In this instalment of Expert Speaks, we talk with Saurav Nepal, one of the co-founders, associate editor and photographer at Nepal Drives, the only English automotive magazine in Nepal.
How did it all begin for you as a motoring journalist?
My passion for motoring started the day my cousin gave me a copy of the BS Motoring magazine around the early 2000s. That ignited the passion for motoring within me.
For school-going kids like us, flipping through the pages of automotive magazines, going gaga over the photographs of exotic vehicles, and gathering trivia about cars was a good pastime. This eventually led us to playing ‘Guess-The-Car’ games at the school bus stop. We requested our parents to buy remote controlled cars and saved pocket money to buy Indian automotive magazines. That passion turned into an obsession in no time.
Fast forward to 2012, I landed an internship at an automotive publication and have never looked back after that.
What are some of the things that you focus the most on while reviewing a vehicle?
Well, reviewing a vehicle involves several well-connected aspects. First and foremost, it’s very important to have a strong, unbiased opinion of the vehicle. Secondly, it’s important to consider your audience's expectations. For instance, the audience looking for a commuter motorcycle won’t be interested in reading about sports bikes and vice-versa. Similarly, if you are reviewing an electric vehicle, you should include relevant information about the everyday practicalities of owning an EV rather than just explaining the tech sheet. It is important to know your audience and deliver the right message and content.
Moreover, we try to give real-life examples while explaining a product, because if you just put out the facts and technical jargon, your readers will be bamboozled.
Last but not the least, we also try to give a lot of importance to product photography. Like they say, a picture is worth a thousand words!
How do you see automotive content evolving, especially on digital mediums?
The internet has fundamentally changed the operations of journalists and news media over time. The ease of creating content and the exponential growth of different digital media have influenced automotive content to a large extent.
From comprehensive and insightful videos to short reels and TikTok videos, automotive content has undergone a fascinating evolution in recent years. Not only has the digitalization in the automobile sector compelled manufacturers to change their business model, but the automotive publications are now also leveraging the latest technology and innovation to address their readers’ needs.
How is the auto influencer landscape in Nepal?
In Nepal, the government considers automobiles as a luxury rather than a necessity, hence, it has slapped heavy taxes on vehicles. However, in spite of the heavy taxation, two-wheelers are still the cheapest mode of transport available. For this reason, the obsession with two-wheelers has always been there amongst the general public. Earlier, the influence was limited to just word-of-mouth, but things are different now.
Because the internet has allowed all of us to become content creators, the younger, technically savvy generation is playing a key role to drive the demand for two-wheelers in the country. This is evident from the fact that many people are pursuing moto vlogging in Nepal. That being said, a few are following the traditional route to enter the industry.
The influencer landscape, however, has its own limitations as well. While many such influencers take the click-bait approach to storytelling, the need to produce quality content still remains a huge challenge. Also, the dedication and consistency to produce good stories is also a differentiator between journalists and influencers. Nevertheless, these are fascinating times for content creators in the country.
How unique is the behaviour of auto content consumers in Nepal as compared to other parts of the world?
The behaviour is more or less the same when compared to audiences from other parts of the world. Nepalese audiences generally like to consume travelogues and road trips. Apart from personal and psychological factors, social factors (friends, family, environment) also influence their consumption behaviour.
What are some of the most remarkable changes you have witnessed in audience behaviour in recent times?
The pandemic has disrupted the audience behavior in such a manner that companies have adjusted their business models to adapt to this change. Right now, audiences prefer their information to be available entirely online.
The traditional way of buying a vehicle (visiting local dealers, collecting brochures, having conversations with friends and family) is now being digitised. Hence, a lot of companies in Nepal are spending heavily on digital mediums to develop their customer base and increase awareness regarding their product.
What makes the Nepal two-wheeler market special for you? Where do you see it going in the next five years?
We are in for an exciting period. On one hand, there is an import ban on two-wheelers above 150cc for inexplicable reasons, but on the other hand, the government has created a policy to encourage the vehicle assembly industry in Nepal.
In the next five years, there will be more than a dozen companies assembling their products in Nepal, and that is indeed very good news! As of now, only Bajaj Auto and TVS Motor Company are assembling their two-wheelers in Nepal.
Similarly, the shift of consumers towards EVs and the growth of online retail businesses will also drive new opportunities. Although the shift towards electric mobility is inevitable, the long-term transition will be slower and the degree of adoption will be dependent on the available technology, infrastructure support, and price. That being said, the underlying demand for ICE vehicles will still be intact, especially in the sub-400cc segment.
Furthermore, new-age startups, auto tech platforms, personalization, and online marketplaces are also likely to gain a lot of traction in the coming years.