R. Srinivasan

R. Srinivasan, also known as Ravi Srinivasan, is cursed with a magpie brain, which compels him to peck at anything shiny which catches his eye. Some of the bits turn out to be useful!

R Srinivasan

Some unsolicited advice for Mr Karl Slym!

| Updated on March 09, 2018

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Last week, a consumer court in Chandigarh sentenced Karl Slym, the global CEO of Tata Motors, to six months in prison. Coincidentally, the same week, I completed a decade as a Tata Motors-made car owner – first, with an Indica, and now, an Indigo. And while I sympathise with Mr Slym (failing to repair a Nano was hardly the fault of the CEO), I can equally sympathise with the rage of that consumer.

Because, unlike virtually every other car maker to have tried their luck in India (with the possible exception of Hindustan Motors!), Tata Motors puts to extreme test the patience, loyalty and even the patriotism of its customers.

Patience and loyalty are understandable, but patriotism, you ask? Yes, patriotism. Because that was the prime motivation for me when I went in for the Tata badge 10 years ago. I could have bought either a Japanese, European or American alternative. Instead, I went, despite the advice of those better placed to know (like the automobile correspondent of the paper I then worked for, or the editor of a leading car magazine and even my old schoolmate who had worked in Tata Motors!), for a Tata car.

Why? Not just because it was cheap. Price was an attraction, but I could have afforded more, and the difference in my loan EMIs would have been marginal.

I picked a Tata, because, like many Indians, I was immensely proud that an Indian company had broken into this ‘exclusive’ club of automobile manufacturers, that an Indian company had managed to design and manufacture an Indian car meant for Indian users. It was my own little thumbing of the nose at capitalist hegemony.

Unfortunately, that little bit of flag waving has ended up costing me a fair bit of money, and caused me not inconsiderable inconvenience over the years – not to speak of the derision of my peers and cutting remarks from my family over my penny pinching ways!

But I stuck on. I believed Tata engineers when they told me that they had done over 76 modifications in the V2 (from the earlier model). I still believed them when they told me that the Indigo CS had sorted out most of the issues with the earlier Indigo.

But 10 years of ownership experience have convinced me that I was wrong. Clearly, other customers think so too. Tata Motors’ April sales were less than half of the previous April. And dealers (including the sales dealer from whom I bought my last car, and the service dealer who was maintaining it afterwards) are quitting in droves.

So Mr Karl Slym has a major problem, and very little time to fix it. What can he do? Well, from a humble Tata vehicle owner, here is some unsolicited advice!

1) Fix the quality issues first. It doesn’t matter how good the cars look if the quality is poor and inconsistent. This means tightening control at every step – at vendors, in purchase, on the shop floor. Cut tolerances to microns from millimeters. Insist on zero defect vehicles leaving the pre-sale inspection. And if there is a widespread problem, recall quickly, and fix it.

2) Fix the gremlins with electricals. That is the biggest problem with the vehicles.

3) Better fit and finish please! No engineer designs finger width panel gaps. So why are they there in your cars?

4) Better rubbers and plastics. Seriously, do you use recycled material?

5) Find out why your cars age so much worse than rivals, and fix it. It could be the steel, or it could be the paint. Or, since the same suppliers are used by everybody, it could be a problem in the plant.

6) If there is a choice between cost and quality, take the hit on costs – and tell your salesmen to work harder. It will only have to be for a short while, anyway. Word gets around about quality – good or bad – faster than you think.

7) Next time around, pay more attention to the skin. Cars are a statement of your personality as much as a transport solution. Nobody wants to look terminally uncool!

8) Insist that everybody who has anything to do with design, manufacture or sales at any level of responsibility other than shopfloor workers, drive Tata vehicles. You will be amazed how many issues get sorted out on their own!

9) Talk to consumers. Ensure that there is a proper system for collecting feedback, and that this is monitored at a responsible level. In the 10 years that I have owned your company’s cars, I have never been contacted by you.

10) Finally, the Tricolour. The India badge is valuable. Millions of ordinary consumers – and not necessarily only those on the saffron side of the political spectrum – place a value on it. You got it by default. Ensure it is not frittered away.

Published on May 17, 2013

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