Tavera recall: GM’s last nail in the coffin in India

Automotive recalls in India, per say, is considered to be a bad word. For decades manufacturers cushioned by the consumer’s lack of option and an even greater lack of awareness, never cared two hoots for malfunctions — big or small.

So unlike the West, where recalls are part and parcel of the game and are only considered to be niggles at times, in India it has always been a big deal.

In recent times, that has just about begun to change much to the chagrin of the industry. In last two years, there has been a surge of recalls in India as manufacturers led by either their global practices or a belated realization that consumers will not hold a recall against them for long, have started to play ball.

The recent recall of the Tavera by General Motors however, threatens to undo all the good work. Consider the facts. The 114,000 units of the Taveras recalled cover almost all the vehicles of the multi utility vehicle barring in the initial few months that have been produced till date.

All this while, the company has had three Presidents — Rajeev Chaba, Karl Slym who now heads Tata Motors and Lowell Paddock.

From what has emerged so far, GM has fudged the specifications of the car to meet the emission norms. That is hardly a coincidence. The Bharat Stage III emission norms came into force in major metros and cities in India in April 2005. That this charade has carried on for 8 years has befuddled everybody.

Such mass scale rigging cannot be done by a few people. Not for this length of time. And it is outright blasphemy that the senior management of the company was not aware of this.

The process of testing vehicles in India is neither water-tight nor fool-proof. But even then, it is not so archaic that it can be fudged so easily. It requires manipulating a running factory and since the inspections are often done without prior notice, even that is not easy.

Unless of course the testing agency’s officials–ARAI in Pune–in this case were bribed. Then it would become an entirely different debate.

The fiasco however does highlight GM’s ethical vulnerability. As one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the world and with a history that dates back to 1908, it shows the company in poor light. One that lacks management, supervision and leadership.

The production of the Tavera had been stopped in early June. Along with the SAIL U-VA hatchback and SAIL sedan. With the two cars, production would only resume this week while for the Tavera it would take a month more.

Why would a company need so much time to fix an issue–howsoever big in a car–is beyond my comprehension. It is not as if they were designing an absolutely new car.

It also underlines what we already knew of the company. That it is a spent force merely surviving and not growing in India. Its sales over the last 2 years have been insipid, its product pipeline is dry and uninspiring and the energy that is so vital in a car manufacturer is clearly lacking.

Unlike others like the Japanese, Koreans, Europeans or even fellow American Ford, GM does not have a separate strategy for India. No specific car, no new platform, no novel strategy. And, no urgency.

The Tavera scandal only embarrasses the company more and to survive this and come out stronger from it, it needs a massive overhaul. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be in the offing. By and large the company is either clueless or indifferent to what has happened and is banking on time to do all the healing.

Most of its cars are duds in competitive terms. The Spark is long in the tooth and awaiting a dignified burial at best. The Beat has become an also ran–its quirky design has lost its novelty and the powertrain was never very exciting.

The Sail twins are blessed with bad luck. Maybe in consonance with their Chinese ancestry, a case of bad feng shui. The Captiva is easily dwarfed by the Fortuner. The Cruze does not cruise anymore and the Tavera itself hardly moves.

Like Fiat, GM will continue to fight on but nobody would bet that it will ever hit the big league in India. This is goodbye to all the potential that GM ever displayed. It does not seem it ever had any.

Major recalls in India

* July 2013: Ford recalls 972 units of the diesel variant of its compact SUV EcoSport to replace a faulty glow plug, less than a month after launching the car.

* June 2013: Honda extends preventive part replacement of power window switch of 42,672 units of the Honda City produced between 2007 and 2008.

* May 2013: Toyota recalls 1,100 units of its executive sedan Corolla Altis produced in India between August 2012 and February 2013 to repair or replace a faulty driveshaft.

* May 2013: Nissan recalls 22,188 units of its small car Micra and mid size sedan Sunny in India for faulty braking system as part of a broader global recall. Its French partner Renault also did the same for over 7,000 units of its small car Pulse and mid size sedan Scala.

* April 2013: Toyota recalls a batch of its executive sedan Corolla produced between January and June 2003 for defective airbags.

* August 2012: Ford announces it will inspect over 125,000 cars in India for possible defect in the rear axle and a replacement of power steering hose that may result in fire in extreme cases.

* December 2011: Toyota recalls 41,000 units of its entry level sedan Etios and the small car based on it Liva, to replace faulty inlet pipe to the fuel tank.

* September 2011: Honda extends replacement of power window switch in the City to over 72,000 more cars produced between 2005 and 2007. With this, Honda has replaced the part in over 80,000 cars.

* April 2011: Maruti recalls over 13,000 diesel engine cars (Dzire, Swift and Ritz) to inspect and if found defective, replace the connecting rod bolt.

* February 2011: Honda recalls almost 58,000 units of its City sedan in India for a part replacement of the lost motion spring to prevent higher engine noise and its potential stalling and problems with re-starting.

* January 2011: Fiat India starts replacing the air conditioning kits in its petrol powered small car Punto and mid size car Linea after consumers complained of insufficient cooling in peak summers.

* November 2010: Tata Motors offers retrofitting extra safety equipment to its small car Nano to quell doubts about the car’s safety after atleast 6 instances of it catching fire.

* April 2010: Toyota replaces the brakes of its best selling SUV Fortuner after persistent

consumer complaints.

* February 2010: Maruti Suzuki recalls 1 lakh units of its hatchback A Star for a faulty fuel pump. This was by far the largest car recall in India.

* January 2010: Honda recalls over 8,500 units of the City for a faulty power window switch. It was part of a global recall that covered 646,000 Fit/Jazz and City cars.

* In 2010, over 20 million cars were recalled worldwide led by Toyota Motor Corp. Almost everybody else from GM, Ford, Nissan, Hyundai, Suzuki, Daihatsu, Porsche, Honda, Chrysler, BMW and Volkswagen contributed to it.

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