In Conversation with Vimal Sumbly, Managing Director at Triumph Motorcycles India

If you walk into Vimal Sumbly’s office, you are more likely to find riding jackets than suits on the hanger. The man at the driving seat, or rather riding seat of Triumph Motorcycles in India, has been pushing the frontiers of luxury biking here by introducing an irresistible range from the cult British motorcycling brand. We caught up with him just a few weeks after the launch of the iconic Bonneville Bobber to know more about the brand’s journey so far, luxury biking in the Indian context, and more.

Q: Triumph first showcased its product line and announced its India launch at the Auto Expo 2012. What have been the key highlights during the first 5 years of operations?

Vimal Sumbly: The market for premium motorcycles is dynamic and consumers are therefore looking for motorcycles that suit individual rider needs – something that Triumph Motorcycles caters to, through a range of products that suit the riding style of all. We intend to keep riding the wave of growth and expansion throughout 2017. We are working on further strengthening our portfolio, building a wider and stronger network while making sure to invigorate the Triumph engagement experience. We are also working towards making biking more exciting and popular in India. The categories offered are – the Modern Classics/ Supersports & Roadsters/ Cruisers/ Adventure Series. Safety has been a key cause for Triumph and you’ll be seeing us working towards raising the bar when it comes to motorcycling safety standards in India.  Our relationship with our consumer does not end when a Triumph bike is procured – that is where it begins.

Q: India is a big market for small capacity bikes and the premium/ luxury segment hasn’t seen much growth. How does Triumph plans to buck the trend.

Vimal Sumbly: Contrary to that, the Indian appetite for high-end luxury motorcycles has exploded. From 2009 which is when luxury biking began catching up in India, the superbike market has grown from an annual sales figure of 400 motorcycles to an estimated 8,500 plus. For many of the new entrants to the workforce, the first major possession is not a car like it used to be, but a luxury motorcycle. In fact, owning a powerful bike is becoming so popular in the country that we found it imperative to provision for the appropriate skill sets to keep biking safe and hazard-free. Our Tiger Training Academy and California Superbike School are efforts in that direction. And we always listen to what our customers have to say – and believe in building on it.

Q: Tell us a bit about the Triumph portfolio in India, and your plans on India centric products. What is the current % age of localization across the portfolio?

Vimal Sumbly: At present, there are a total of 17 motorcycles across 5 broad categories that Triumph is offering in India. The Modern Classics/ The Cruisers/ The Roadsters/ The Supersports and The Adventure Series. The Modern Classics include the Bonneville Street Twin/ T100/ T120/ Thruxton R and the all new Bobber. Supersports consist of the Dayton 675 and the Dayton 675R, while Roadsters consist of the Street Triple and the Speed Triple. The Adventure Series has Tiger 800 XR/XRX/ XCA/XCX and the Tiger Explorer XC. Lastly, the Cruisers consist of the Rocket III, Thunderbird Storm and the Thunderbird LT.

We believe in the potential of the Indian market and our CKD plant in Manesar stands testament to that. Our exhaustive product portfolio of motorcycles is ideally suited to the requirements of the customer base here in India, and is growing quite rapidly. This growth in demand is readily met currently through FDA, imports from England and the CKD setup.

Q: Amongst Classic, Sports, Roadsters, Adventure and Touring bikes, where do you see the most potential for Triumph India going forward, keeping in mind changing urban lifestyle and trends in the country?

Vimal Sumbly: How important is a bike amongst the Triumph portfolio for me is almost like asking a parent to choose their favorite child! What makes it harder now is the fact that our lineup is growing stronger by the day. Be it the Modern Classics, Adventure Series, Roadsters, Cruisers or the Supersports. However an interesting trend is the growth this market has shown in the Modern Classics and the Adventure segment.

Q: Globally, touring and leisure motorcycling in the premium space has been declining. How much of it has impacted Triumph and have any new markets surprised you particularly?

Vimal Sumbly: Touring and leisure motorcycling can never go out of fashion – once a convert, always a convert. Motorcycling group has become a cool new way to meet people and network – almost like what golf did a few years ago. With the growing start-up culture, our CEOs are becoming younger and their passion is not always golf. These days, instead of buying their first car, customers are opting for a premium motorcycle as their first big purchase.

Q: Triumph is an iconic brand with a old British legacy. One really appreciates it for the finer nuances of cult branding, underplayed sophistication, handcrafted heritage and bespoke qualities. Do you think customers in markets like India (where flaunt value overrides all else) are really evolved enough to align with such restrained sensibilities? Is it a bit of a marketing challenge?

Vimal Sumbly: Among the iconic motorcycle brands, Triumph is one of the brands on top of the pile. When we began our journey in India, we built on the interest Triumph already enjoyed with the enthusiasts – both young and old, and within the motorcycling community. Added to this was our fantastic line up of products suited for the discerning Indian consumer – bikes suited for all age and interest groups serving exactly the purpose the motorcycle owner wanted their bike to serve. We worked hard to build a strong dealership network across 14 cities so that a Triumph owner can access all the services on offer without difficulty. We also paid attention to how our showrooms should look like to make sure that a Triumph admirer did not have to think twice before dropping by, even if it was just to look and feel our range. At a Triumph showroom, the consumer is taken through the entire range of products and given all the necessary information to ensure that the decision-making process is less intimidating. All our showrooms also have a coffee-shop for you to make the purchasing experience relaxed. Making this even better are the easy full financing options that we have made available in partnership with HDFC Bank. This makes owning a Triumph absolutely effortless.

Q: From a marketing & communication perspective, how does the brand engage with customers and reach out to new ones? Could you share a bit about the different marketing and outreach initiatives of the brand in India?

Vimal Sumbly: Our social media channels are extremely prompt with responses. The content circulated across is up-to-date and very informative for both existing and potential clientele. Many enquiries are generated through social media. Apart from this, our stores are equipped with modern infrastructure and trained & friendly staff members, who are well versed with the product knowledge. They offer the best counsel to customers and you won’t ever feel intimidated when you walk into our stores. We believe in not just selling a motorcycle, but selling an experience. Our relationship doesn’t end there and we constantly engage with all our customers. We regularly organize customer events – Tiger Training Academy and California Super Bike School, where we train our customers and friends from the media on the finer aspects of riding through a team of highly trained professionals. And each product in our range is so good, it speaks for itself.

Q: You have spent a lot of time marketing commuter bikes in your previous role at Bajaj Auto. For someone used to mass marketing & sales, how difficult was it to make the shift to the premium/ luxury segment which is a niche with extremely low volumes?

Vimal Sumbly: Bajaj has a trump card called Pulsar. During my days there, Pulsar was to the Indian market what a superbike is now. Given how India is, motorcycles will always be a popular vehicle of choice for last-mile commuting. Having said that, luxury bikes are not as easy to sell as mid-range two wheelers. The demand often needs to be created, wherein lies the interesting bit. It is about creating a relationship with the end user. The HNIs are an obvious market for us, but we are also targeting the successful professional or entrepreneur who wants to reward himself with a nice motorcycle. Perhaps they were riders back in college! And for that we must make our products accessible, which is what we have done with our attractive finance schemes.

Q: What is Triumph’s position on alternative energy viz-a-viz biking? Do you think electric bikes have a future, considering the transformational change that the world is likely to see in the personal mobility space over the next few decades?

Vimal Sumbly: Alternate energy is definitely here to stay. No company can afford to not consider the environmental impact of their products in this day and age. Having said that, Triumph has no announcements to make on this as of now.

Q: Personally, what passions do you pursue after hours? Tell us a bit about your work-life balance and weekend pursuits.

Vimal Sumbly: My hyper weekdays are countered by some slow time with my family on weekends. If I am not doing that or watching cricket, I would probably be out on a bike or reading up on the latest car and bike tech in the market.

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

Vimal Sumbly: Currently a Triumph and an Audi, but be rest assured this is going to change soon – I believe in experiencing all that is there on offer!

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