Jim Holder, Editor, Autocar, UK: In Conversation with Raghav Sarma

Jim Holder is currently the Editor of Autocar, Britain’s oldest and most prestigious car magazine. He is also the Editor of which is a leading motoring website in the UK. In his first ever interaction with the Indian media on the Licence to Drive platform, he discusses the British and the Indian auto industry, its global context and shares his insights on the future of publishing in a fast changing world.

June 2012/ In conversation with Raghav Sarma

Raghav: Welcome Jim. And happy to have you on Licence to Drive. Considering it is your first interaction with the Indian industry, we are honored that you chose the Licence to Drive platform as your first.

Raghav: Let me start from a historic perspective. From India’s exposure to automobiles over a 100 years ago in the form of traditional British cars in pre-independence colonial India; to an Indian brand (Tata) owning a British marquee auto brand (JLR) – what for you is the significance of this transition.

Jim: It’s just part of the world today. The British mentality is very open to foreign owned companies buying up brands so long as they make a success of them – much more so than many other nationalities. The fact is that Tata is successful, and that’s to be applauded not feared. A strong JLR is great news for Britain.

Raghav: In the changing economic world order, how important is India as a automobile market from a global perspective?

Jim: Hugely important – but not yet mature enough for everyone to understand the scale of it. If it takes off as predicted, then its influence will only grow, and it will become a critical player. But at the moment the road ahead is not clear – it is not booming like China, for instance, although many people see the potential there.

Raghav: With the exception of Aston Martin, ownership of most of the major British auto brands have changed. Given the scenario, what do you think will trigger the revival of the British auto industry.

Jim: In terms of British ownership, nothing will trigger a change. Britain’s car industry as was is gone for good. What we have now is a thriving small scale car industry (Morgan, Ariel, etc.) and world leading R&D and technology potential. And, of course, thriving foreign owned manufacturing plants.

Raghav: JLR, a quintessentially British brand now owned by an Indian company Tata, has shown a remarkable turn around & is back in the black. Your comments of what’s going right for it.

Jim: Tata has bolstered the existing expertise, invested in it and made plans happen that were there before. The company is acting with confidence and financial strength, where once it floundered. The management is being allowed to thrive, making the right choices and then selling cars – a process that keeps the cycle of investment growing.

Raghav: What for you, is the next big innovation that will be a game changer in the auto industry.

Jim: Electrification, in some form (not necessarily pure, but most likely range extended). That and the breakthrough of the affordable city car.

Raghav: How do you see the future of the automobile as far as the internal combustion engine is concerned?

Jim: Very strong. There’s plenty of evidence of the major gains car manufacturers have the expertise to make already coming through – downsizing, turbocharging etc. can all make the ICE relevant for at least another 50 years.

Raghav: Perceived as a cheap Asian brand, Hyundai has managed to make significant inroads in US and Europe lately. After years of perception barriers, what according to you has led to its acceptance in the West?

Jim: Western minds are open to change, so when Hyundai built cars at a good price and to a good level, we voted with our pay cheques. The next big step is for Hyundai to fight on equal footing with the established brands, and not just win sales through pricing benefits.

Raghav: Considering that interest in automobiles starts at an early age & kids are strong influencers in purchase decisions, why is it that the industry does not have any youth oriented auto magazines?

Jim: Good question – I guess it’s because there isn’t perceived to be a big enough audience for that type of magazine. Given the age group, perhaps a website or online title would appeal to the audience more.

Raghav: With the rapidly changing media consumption trends and monetization of digital content, do you think print media will survive and co exist with digital media or be completely wiped out?

Jim: It’ll survive for now at least. Few websites make money in the way magazines do, and there’s still something special about a magazine that I believe many people are willing to invest in, that they just aren’t prepared to do on websites.

Raghav: British (craft & expertise) & Indian (skills & cost) have intrinsic collaborative strengths within the auto industry. Do you see a future when both come together for a greenfield project from scratch and create a product for the world market?

Jim: Yes – although I wouldn’t bracket the skills that way. There’s plenty of craft and expertise in India, and skills and cost in the UK. A world car needs to be distinct, competing on established levels but also making a way for itself. Tata has some very interesting ideas in this direction, and designs such as the Tata Pixel show some intriguing plans for how this could pan out.

Raghav: Thank you very much Jim, it was a pleasure speaking to you. 

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