Wickets to Wheels – Anushka Polonowita

Anushka Polonowita – Chief Operating Officer at Audi Drive One

Drive One’s Chief Operating Officer, Anushka Polonowita, began his journey with a bat and ball, rather than wheels and engines. A former first-class cricketer, Anushka played for the Colombo Cricket Club, before hanging up his helmet and gloves. He describes his transition from Cricket to Automobiles as a coincidence. “I was never a car enthusiast, nor a technical person. However, my family’s association with the Pandithage family paved my way into the Automobile industry. Mr. Ranjith Pandithage gave me a job at DIMO, while I played Cricket. He understood my passion for the game. Unlike most cricketers, who were employed at various companies, but never actually worked, I fulfilled my obligations to DIMO, while playing the game I loved. I knew I had to make a career for myself, because even though my dream was to represent Sri Lanka on the international pitch, I understood that it was important to have a Plan B in case things didn’t work out the way I hoped they would.”

“I began my career in the Automobile industry in 1999, as a trainee at DIMO in the Mercedes-Benz Sales Division. I later left the company in 2001, to pursue my studies and focus on Cricket. In 2003, I worked at Mackinnons Travels for a short while, as I was later recruited to represent the John Keells Holdings’ team at the Mercantile A Division Tournament. By 2004, I was back at DIMO as a part of the Mercedes-Benz Sales Team. I rose up the company’s hierarchy and by the time I left DIMO in 2013, I was the Business Unit Manager of the Mercedes-Benz Sales Division.”

Anushka went on to join Micro Holdings, where he established a new subsidiary company – EuroSports Auto Lanka (Pvt) Ltd, with the purpose of representing Lamborghini and Alfa Romeo in Sri Lanka. Subsequently, the SsangYong and BAIC brands also came under his purview. In 2017, Anushka became a part of Drive One, the authorized dealer for Audi in Sri Lanka, as its COO. 

It’s safe to say that Anushka’s career journey has been far from mundane, with many twists and turns as well as plenty of opportunities to learn, grow and develop. From his days as a Royalist, which included Cricket and being Head Prefect, playing the gentleman’s game on both local and foreign pitches, and being a member of the many administrative bodies of the Royal College Union, to representing world famous brands and meeting influential members of various industries. However, according to Anushka, “The most educational moments of my journey were, playing the Royal-Thomian for four years and captaining the Royal College Cricket Team, which are things very few people get to experience, as well as the pleasure and maturity gained from those events and heading one of the advisory bodies of the Royal College Union.”

When asked to describe the experience of working with popular international automobile brands, the COO used one word – “Amazing.”  Before going on to say, “It has been a privilege to have been able to represent some of the biggest brands in the world.” 

Of his contributions to Drive One thus far, Anushka listed his 16+ years of experience in the industry, the network he has built and team work as the 3 foremost on the list. 

“Unfortunately, we have been severely impacted by inconsistent policies”, said Anushka on the current status of the Automobile industry of Sri Lanka

“It has not had a major impact on the industry. In developed countries, taxis have played a major role in transport. It is only recently, that taxi services such as Pickme and Uber began emerging in Sri Lanka, with the evolution of smartphones. Now, it has become extremely convenient to get a ride, and even taxi companies need cars. So, don’t be surprised if your next ride is in an Audi, as at some point consumers will want premium cars as taxis”, responded Anushka, when questioned about the impact the emergence of taxi services has on the Automobile industry.

There is a growing trend among Millenials and Gen Z, where they prefer to hire vehicles and utilize taxi services. Speaking of how this trend has affected the industry thus far, and its impact on the future of the industry, Anushka stated, “It’s not just these groups, everyone will move away from owning a car. However, the need for a car will not change. So, manufacturers and dealers like us, need to change their business models with this paradigm shift.”

On the topic of environment friendly vehicles in Sri Lanka, Anushka commented, “There is no policy to encourage environment friendly cars in Sri Lanka. The infrastructure is not ready yet, even though some companies have set up a network of charging stations around the island. There is no policy on disposing or recycling batteries. The batteries are a hazard to the environment.  In the long run, it’s worse than CO2 emission. Over a period of time, the batteries need to be replaced. The importation of batteries is costly and there is no system to reduce these costs. Therefore, it will take much longer than it should, to change the mindset of people to shift to electric vehicles. However, we hope we will be able to move to electric vehicles soon.”

Moving on to the role of Green Motoring, Anushka added, “The future is definitely going to be electric. By 2025, Audi forecast 30% of their total sales to be EV. Models of the E-Tron (Audi’s first EV) are already selling like hot cakes, wherever they have been launched. A few more E-Tron models will be launched by next year. It’s clear that Audi is electrifying the future. All major car manufacturers have already started introducing their EV range of vehicles as well.”

Expressing his views on the steps necessary to reduce pollution and benefit the Automobile industry, the expert said, “There are many things that can be done. Firstly, we need to move away from the old buses that have roamed our streets for so long. If you look at photos of Colombo, Kandy and Galle from the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s etc., you will notice that the buses never change.

Disciplined driving will reduce the traffic congestion to a great extent and thereby, reduce emission. We are lucky that we have sunlight most of the year. Therefore, we can use solar energy and promote the use of electric vehicles. These are just a few steps that come to mind.”

Prophesying the future of the Automobile industry, Anushka predicted, “The future will be all about electric autonomous mobility without ownership. Sooner than we think, we will be sitting in a driverless taxi and going to work, while watching a Cricket match.”