TVS Group – Vehicles to Success
Each generation of the family has left its mark on the conglomerate that is across multiple businesses especially automotive sector
In 1877, in Thirukkurungudi, in Tamil Nadu, T.V. Sundram Iyengar was born to a family of Tamil brahmins. At the beginning of his professional life, T.V. Sundram Iyengar worked as a lawyer. He followed his father’s desires and got a job with the Indian Railways and then a bank in India.
After he resigned from his job, Sundram Iyengar first began a bus service in Madurai in 1911. He paved the way for the motor transport sector in South India. Sundaram Iyengar, a young timber trader in Madurai, remembers being awestruck by the shiny new cars that would zoom by his depot at an incredible rate of 12 miles per hour.
In the past, starting a bus service required obtaining permission from the Regional Transport Authorities, the Central Road Traffic Board, and the local police officer. He decided to bring in a few buses so that more people might enjoy the thrill of a fast ride on the open road.
In 1912, TVS began operating what was likely the first passenger bus service in the nation, between Madurai and Devakottai, with two Dennis and Commer buses equipped with a chain drive that required periodic refitting and a peak speed of 15 miles per hour. The trip of 64 miles set people back a paltry $4, but it included a complimentary meal. (Within a year, demand for passenger bus trips skyrocketed, luring numerous other operators who undercut TVS’s prices to the point that the company was forced to cease operations and switch to a new route, between Pudukottai and Thanjavur.)
Sundaram Iyengar’s ethical business methods and considerate employee welfare programmes earned TVS a stellar reputation, and the company’s timeliness set the bar for an emerging sector.
TVS made special efforts to keep bus schedules on time. Engineers devised a specialised vehicle equipped with powerful magnets to reduce wait times. There would be less time lost due to flat tyres since the magnets would pick up nails and horseshoe scraps dropped by horses and bullocks along the way.
Before his death in 1955, his company, T.V. Sundram Iyengar and Sons Limited, had multiple buses and trucks working for Southern Roadways Limited.
Due to the poor condition of the roads, buses will have a short lifespan. The bus company had no choice but to double up as a road contractor to save money on upkeep. As early as 1916, Sundaram Iyengar imported and resold Firestone tyres with Ford and Graford vehicle parts. TV Sundaram Iyengar and Sons were founded in 1923 when he signed on as a Chevrolet sub-dealer.
As early as 1929, TVS had negotiated a contract to sell General Motors vehicles in the areas of Madurai, Tirunelveli, Ramnad, and Pudukottai. Sales were better than expected despite the economic downturn.
Auto sales to the wealthy zamindars of southern Tamil Nadu were tough in the 1930s. They favoured waggons pulled by horses. After securing a dealership for General Motors, T.V. Sundaram Iyengar & Sons (TVS & Sons) took its message on the road. A Chevrolet with a driver would be sent to the zamindar’s home and made available for his usage for a week. After a week of driving in the automobile, the family usually decides they need one of their own. The local aristocracy was also allowed to come in horse-drawn carts and leave in automobiles, courtesy of the firm. TVS & Sons did more than only invent the exchange offer and the test drive. The dealership tracked its results after the sale, regularly maintained contact with previous buyers, and resolved problems within a day. It even started offering doorstep service through a mobile facility in the 1940s.
There were five boys and three daughters in Sundram Iyengar’s patriarchal Tamil Brahmin family, and all the sons followed in their father’s footsteps by entering the family company. The untimely passing of his son, T.S. Doraisamy, led to the active involvement of his other four sons, T.S. Rajam, T.S. Santhanam, T.S. Srinivasamy, and T.S. Krishna. Since then, TVS has split into four mainly separate divisions operating under the TVS brand.
Gasoline was in short supply in the Madras Presidency during World War II. The wartime scarcity of gasoline prompted Sundaram Iyengar’s son TS Krishna (the father of Sundram Fasteners Chairman Suresh Krishna) to invent a gas plant that could generate charcoal gas for use in automobiles. TVS sold 12,000 gas plants at the time.
TVS also constructed a retreading facility in Pudukottai to deal with the rubber scarcity and reduce the cost of its fleet’s tyres. Belts for Fords and Chevys would be produced there as well. Madras Auto Service Ltd (founded by A.K. Ramachandra Iyer and bought by the TVS Group in 1936) and Sundaram Motors (a subsidiary of T V Sundram Iyengar & Sons Ltd) were two further companies established around this time. In the 1950s, the former was GM’s most important distributor.
With that deal, Sundaram Industries was born.
Sundaram Finance was founded by T.S. Santhanam, the youngest son of T.V. Sundaram, widely recognised as the “Father of the Truck Finance Industry” in India.
Santhanam was running Sundaram Motors, established in 1945 to manage the expanding network of car dealerships owned by the business. Indian Motor Parts and Accessories Limited, renamed IMPAL, was the third TVS firm that dealt with motor parts and, subsequently, cars, and it was founded in 1954 with Santhanam’s help. In addition, he helped establish the Padi divisions when the TVS firm expanded into manufacturing in the 1960s. His last position was as chairman of Brakes India and Wheels India Limited.
Santhanam lived up to his reputation as an astute businessman by establishing successful companies in the financial industry. One of them was Madras Motor Insurance, which he oversaw until its nationalisation in 1972 and was renamed Madras Motor and General Insurance (MMGI). Santhanam established Sundaram Finance as a subsidiary of MMGI in 1954 in response to a transport operator’s remark that the TVS Group was involved in every area of autos except finance. After being separated from the parent company, it has become one of the nation’s most successful non-banking financing institutions.
The firm claims that the group, founded by T V. Sundram Iyengar, is the largest automotive distributor in India, with annual revenue of over US$8.5 billion and a workforce of more than 60,000 people. The conglomerate is involved in many different industries, including producing car parts, selling new and used automobiles, financing and electronics, and information technology services and solutions.
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