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Former GM India head Karl Slym to steer Tata Motors


Karl Slym is looking forward to “getting back home”. That’s what he told well-wishers who called to congratulate him after Tata Motors announced his appointment as managing director from October 1.

Slym meant every word of what he said, as the only home of the Englishman, born in Derby, the UK, is in Delhi. Tuesday was his last day at SAIC-GM-Wuling Motors in China as executive vice-president.

The veteran of the Detroit-based General Motors, an alumnus of Stanford University and a Sloan fellow, spent 17 years with the company in different geographies — four of which were in Delhi as the India head. He will be the second GM man to steer Tata Motors’ fortunes. Carl-Peter Forster, a former global chief executive at Tata Motors, had also been with General Motors between 2001 and 2009. Forster, who had joined in 2010, had left Tata Motors after less than two years due to personal reasons.

Slym, 50, moved to China in January this year to play a larger role for the joint venture after building an aggressive portfolio of products in India. He did not respond to calls and text messages as he was bidding adieu to his colleagues.

He is credited with turning the Chevrolet Beat into a fuel-efficient car suitable for India. His stint in India also saw the sale of a 50 per cent stake in GM India to SAIC of China, which paved the way for the launch of commercial vehicles of the Chinese company in India.

Slym will succeed P M Telang, who superannuated in June this year, and will lead the company’s operations in India and in markets including South Korea, Thailand, Spain, Indonesia and South Africa.

He, however, won’t be responsible for the company’s UK-based luxury car unit, Jaguar Land Rover.

But the challenges at India’s largest vehicle maker will be huge. The company’s mainstay is commercial vehicles, as it garners more than 60 per cent of its revenue on a stand-alone basis from this business, which is currently bearing the brunt of a slowdown in the domestic economy. Besides, the segment is expected to face aggressive competition as German auto giant Daimler plans an onslaught of technologically advanced products in the Indian market starting October this year.

The company has been facing challenges on other fronts as well. For the first time, domestic sports utility vehicle maker Mahindra & Mahindra dislodged it from its third position in the passenger car segment in the quarter ended June. Tata Motors, however, regained the position in July.