Highway Jottings-11

Konsultramesh
5 min readJun 17, 2024

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Blame it on Transtopics Editor Girish Mirchandani for this dispatch.

Wonder what he has got to do with this outpouring?

What set this in motion was Girish’s recent social media post about his involvement as a Jury member for the esteemed FADA Awards 2024. Wondering about FADA? The Federation of Automotive Dealers Association is India’s highest vehicle dealer network governing body. Now, you’re in the know, right?

Vehicle makers in India do not sell their products directly to buyers like you or me. All these two-, three — and four-wheelers, not only passenger vehicles but even commercial vehicles, are sold through the dealer network. These ready-to-market mint-fresh vehicles are ferried in vehicle carriers from manufacturing sites to dealer points.

This mode of transport came into existence with the advent of Maruti Suzuki in the early 1980s to ensure that the vehicles sold travelled almost zero miles. In the Ambassador-Fiat era, jockey drivers “drove” those new cars from Calcutta, West Bengal, to Kurla, Bombay, the entire distance. So when you and I collected brand new cars, these cars had kissed the Indian roads a few hundred kilometres, if not thousands!

All OEMs meticulously oversee the loading of these pristine vehicles into the cargo belly, which is 18.75 metres long and has two decks, ensuring the highest level of safety. This careful process guarantees that the cars we collect from the dealer network are as impeccable as if we picked them up from the factory gates of these automotive giants, instilling a strong sense of trust in the transportation process.

Now, a bit of number-crunching. In May 2024, the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) said its members sold

  • Passenger Vehicle -3,47,492 units.
  • Three-wheeler — 55,763 units.
  • Two-wheeler — 16,20,084 units.

A significant portion of these vehicles were transported by road, with over 10,000 car carriers traversing the length and breadth of India to meet the demand for personal mobility. Even those vehicles dispatched by rail rakes need driver assistance for the first and last mile delivery.

Today’s highways are better than a decade ago, so the in-transit damage to mint-fresh vehicles is very low. Moreover, Maruti Suzuki leads the table in conducting almost daily virtual/online training sessions for car carrier drivers, focusing on safe and defensive driving, all in the interest of cargo safety.

There is nothing wrong with this. Indeed, this is laudable, considering that most Indian truck drivers never attended any Driver Training Institutes for their licenses. They are self-taught or mentored by their family members or friends, and they have an equal lack of proper driving education and certification. Yet, logistics handlers at OEMs estimate this figure to be around two per cent.

The drama begins at the delivery destination: the dealer network. At the loading site (OEM’s yard inside the manufacturing plant), a loading team assists in moving the cars into the cargo belly, lashes them individually to eliminate movement in any direction en route and seals the door for the entire trip. Only the dealer network has the magic code to unlock the seal. So far, so good.

Now, the drama begins.

At the unloading site, the driver faces a daunting task. Once the seal is unlocked, he must carefully maneuver the vehicle from the cargo bay, one after the other. Each unloading takes a minimum of 5–10 minutes. The driver is constantly on the move, away from the parked vehicle on the ground, with the dealer network assistant monitoring. The driver has no kalasi or assistant for the entire journey.The driver’s visibility is zero inside the cargo bay, making the unloading process a nerve-wracking experience. Had there been a driver assistant, he would have kept an eye on the dealer network assistant to ensure fair play. No hera pheri!

The dealer network assistant has ample opportunity to indulge in mischief. If car carrier drivers are to be believed, there is an element of corruption at this juncture. Once the unloading is completed, the dealer has to issue a Proof of Delivery (PoD) to the driver, declaring that the vehicles were delivered in good condition. Without PoD, drivers cannot leave because the transporter cannot invoice OEMs without PoD.

The dealer network assistant supervising the unloading invariably finds something wrong with the delivered vehicles and demands a few thousand rupees from the driver. In-transit damage cannot be ruled out. However, as we noticed earlier, such happenings were a paltry 2–3 per cent. Yet, dealer networks try to extract their pound of flesh from drivers.

Taking advantage of driver invisibility during the entire unloading operations at the dealer network site, the toolkit was provisioned inside the car and check-boxed in OEM premises at the time of loading and, more importantly, “sealed”, thus eliminating theft by the driver in transit goes missing. How? Is it a mystery? Not at all. One must not be a Sherlock Holmes to decipher who committed the crime. The perpetrator of the crime is crystal clear.

Again, deliberate but minor scratches are “enacted” allegedly by the dealer network assistant to extract some money from the hapless driver. The driver has no option but to cough up the bribe — yes, it is loot — to get the requisite PoD from the dealer network.

The bribe amount varies from dealer to dealer — nothing is official. Drivers say the minimum bribe is Rs.500 per load. In some cases, drivers have caught such bribe seekers indulging in unethical practices, stealing the toolbox with photographic evidence and bringing it to the attention of the dealer and the OEMs concerned. It is a serious issue warranting OEMs “counselling” the dealers to ensure their staff stop such malpractices. Will they do? Keeping my fingers crossed.

Significantly, another interesting angle exists to this ugly side of the dealer network. It is no secret that OEMs allot dealerships under political pressure, too. OEMs are in a dilemma at such dealer networks, mostly in main cities. Why? Because such dealers post higher sales. Naturally, complaints of such malpractices go unheard.

As they say, everything is fair in war and love. Let’s add “business” to that category. There’s no respite from such shenanigans. Drivers are on the receiving end.

No bribe, No PoD. Wow!

Will FADA investigate this and institute an award for the most ethical dealer? Or is it too much to ask for?

Let us hope that the FADA Awards 2025 institutes a “special category” to add glitter and live upto your “For Dealership Excellence” drive.

It’s high time that OEMs initiate some “dialogue” with their dealers and join the fight against corruption. This is not just a problem for the drivers, but a systemic issue that needs immediate attention from all industry stakeholders.

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Konsultramesh

An avid watcher & practitioner in the world of communication