In Conversation with Vikram Pawah, Managing Director, Harley-Davidson India

Vikram Pawah has been at the helm of Harley-Davidson India for little over a year, since September 2015. Before his current role he spent over two decades with Honda Cars, across leadership positions in the Indian and Australian markets. An alumni of Delhi University with a MBA from Victoria University, Vikram is a passionate biker himself which we assume, must have made the transition from four wheels to two quite effortless. We caught up with him after the launch of Harley-Davidson India’s 2017 line up of motorcycles for a tête-à-tête, where he shares his views about the future of luxury biking in India with us.

Q: You have been on the driving seat at Harley-Davidson India since late 2015. What have been the key highlights during your tenure?

Vikram Pawah: The last one year has been a successful and eventful one for Harley-Davidson India. Product-wise, we launched the 1200 Custom and did an international ride to Bhutan on the motorcycle. We also launched the all new Milwaukee-Eight engine and the new Touring line-up which features the Road Glide Special 2017 along with the Roadster 2017 model and the updated Street 750 with ABS.

As a brand, we launched Passport to Freedom this year – an interactive session facilitated by veteran rider Sandeep Goswami to induct riders into safe and confident riding. As far as Harley Rock Riders is concerned, we have changed the format of the concert this year to reach out to more motorcycle enthusiasts and rock music lovers. The Discover More campaign also helped us indulge Harley owners in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

We have also launched 5 dealerships – Coimbatore, Lucknow, Calicut, Guwahati and Ludhiana in 2016 and plan to further expand into Tier II and Tier III cities.

For the benefit of brand lovers who want to own a Harley motorcycle, we have launched Harley-Davidson Financial Services (HDFS). It is our commitment to the India market to make the sport of motorcycling accessible to enthusiasts and fulfill more dreams of personal freedom. With the launch of HDFS, Harley-Davidson India is the only manufacturer in the premium motorcycle segment in India to offer end-to-end customized finance solutions for our customers. It offers a complete line of financing options and insurance products and services to assist riders in owning a Harley and keep them connected with the brand.

Q: India remains a big market for small capacity bikes. But the premium/ luxury bike segment hasn’t seen much growth and continues to operate on a small base. What is your growth strategy going forward? 

Vikram Pawah: As per an Assocham study, the Indian luxury market has only increased and is expected to cross $18.3 billion by the end of 2016. Additionally, the standard of living in Tier II and Tier III cities is increasing. You would be surprised to know that a lot of riders belong to Tier II and Tier III cities. We have recently launched our dealerships in Guwahati and Ludhiana and in the future, plan to expand further into Tier II and III markets.

Q: The Street 750 has been your biggest success in India so far. Do you intend to bring more India centric options at the entry level, anytime in the future? 

Vikram Pawah: The Street 750 is an authentic Make in India product for Harley-Davidson and is very popular amongst the urban youth. The reason for its immense popularity is that it is customized to the Indian audience and roads. Besides the Street 750, we have CKD models such as Iron 883, 1200 Custom, Forty Eight, Street Bob, Fat Bob, Fat Boy and Heritage Softail Classic which get assembled in India. We keep hearing and listening to our customers and basis their feedback, we are committed to bringing in newer products.

Q: What is the current %age of localization for H-D across the portfolio in India? Are you focused on increasing it further to make your products more affordable?

Vikram Pawah: The Street 750 is a quintessential Make in India product for Harley-Davidson. We are consistently focused on our customer needs and wants – the Street 750 is a great example of that. Additionally, we also have Completely-Knocked-Down (CKD) units including motorcycles belonging to the Dyna family, the Softail family and the Sportster family which get built at the Bawal plant while the Completely Built Units (CBUs) include the Touring family and the CVO Limited.

Q: The personal mobility space is going through a transformational change globally. The key is access, not ownership. How does H-D view the future of motorcycling? 

Vikram Pawah: Harley-Davidson has invested heavily in building the leisure riding culture in India and paved the way for other heavyweight motorcycle manufacturers to enter the country. With more players coming in, it is a positive sign that the market is growing which benefits everyone.

Motorcycling has been a longstanding passion for Indian motorists, and while, the market has predominantly been defined by commuting and transportation, enthusiasts are now rediscovering their passion for motorcycling for leisure.  At Harley-Davidson, we are proud to lead the way for leisure riding in India delivering an exceptional motorcycling experience and lifestyle. Since our start in India 6 years ago, we focused on building our brand and developing a strong leisure motorcycle culture. The premium motorcycle market in India has been rapidly growing over the last few years and we see continued growth potential here. With more players coming in, it is a positive sign that the market is growing which benefits everyone. Customer will have more choice and the market for leisure motorcycling will continue to grow.

Q: Do you see a likelihood of touring and leisure motorcycling in the premium space declining amongst the next generation? Globally there has been a trend that points towards it. What is H-D’s position on that? 

Vikram Pawah: India is the biggest two-wheeler market, as far as the volume of production and sales are concerned registering an exponential overall growth rate. The growth in Indian Automobile Industry owed the most to a steep upsurge witnessed in the two-wheeler segment in 2015-16. ‘Make in India’ campaign of the Government of India is also going to attract more foreign investment into  the Indian two-wheeler industry, creating further growth opportunities in the coming years.

With improved road networks across the country and growing aspirations, the Tier II market has witnessed a sudden upsurge in the field of leisure motorcycling. The launch of our dealerships in emerging cities stand testimony to our strategic expansion plans. We have received an uplifting response from customers in these cities which continues to inspire our growth plans. While we expect the macro-economic environment to remain challenging, we are confident we’ll continue to lead with our powerful brand – not simply because of our substantial strengths but through our increased demand driving investments and our incredibly talented and passionate employees and dealers. We have built a firm foundation over the past seven years and consistently demonstrated the power of being a customer-led company very successfully. We continue to receive unparalleled enthusiasm for the brand and now have over 12000 proud owners of Harley-Davidson on Indian roads since we opened our first dealership in 2010.

Q: Technology advancement in the motoring space is pointing towards use of alternative energy in a big way. Could you share a bit about Project LiveWire, and when exactly can the world expect electric motorcycles from H-D to hit retail stores? 

Vikram Pawah: We introduced Livewire in 2014 and have invested the last two years collecting our customers’ feedback about it. However, we are gaining feedback from real riders on what they are looking for in this type of vehicle from Harley-Davidson® Motorcycle. Any final decisions about whether to bring an electric motorcycle to market – and when – will be made at a later date.

Q: From a marketing perspective, H-D always focuses on building a homogeneous community of owners, without addressing specific customer segments. The brand is essentially the glue. But in India, perhaps segmenting the TA could help the brand connect better with a wider base. Your thoughts? 

Vikram Pawah: Economic development has led to middle class growth in India and an increase in leisure time as well. It is about choices around self-expression and enjoyment. We lead with the lifestyle. We are talking to people about using this free time for self-expression and re-discovering their true passions. For many, that includes fond memories of riding a motorcycle popular during their time in college, for others it is riding for the first time. For generations, consumers have turned to Harley-Davidson for authentic and inspiring ways of self-expression – be it through our motorcycles, motor clothes, customization options or rallies and events.

In India, we have been helping people see the relevance of Harley-Davidson to their own lives. In a bid to provide greater accessibility to brand enthusiasts, we launched a one-of-a-kind dealership – the ‘Legend on Tour’. This experiential facility brings the brand’s rich heritage to the city where ever it goes. The experiential zone features 8 motorcycles from the 2016 Harley-Davidson India fleet. It also features genuine Harley-Davidson motorcycle parts and accessories along with merchandise.

We have also launched the Passport to Freedom program, which I mentioned about earlier. It is running across all Harley-Davidson dealerships cities across India.

Q: Apart from the HOG rides, could you share a bit about the different marketing and outreach initiatives for the brand in India?

Vikram Pawah: Our motorcycles and customers are our biggest brand ambassadors! To understand the Harley way of life one has to experience it. Beyond our rallies, as part of our brand building initiatives we explore like-minded partnerships to connect with our target audience. Our partnership with, is helping us become more accessible to thousands of brand enthusiasts. This year, we conducted Harley Rock Riders, our annual music festival, across six cities – Hyderabad, New Delhi, Pune, Lucknow, Jaipur and Kolkata in order to give more aficionados a taste of the Harley-Davidson lifestyle. We have pioneered the leisure motorcycling culture in India through partnerships with major motorcycling events such as India Bike Week.

Besides, we always focus on creating unparalleled riding experience and events that provide on-the-ground demonstrations of our lifestyle and culture. We hold Harley-Davidson Boot Camps time to time, it’s an interesting opportunity for motorcycle enthusiasts to familiarize themselves with Harley-Davidson motorcycles, merchandise and experience of riding in a group of riders and understand how no two Harley’s are the same. We also leverage the digital medium, led by social as it helps us stay connected with our audience, understand their aspirations and feedback.

To instill our philosophy of safe riding, we conduct the Passport to Freedom program. We also have our mobile dealership, Legend on Tour, which goes from city to city in order to bring customers closer to brand Harley-Davidson.

Q: Personally, what other passions do you pursue after hours?

Vikram Pawah: My first association with motorcycles started way back during my college days, when I started doing odd jobs alongside my studies in order to buy and maintain the then new generation motorcycles.

From being part of the generation who were early adopters of trendy bikes and a passionate motorcyclist myself, it’s an added bonus to be working with Harley-Davidson and at the same time fulfilling the passion I have towards motorcycles and riding.

Q: Could you share what’s in your garage? And which is your favourite drive or ride?  

Vikram Pawah: I love riding the Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic and try to take it out as much as possible. One of the great traditions at Harley-Davidson is that we ride with our customers. Founder’s Ride with customers is particularly enjoyable.

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