The recall of two cars exclusively made in India–Ford EcoSport and Renault Duster–in overseas markets has undermined Prime Mnister Narendra Modi’s pitch to global corporates to tap India’s prowess as a manufacturing hub.

On Tuesday, Ford recalled over 20,000 units of the EcoSport, by far its bestselling model in India, to fix the wiring harness related to correct deployment of curtain airbags and to mitigate concerns of fuel and vapour line corrosion. The recall in India came within a month of a similar exercise by Ford in Australia that covered around 3,000 cars. The cars were made at Ford’s Chennai factory in India and shipped to Australia.

Ford EcoSport

In a similar instance, French car maker Renault recalled some of its own best selling compact SUV Duster in UK due to a problem with the quality of paint that resulted in premature corrosion on the door sills, bonnet and other areas. These cars were also made in Renault-Nissan’s joint factory in Chennai and the recall almost coincided with the company’s decision to shift production of Duster for the UK market from India to Romania.

Renault Duster

Renault denied there was any truth in suggestions that the recall and the shift in production was related but there seems to be more than meets the eye. Unlike Ford, for example, the French carmaker remains reluctant to carry out recalls in India when it is near certain that the same paint is used in the Dusters on the road in India. In addition, there are already cases of rusting and corrosion in some of the Dusters on the road here.

Recalling a car is no longer a stigma with the consumers and unless when the cause is really severe like in the case of Takata airbags, it does not undermine a product’s prospects any more. The Indian market has evolved enough to understand that a car is after all a machine, a complex one at that, and just like a TV, refrigerator or air conditioner, it may fail at times. A recall only enhances the trust of a consumer in a particular brand.

Even then, the above instances alongwith the dramatic increase in the number of recalls in India in the last few years does present a question whether the quality of the cars made in India has gone down.

There are two aspects to it. One, that manufacturers flush with the realisation that recalls is not a bad word anymore and indeed more pro-active and uninhibited in admitting to mistakes. I would tend to believe that in general but the reluctance of Renaut to recall the Duster in India proves, it is not always the case.

Two that the rapid expansion of production facilities in India has resulted in corners being cut either at the manufacturer’s end or with the component supplier’s. It is always easy to monitor smaller volumes of cars being produced at a factory and when numbers go up, chances of mistakes also go up proportionately.

Perhaps the answer lies in between these two aspects. Bottomline…there is a long way to go in motown before Modi’s vision of making zero defect products in India is realised.

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