Sunday, July 8, 2007

Just a thought!

The implicit cost of ‘the’ drive in ‘that owned’ car

No doubt the impossible imagination of owning a car, within the great Indian middle class was fired by Maruti, in the eighties, by it’s built to suit Maruti 800. Priced at around Rs. 40,000 it completely changed the auto-scape of India. Interestingly, after almost two decades, some leading national and international auto manufacturers are all set to repeat history by foraying into the low cost car segment and has been attracting considerable interest particularly from the time when Tata Motors announced its rupees one lakh car. Following the trend, India’s second largest two-wheeler maker, Bajaj Auto is engineering a concept passenger four-wheeler for the impending Auto Expo. Not to be left in this race is the revolutionary Renault’s Indian joint venture, Mahindra Renault, which presently is nursing a global ambition of developing a $3,000 small car.

While all this is happening in India at a turbo speed, in the west, there is now an declared war on the concept of car itself, as is being popularised by Graeme Maxton and John Wormald. In their iconoclastic book, ‘Time for a Model Change: Re-engineering the Global Automotive Industry’ they highlight the graceless degradation and the present and future value of mobility. Closer home, New Delhi based Centre for Science and Environment has embarked upon a crusade, wherein, according to them the users should incur the full social cost of ownership and maintenance of a vehicle. No wonder that the response to such crusades has been absolutely subdued. But more than the response, the greater concern other than public infrastructural constraints, environmental pollution, congestion, accidents, wasted time resources, oil energy consumption and etc. lies in the indiscernible strategic confusion, of the automobile companies. Drunken to enrich the top and the bottomlines, they seem to completely ignore the difference between the long-term risks and the secular (life-time) risks inherent in their existing business. This consequent and continuous profligacy backed by unique demographics and psychographics in the emerging economies like India and China is only going to further add upto the irrevocable socio-economic, environmental and public health costs.

But then what is the solution? Do we stop driving cars or ask the government to stop the auto manufacturers from manufacturing cars? Both seems impossible! The irony is that around two decades back it was impossible to own a car and today it is equally difficult to give it away. Probably we can or rather we have to give it away one day for our own survival, but that has to be in a phased manner and would essentially require a world class alternate public transport infrastructure (according to the Central Road Research Institute report the Delhi Metro has already saved 33,000 tonnes of fuel and prevented the creation of over 2,275 tonnes of poisonous gases). Till the time such an alternate is made available none of us would care for the larger costs at the cost of that drive in that car which we all aspire for!!


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