Yamaha looks to capitalise on preference for personal mobility post-COVID; to press ahead with retail expansion

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Japanese two-wheeler major Yamaha is seeking to leverage on the ‘drastic shift’ in consumer behaviour, with preference for personal mobility over public transportation brought about by COVID-19, and press ahead with its plans to expand retail footprint in India despite the pandemic-induced disruptions, according to a senior company official. Yamaha Motor India Group, which had suspended manufacturing operations at its factories at Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu and Surajpur in Uttar Pradesh from May 15 to May 31 when the second wave of the pandemic hit the country, has started production at the two locations from the beginning of the month to gradually get back to business.

“Within the personal mobility space, two-wheelers prove to be the most viable option of commute due to low maintenance, easy maneuverability and the convenience of riding over multiple terrains. On this front, the future of the Indian two-wheeler industry is strong and reassuring,” Yamaha Motor India Group Chairman Motofumi Shitara told.

He further said,”In fact, the pandemic has brought about a drastic shift in consumer purchasing behaviour and the need for personal transport has increased as people prefer personal mobility over shared and public transportation, to ensure social distancing and personal hygiene.”

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Asked if the pandemic has altered the company’s growth plans, investment strategy or expansion ambitions in India, he replied in the negative. “As the year progresses, the company will stand by its commitment to introducing the global excitement of racing and motorcycling culture in India with the help of various products and experiences.”

Shitara stressed that “personal mobility will continue to remain a top priority in 2021” and the company “will continue to focus on strengthening our position in the premium segment through a strong product portfolio of 150cc and 250cc motorcycles, and 125cc scooters. Our immediate goal for 2021 is to stabilise sales with the current product portfolio”.

He also said the company has witnessed a major shift in trend wherein customers are opting for more lifestyle-driven mobility as opposed to the conventional use seen earlier.

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“This approach towards two-wheelers has been mainly because of the new generation’s fascination with owning products that are technologically advanced, stylish and sporty,” Shitara said, adding Yamaha’s newly launched FZ-X motorcycle and the Fascino 125 Fi Hybrid scooter would further strengthening its range of offerings.

Yamaha will also continue its retail footprint expansion in India through premium retail outlets despite the pandemic.

“We are also being aggressive at launching our chain of premium ‘Blue Square’ retail outlets across India, focusing on metro cities and the surrounding districts,” he said.

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At present, Yamaha has 25 outlets across India covering Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha, Assam, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and the northeastern states.

“By the end of 2021, we aim to have 100 ‘Blue Square’ outlets pan India, with a target of setting up 300 touch points in the next 2-3 years,” Shitara added.

Overall, he said the company has 1,900 customer touch-points across India.

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On the impact of the pandemic in its business, Shitara said learning from the experience of last year, the company has been “more alert and prepared to handle the current situation” and plan market approach post lockdown, streamline priorities with respect to potential market, customers, production, and sales targets “to ensure we are two steps ahead in the overall rebound of the retail economy”.

“As a result, we were able to register year-on-year growth since July till December in 2020. Even in the first quarter of 2021 (Jan-Mar), we managed 14 per cent year-on-year growth,” Shitara said.

Also, with the state governments directing lockdowns this year, the impact of the lockdown was limited with a clearly defined timeline, he said, adding as a result, companies have been able to plan and channel their economic activities better.

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“We have also been working closely with our dealers and suppliers to minimise the impact of this interruption and focus on the optimisation of stock,” Shitara added.

On production, he said as the company has limited oxygen cylinder requirement in its manufacturing processes, production at both its two plants was not an issue, although it had closed manufacturing operations at the two sites from May 15 to May 31 “to keep our employees mentally and physically healthy”.

“From 1st June onwards, production began with a single shift at both plant locations. We have been closely monitoring the safety of our employees and keeping track of the vaccination percentage to ensure everyone has received the much-needed shots.

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“Once a certain percentage of employees are vaccinated and deemed healthy, we will ramp up production plans,” Shitara said.

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