HELLA INDIA LIGHTING’s pioneering journey to organize, standardize and digitize automotive aftermarket

HELLA has been one of the most popular, trusted, and respected brands in the automotive aftermarket when it comes to products such as horns and lighting. Though the brand basically hails from Germany, the Indian connect is quite strong given the brand’s six-decade long history in the country. Today, HELLA India Lighting (HIL) is on an exciting journey of transforming the auto aftermarket as part of its vision to make Indian roads safer by using technology. N. Balasubramanian gets all the details in an engaging exclusive interview with Ramashankar Pandey, Managing Director, Hella India Lighting

Let’s start by taking stock of how the aftermarket segment is doing at present. How are sentiments and how is the aftermarket business of HELLA India Lighting (HIL) faring?

The aftermarket business which is closest to the customer experience of owning the vehicle and provides majority of the 19 million direct and indirect employment generated by the Indian automotive industry is very important for HELLA. It’s good news that post covid the aftermarket business of organized players in India, like HELLA has grown substantially. This favourable outcome is helping to organize, standardize and digitize the industry. As a large workforce of this industry is employed by dealers, distributors, retailers and workshops, growth of organized players is bringing cheers to these aftermarket professionals. As per latest figures from ACMA, the industry size of the aftermarket is Rs. 74,000 crore, which does not include tyres, batteries, and specific consumables. The growth for the industry year on year is 15% and aftermarket at HELLA India Lighting (HIL) has grown above the industry average. We introduced many new product categories from universal to individual vehicle specific applications & solutions, which resulted in record-breaking performance. As an industry we have gained more market share from unorganized and sub-standard players. HELLA aftermarket also gained market share in the last months, especially in the newly launched product segments. Our strong focus in the safety-critical product segment has addressed specific needs of vehicle owners who value safe driving as their top choice.

What according to you are the major trends / changes that are driving the growth and evolution of the Indian automotive aftermarket? Are these more of India catching up with global trends we see in evolved markets or purely India-specific?

Post covid, an even more significant share of Indian consumers prefers personal mobility over public transport, and this supports the growth of the automotive aftermarket. As used car sales are on rise, it helps businesses of aftermarket which support aging cars and keep them safe and fit to drive on our roads. Trends like EVs, autonomous vehicles, rising working population and an expanding middle class are expected to continue to be major drivers for vehicle purchase, while expanding multi-brand workshop network and organized vehicle servicing have become growth drivers for the nation’s automotive aftermarket industry.

Sustainability has become important across the automotive industry which is prioritizing greener and more eco-friendly processes. The increased demand for sustainable practices also drives aftermarket players to invest in sustainable products and processes.

As vehicles have more and more electronics and computer codes, introduction of aftermarket solutions to support vehicle diagnostics and repair instructions, is on the rise. The Indian aftermarket is still way behind the global benchmark when it comes to trained technicians and workshop standards for the independent aftermarket. This is where HELLA is making a difference through its training and capacity-building initiatives for workshops and garages. Our market’s distribution competency and coverage of industry catalogue also lacks from global standard. The global trend of consolidation in distribution and introduction of productivity tools has slowly entered our local market.

Many technology start-ups have started providing digital tools and supply chain support for parts availability and HELLA is happy to work with many of them. As of today, HELLA is a lead player in the industry to educate and support channel partners to take advantage of these mega trends. Consumers are expecting the same digital experience from their vehicle ownership, as they get for other goods and services. This needs our independent aftermarket customer touchpoints to be user-friendly and omnipresent both online and offline. HELLA Aftermarket is deploying all its resources to provide high satisfaction to the young consumers in both 2-wheeler and car segment. Its distribution network in the commercial vehicle segment ensures complete satisfaction to both large fleet owners and single vehicle owners through widely available retail format and our own personalized field support to large buyers.

How did HIL handle the pandemic crisis and what initiatives have you taken to drive your business post-COVID?

We created the whole digital ecosystem to combat the pandemic and post pandemic work schedules. Digital transformation emerged and has become the norm of the day. Productivity of manpower shifted gears gracefully and professionally and the results are there for all to see and appreciate. The strategy of marketing communications too went digital and engaging content has now become a part of HELLA culture. Product videos and product photoshoots all integrated the digital presence of HELLA. Company’s cataloguing and channel management portal Shop4HELLA got upgraded, and now it also supports our Customer Relationship Management activities.

As soon as the dark clouds of the pandemic blew over and normalcy started coming back, HELLA opened doors to ground marketing activities with full force. HELLA Value Partners Meet, Retailers Meet, Mechanics & Electricians Meets, Sales Conference and Regional Expos started to happen with lot of enthusiasm and excitement. HELLA business partners all over the country made these events great occasions to share and strengthen our bonds. The physical interaction has ushered in a new vigour in all of us to explore new horizons together with renewed commitment. The brand merchandise / POP basket too got revamped with quality additions.

At HELLA, we strongly feel about connecting and adding value to the communities linked with the automobile industry. Our technician training project has added more than 400 trained auto service mechanics to the Indian aftermarket in the last few years. Motorsports is a key avenue where HELLA keeps contributing in many ways to enhance consumer experience of driving and off-roading. One of the many first initiatives we undertook post pandemic was to connect with the off-road community. Recently we organized Nazir Hussain Memorial Drive 2022. The event was very well received and proved to be a great interactive consumer engagement platform where we introduced our safety light bars.

How strong is your channel / network presence across the country? How many distributors and retail partners do you work with and what efforts are you putting in to further expand the same?

We’ve developed a very strong digitally connected trade channel/network in the past years and constantly working on effective expansion of the same. Currently we’ve 270 active distribution partners, 9500+ active retailers and connected mechanic and electrician community.

They all are HELLA family members and are leaving no stone unturned to deliver value to our customers and helping us to come closer to achieve our vision of making India free from road crashes with the help of product and technology innovations.

Counterfeits / grey market remains one of the major challenges and revenue-sappers in the aftermarket. Do you see things progressing in the right direction as far as use of counterfeits / spurious parts are concerned? What other challenges do you think exist in the segment and how do you think we as an industry can tackle & overcome them?

In the automotive aftermarket, the issue of counterfeit parts isn’t just about corporate patents and trademarks but also about becoming a threat to trade partners / end consumers in terms of safety and financials, as counterfeit parts can under-perform, wear out prematurely, and outright fail. As per an ACMA study, 20% of road crashes are caused by sub-standard parts.

Over the past few years, the automotive aftermarket is also taking steps to make it harder for counterfeiters to succeed. To combat this, we can also take the support of proper legal channels and encourage the entire automotive aftermarket to follow the similar path. With this, need to educate and urge the trade partners / end consumers to purchase the right product from the right place.

One major step in this direction is to digitize all our products with uniquely coded Q codes which can be scanned to check its originality. The same Q code helps consumer to register warranty with the company and any counterfeit can be captured immediately in this process.

We participate in nationwide awareness campaign and meet our customers and educate them about disadvantages of using sub-standard products. We also reach out to our customers through call centres and our digital properties to know about authorized point of sales so that they can be fully assured about buying genuine HELLA products. Our toll-free number on each pack invites customers to reach us in case of any doubt and our call centres are equipped to handle any enquiry in this regard.

Few words on your medium- to long-term plans – what are your next goals and targets, not just in terms of revenue growth but also as a company and brand to become one of the largest and most reputed brands in the aftermarket segment?

Our company vision ‘Technology of tomorrow for the Life of Today on Indian Roads’ remains our guiding torch for our future journey as well. To support Indian vehicle owners, drive safely on Indian roads, where we lose one Indian every 4 minutes, is a work in progress for us at HELLA. We will continue to bring more and more products, technology and solutions to make Indian roads safer. Our campaign to support drivers and technicians gain respect in the society will continue, as we believe that they are a major part of our industry and in our journey to organize, standardize and digitize the aftermarket, they will pay a big role by demanding genuine and quality HELLA Products. Training of technicians will be further accelerated and capacity building for sales and supply chain professionals with our channel partners, distributors, dealers and retailers will continue with the help of our training partners. We will also play a big role in helping India’s independent aftermarket gain access to information and technology to repair modern cars, including connected and electrified vehicles. Financially we will continue to grow in the same trend as recently with healthy double-digit growth. On the whole, we aspire to become India’s top choice when it comes to aftermarket solutions.

HIL’s Wide Product Range for Independent Aftermarket

HIL’s aftermarket product portfolio is for all segments like two-wheelers, passenger cars, commercial vehicles, tractors, construction and mining equipment.

Horns: 2W, PCV, CV, Tractors. HELLA offers wide range of Disc & Trumpet Horns for Passenger cars and 2W starting from 70 MM dia to 133 MM. HELLA has 10 different types of Trumpet Horn Design with attractive colour combinations to show its presence in Competitive as well as in Premium category. HELLA has done the innovation in horns from electromechanical to electronics which is the future technology in Horns. The brand offers 3 Years warranty in Electronic Horn Range. In Reverse alarm category, HELLA offers wide range of reverse / Back up alarms for Passenger cars and Commercial Vehicle.

The company has full range HELLA Highway Horns from Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV) to Heavy Commercial vehicle (HCV). It has also joined hands with renowned 2-w filter brands Steelbird International as HELLA-STEELBIRD Co-branded products for 2W market. HELLA is one among market leaders in this product category.

Lighting: For 2W, PCV, CV, tractors, construction & mining. HELLA offers wide range of commercial vehicle head lamps, tail lamps, single function lamps, work lamps, marker lamps. HELLA head lamps comes with additional top-Coat protection which increased the life of Reflector. It offers FIT & FORGET LED tail lamp range which comes with 1-5years of warranty, with non-breakable polycarbonate lens.

HELLA also offers wide range of auxiliary lamps, LED light bars, LED cubes, 90 mm modules for specific vehicle applications. It will be launching vehicle-specific passenger car fog lamp range which covers 80% coverage of all car models.

HELLA also offers 2W head lamps with 30 SKUs. In this category, HELLA offers customised LED Modular Head lamp with low power consumption for E-Vehicle Manufacturers.

Here also, HELLA is one among market leaders in the product category.

Spark Plug: HELLA offers performance range of 2W Spark plug with 80% 2W model coverage. Electric/ Electronics / Switches: This range includes relays, flasher, switches, wiring harness for passenger car, 2W & commercial vehicles. HELLA introduced new technology of Electronic Battery Cut-off Switches for Commercial Vehicles.

Lubricants: For 2W, PCV, CV. In 2W Category HELLA offer Mineral range (10W30 for Automatic Scooter, 20W40 for Bikes) & recently launched Synthetic range for 2w with 5W30 for BS-6 Automatic Scooters, 20W40,10W40 & 20W50 for high performance bikes. HELLA also offers fork Oil for 2W Suspension parts. Greases for 2W bearings and joints.

In Passenger car category HELLA offer Mineral range (20W50 for Petrol and CNG, 15W40 for Diesel vehicles). Then in Synthetic range 5W30, 5W40, 10W40.

HELLA also offer many other types of mineral and synthetic gear oils, power steering oil, brake fluids and red gel grease for wheel bearing in this product category.

Coolants: HELLA offer Radiator Coolant for Passenger car in Green, Red, Blue, Purple Pink, yellow colours as per the OEM recommendation. It’s a non-Anti-freeze coolant & Fully Organic Acid technology with guaranteed corrosion protection formula. It has an excellent performance stability in Hard water and compatible for all Asian, American, Japanese, Korean, European 2W, Cars, Commercial Vehicle & Tractors.

HELLA Brake System: In this category HELLA offer wide range of brake discs, brake pads, brake fluids and sensor for European & American Cars. HELLA offers more than 200 SKUs in this category which covers 90% of European and American cars on Indian roads in the brand name of HELLA PAGID BRAKE SYSTEMS. HELLA also offers brake pads and brake shoes for Asian / Indian Cars in the brand name of HELLA. This range offers more than 180 SKUs.

Filters: Complete range of air, oil, fuel & cabin filters for PCV & Tractors. HELLA has large portfolio of PCV/LCV filters with 325 SKUs which covers 95% of Vehicles in operation. In August’22 HELLA Launched 2W Filter range with 57 SKUs which covers 85% of 2W in Indian market.

Wiper Blades: HELLA offers wiper blades for Passenger cars (From 11 inch to 26 Inches) & For Commercial Vehicle- Trucks and Buses (from 17 inch to 40 Inches). In Passenger car wipers, HELLA offers 3 types: Premium Wiper Blade, Cleantech Wiper Blade and Razor Hybrid Wiper Blade.

Bulbs: HELLA offers wide range of Halogen Bulb series in Standard and Rallye Performance range for 2W, Passenger Car, Commercial Vehicle & Tractor. The Halogen range consists of H1, H3, H4, H7, H8, H11, H16, HB3, HB4, H27, HS1, M5. HELLA Standard Halogen bulbs are made as per OEM quality standard providing adequate & durable lighting along with a longer lifetime.