Voluntary policy for recalling cars, is a farce
Starting this Tuesday, domestic car companies would start an initiative to declare problems in their cars and offer to replace or repair them based on their internal quality checks. This kind of an activity is commonly known as a recall around the world.
On the face of it, it appears to be a noble gesture. A recall policy for cars is much needed and long overdue. In India, cars are battered and abused like in few other countries and we are also the proud leader in the number of deaths that cars cause on the roads. Not all of it can be attributed to poor quality but some of them can. To offer to admit on their own that some cars may have major defects and warrant a redressal, is worthy of a few bouquets.
Scratch it a little though, and the reality shines through. The effective word here is that all of this is voluntary. There is no regulator in the automotive sector and even after this declaration no company could be ‘forced’ to admit there is something wrong with its cars.
As such, there will be no change in how companies have been functioning beyond Tuesday. Notwithstanding the fact that the industry body Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers and all the companies are calling it a big deal.
Recall, the world over, is considered a bad word. In 2010, when Toyota was forced to recall millions of cars in the US, it received a lot of bad press. But Toyota was not alone. It was only the biggest. Every other carmaker worth its salt recalled cars as well.
As it stands US has the most stringent provisions for recall–be it on safety or environment aspects. There are no do’s and dont’s issued. Merely, a self certification by a manufacturer of a car’s capabilities, is sufficient. Based on that, companies are pulled up if the quality levels are found wanting.
Case in point is that there was a congressional probe against Toyota when it was discovered that the company tried to side step the problem of unintentional and faulty acceleration of its cars. There are strict penalties imposed if there is a delay in initiating redressal mechanisms, which forces everybody to call back their cars on their own rather than wait for the government’s kick.
In India, there is no such compulsion. Most of the cases where manufacturers have recalled cars, like on numerous occasions when Honda did it, it was part of a bigger global recall. Domestic firms like Maruti, Tata, Mahindra and even Toyota have always tried to hide the problems.
Maruti, for example recalled as many as 1 lakh units of the A Star in 2010 for a faulty fuel pump. But it did so only after a similar process was initiated in East Europe where the car is exported from here and the media got wind of it. The first instinct always, is to keep it away from the limelight and to avoid bad press.
And Maruti is not alone. Tata has offered to repair the Nano on two occasions already, after over half a dozen cases of the car catching fire on its own. It also offered extra protective gear for the car but it is still shy of calling it a recall and maintains that the car is as safe as an igloo in a blizzard. Had it been in the US, Nano alongwith some other Tata cars would have faced the wrath of the consumers. Like Toyota did in 2010.
With a track record like this, it is difficult to imagine that companies would all of a sudden turn conscientious and start repairing their cars out of the love of mankind. The sole intention could be for the industry to pre-empt any move from the policymakers to set up a regulator in the sector.
In the past, the industry had successfully preempted attempts to impose a star rating system on fuel economy by innocently offering to display the fuel economy figures of their cars. That was also back in 2010. Though derived from the tests at Pune based ARAI, how fantastically bloated some of these figures are, is another long but spicy story. The rating system also, is on the anvil.
A modern car is a very complex machine with over 30,000 parts–big and small. If even one of these parts malfunctions, it may have catastrophic outcomes. At the same time, it is only a machine at the end of the day. So some of them would be liable to fail at times. And you have to give it a benefit of the doubt. It can happen to a Toyota or Volkswagen as well to Rolls Royce and a Porsche.
So the best solution would be to remove the taboo of a car recall. But that cannot happen unless everybody is honest and transparent about it. If Hyundai recalls a Verna tomorrow for some problem–big or small– and Tata remains smug about the quality aspects of its cars, it will not encourage the Korean carmaker to do so again. And the same goes for the others.
The need then, is for an independent body like NATRIP or ARAI to be given enough powers to reprimand companies that dilly dally on this and laud others who are serious about it. Only when everybody realises that there are skeletons in everybody’s cupboards, would the taboo wash away.
And at the end of it all, the consumer who has made his life’s second largest acquisition by buying a car, would be the winner. Even after the nonsensical 500 metre test drive that he takes before buying the car, he would know deep down that the company would redress, should there be a problem with his car. And that is worth a few harsh words to whosoever it may concern–Maruti, Hyundai, Tata, Ford, GM, Honda, Mahindra– whoever.
A carrot and stick policy always works but so far, neither is there a carrot nor a stick. All we have right now is a farce. The next few weeks will show, how big a farce it is.