India sells cars very differently

Midway through September, Petrie van der Merwe, Used Vehicle Manager at Fury Motor Group in Pietermaritzburg, can already report his small team has sold 34 more cars in August than they did in June — and he predicts the good sales will continue.

Petrie van der Merwe

“Pre-owned sales are more than double that of new and will remain strong as people look for more value in a contracting economy,” he predicts.

The Fury Motor Group dealership sells Honda and Suzuki vehicles as well as motorbikes, and Petri started out selling a lot of new Swift and Jimny models.

So many, in fact, that in 2015, he was the youngest salesman to have earned a Suzuki-sponsored trip to India, having sold the most compact SUVs among Suzuki’s dealerships in South Africa and Namibia.

“I sold 24 Jimnys that year — but actually, they sold themselves. Most of my Jimny buyers were pensioners who were less interested in the little 4x4’s abilities than in the high seats,” he told Dealerfloor.

Five years later, Van der Merwe himself is still a tender 26 years old, but he says his pensioner clients tell him he looks very mature. “It’s the stress of the job!” he laughs.

He says India was an eye-opener on every level, from the fantastic food to the terrible traffic, but the biggest learning curve was the volume of cars Maruti Suzuki dealers sell on the subcontinent.

Petri van der Merwe
Petrie van der Merwe with his new sales tool, a "Dolphin" BMW tuned to 500 Nm and set up to drift.

“Maruti Suzuki has some 45 percent of India’s market, in a country with 150 million drivers, I could not even begin to comprehend the sales figures that 45% translate into, never mind the logistics to get all these cars delivered.”

He said Maruti Suzuki sold over 1.7 million vehicles in 2019. To deal with this volume without getting swamped, each dealer focuses on selling only two variants of one model from the Suzuki range. And to fit all the models in, there are over 2,900 Maruti Suzuki showrooms in over 1,800 towns. “These showrooms are typically a small shop, but each has on average 45 sales staff, five in the office while the others are out, prospecting or hosting events.

India’s unique festival-driven buying pattern also enables delivery managers to schedule once-off bulk operations. “One colleague explained their sales are driven by the five big religious festivals in India. Deliveries happen before each festival, and we are talking thousands of cars. One dealer hired a big bulldozer to level scrub land to park all the new models for the clients to fetch. There is no time for a bonnet-ribbon handover there!” says Petri.

A keen racer, he raced motocross, “250s only” and still enjoys a social enduro in the mountains around Pietermaritzburg. “That’s why I love living here, we’ve got space to have quality of life.” When he is not riding, he is bass fishing, or taking a Jimny over the 4x4 course at Thala Valley. But his focus now is to finish the next project, a Dolphin-shape BMW set up to drift.

“DY Perfomance have now got it to some 500 Newton metres, its massive. The rear spins out with the slightest throttle. When we gave it a little test out in front one Saturday, guys from the mechanic and repair shops around us all came out to hear and cheer,” he says.

But the Dolphin is not just for fun — Petri has another plan. “We have regular weekend drifting events that attract thousands even deep in ekasi. I want to go and leverage Detroit’s old “race on Sunday, sell on Monday” marketing strategy by winning the respect of those petrolheads, many of whom are potential buyers,” he says.

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