlikely to get an extension, but he is likely to stay on in India — albeit in another industry.

Mercedes will announce a successor later but is expected to not wait till Aulbur’s tenure expires in December.

“There are so many things one can learn from India — most of all the diversity and flexibility in the society,” Aulbur said. “We care too much about how a job is done while here people are more concerned about getting it done whichever way. Both have their pros and cons but any flexibility is almost always welcome.”

The segment itself has seen many twists and turns in the last couple of years.

In merely three years BMW, led by Peter Kronschnabl, jolted traditional leader Mercedes Benz rising to the top of the pile in 2009. Kronschnabl is now gone, and Mercedes is back on top this year. Not the perfect setting for BMW’s new president, Andreas Schaaf, who just turned 40 last week.

But then, with the three companies stacked so close together, Aulbur’s successor too will have little time to acclimatise.

“It is always preferable to be in a market which is growing fast and has potential than in one where consolidation is the buzzword,” Schaaf said. “In Korea (his previous posting) we did very well setting ridiculous targets and achieving them. I look forward to doing it here.”

Audi’s new head is Michael Perschke, 42. He has a slight ‘India-advantage’, having served as the head of sales in Mercedes Benz India between 1997 and 2000. He will need to draw on all his experience to shape the future.

“The market has changed dramatically since I last worked in India. More cars will be sold in India by 2013-14 than in Germany,” he said.

It is anybody’s guess who will be the leader when the new bosses finish their tenure. But Schaaf and Perschke could do well to love the country like Aulbur does.