Earlier, global automakers launched vehicles tailored to Indian consumer needs. Then there have been ones inspired by sharks, cheetahs and baboons, which I can understand as nature is truly a great inspiration. Tom Tjaarda, one of the world’s finest automotive designers, had once said how a crouching panther inspired him to do the DeTomasoPantera.
We can understand regulations leading to a new category like the sub-four-metre vehicle, road conditions mandating higher ground clearances, or even the summer to install stronger air-conditioning and pack three adults in the rear to modify the seat design. But it is extremely difficult to grasp the words like ‘inspired’ and ‘tailored’. If a vehicle is really inspired by the needs of an Indian consumer, does it incorporate elements of Indian culture or behaviour to make it better suited? Ford had once talked about designing a flat dashboard so that we could place our gods and goddesses with ease, which is an inspiration of sorts. Is having ORVMs with manual adjustments Indian? Or not having a rear wiper, is one? If the automaker knows that typically three Indians sit in the rear, would it benefit with a transmission that is more of a ‘wall’?
Does being ‘tailored’ imply cost-cutting? Does it mean the automaker cuts and snips out the really good bits of safety and interior quality to make the vehicle affordable? If the automaker would really tailor its vehicle for Indian consumers, then the steering wheel stalks would be swapped from LHD to RHD with the light stalk on the right.
The saree guard on the motorcycle was truly inspired by Indian consumer behaviour. The sub-four-metre vehicle is a product of regulation and not any cultural insight. Apart from the stronger AC, higher ground clearance, flatter dashboard and thinner rear-seat cushioning, are there any specific features in a vehicle that shouts out “I am Indian”? Not really, and that’s how it should be. As Indians we aspire for vehicles that are inspired by the best in the world. We look forward to vehicles that are tailored to provide the safest and the most comfortable driving experience.
Such expressions might have worked in the 1990s. Then we were still enamoured with the Western world recognising India as a market, therefore the mention of a vehicle tailored to the customers here was a matter of pride. Today, they seem patronising and artificial. They create no positive impact for consumer tastes and preferences.
The automakers who still use such statements have not yet reconciled with ground reality and sit on their horses. Candour, frankness and an element of transparency works wonders if you do not need to declare yourself as a “marvel of German engineering”. That should be a desired consumer response, not a driving one for these automakers. India is evolving and we as consumers have started analysing and assessing every key aspect a brand promises to deliver. But moreover we have started realising the importance of a good quality product and service, and have limited ourselves from getting swayed away by western and foreign brands.