Shiju Sasi is young, intelligent, passionate, active and full of life. A professional dancer, Sasi teaches Tango dance in the city of Abuja. He is the Managing Director of Barbedos Cars Limited, one of Weststar’s Authorized Dealers for Mercedes-Benz in Nigeria.
After the launch of Mercedes-Benz S-Class Maybach in Abuja Wednesday evening, Susi spoke exclusively with ROTIMI ASHER, Motoring World International’s (MOWI) senior correspondent, touching on a number of issues ranging from his journey into auto dealership, his company’s aspiration for 2016 and indeed his marital status.. He answers a very vital question: Who is Shiju Sasi? It’s revealing.
MOWI: Nigeria has been trying to diversify its economy, what significant role do you think the automobile sector can play in this regard?
SASI: As result of diversification, you will see more automobile manufacturing companies in Nigeria. The industry is indeed one of the largest employers of labour around the world. It’s an industry of industries. In other words, it is an industry that will give birth to 100s of component manufacturing. So when it comes to diversification of the nation’s economy, the auto industry has a major role to play. And clearly it has started. And Mercedes-Benz will be part of it.
MOWI: As an accredited dealer, how do you rate acceptance of Mercedes brand in today’s Nigeria, compared to about 10 years ago?
SASI: Mercedes-Benz has always been a favourite car in Nigeria. There are two types of cars in Nigeria, Mercedes car and others. When people say that, you know where Mercedes Benz stands. Mercedes-Benz is a car you aspire for. Once you have Mercedes-Benz, in the Northern part of Nigeria for instance, you have made it. You are there, your life is made. In terms of sales, Barbedos cars have sold thousands of units in the last 10 years. Sales have gone a little bit low in the last one year; but things are going to change. The C-Class and E-Class are doing very well.
MOWI: What has been Mercedes-Benz market share in the nation’s super- luxury car market?
SASI: We still have a major share of the market; especially the S-Class and of course, with the newly launched Maybach, we have a lot of interest. The unit you are seeing has already being sold. Even though oil business has gone down, we still have a lot of interests, because we have a lot of entrepreneurs, who are not in the oil sector, young business men who come here to do business. Some of the people who have confirmed order are not in oil sector. Even though businesses are down, people still want to spend money
MOWI: So, you have a lot of interest?
SASI: Yes. This car was supposed to be launched last November. People have been asking. We didn’t have a huge crowd; the crowd that came in today are the Crème De La Crème. About 70 % of the crowd that came in today are people who can afford this car. We invited only a hundred people, out of whom70% are already Mercedes S Class owners. If they want to upgrade a car, this is the car they will upgrade to.
MOWI: For Maybach, what’s your sales target for 2016?
SASI: We are looking at the sale of 20 to 30 Maybach. That is what we are targeting. We have about 10 in the production now. What we do because what is happening in the economy and the Euros, we don’t just sell cars in Barbedos, we help people build the cars of their dream. What it mean is that they can walk in here, they can choose the interior, exterior, the spoke, the tyres, and lightning, all the options. They can actually order for the car they like. We will design the car according to their needs. That is how we do our business.
MOWI: Any difference between Maybach on sale in Nigeria and the ones sold in other parts of the world? How tropicalised are they?
SASI: It’s basically designed for Africa. Yes, it is interesting that you asked. It is not just Maybach, cars that are designed for America are programmed to run in America, for America climate. The cars we sell here are actually designed for Africa, though we bring them in from Germany. They are designed to run in Nigeria. We consider the conditions like the road and purity of the petrol. It is not just tropicalized. So when you import your car directly from a country like US, instead of buying from an accredited dealer in Nigeria, it is bound to have problem in the garage. The C class brought from US but not designed for Nigeria, will have engine problem.
MOWI: Would you recall your journey into the business of auto dealership?
SASI: My brother owns garages in Lagos, multi-brand garage in Oregun, Lagos. Alhaji Kashim Shetima is the owner of Barbedos cars. He is a car freak; he loves cars. He actually started this dealership in 2007. He started car sales in Kaduna 25 years ago. We were quite fortunate to meet him last year. He said he was looking for partners to take over and run the business. So we saw a wonderful opportunity there. My brother took over Kaduna as Director of after sales and I am the Managing Director. I am in charge of sales as well. He is in Kaduna whileI am in Abuja. It’s a wonderful journey. We have full-fledge maintenance facility and software expatriate who can do the job. We are fully equipped. We are training local engineers. We are doing a lot of marketing. We will soon open a multi-brand workshop in Quarinpa as well.
MOWI: Tell us about your background?
SASI: I am an India born. My father has been here for 42 years. I partly grew up in Nigeria and also in India and NewZealand. I started working in Lagos in 2007. I worked in Mikano Generators for about six years. Then I started business with the cars and will always be passionate about cars. Then I joined this company.
MOWI: What gives you confidence that you could run a successful car dealership business in Nigeria?
SASI: Nigerians love cars. Nigerians can own about four cars before having a house. That is a reality. Most time, as soon as a car is launched in the US or UK, you find them here. Nigerians’ love for cars keeps us in the business.
MOWI: Are you married?
SASI: I am a single. Well, I am hoping to get married this year. My fiancée is of Indian origin.
MOWI: What are your hobbies?
SASI: I play Polo. I dance and teach tango in Abuja. Tango is a form of dance from Argentina. It is a passionate dance and I have been dancing for few years.