Car Deals May Soon Go Online

On the cards: online auctions


Will we be seeing online auctions as well as reverse auctions for selling and buying new and old motor vehicles soon? Seems likely, considering how inventory levels for some makes and models at the end of the year are at stratospheric levels. More than one consortium of people in the automobile trade—from DSAs to banks and manufacturers to dealers are planning for such auctions.


There are many different ways in which this can work; but almost all will have to include physical display and touch-feel of vehicle as well as standardisation of seller and buyer documentation. The coming application of the goods and services tax (GST) is likely to make this business more streamlined; otherwise, the transactions will need to remain between the original owner and actual buyer without the intermediary actually holding the ownership of the car at any stage.


Will this bring down prices for the eventual buyer? It might, especially in urban centres, where cost of real estate makes maintaining showrooms expensive. In this case, all or most of the search as well as the negotiations and narrowing down will be done online, and it will only be the final look-see that will need to be done on a personal visit.


Get the Best of Your Free Car Services


You do NOT have to send your car or bike to the same dealer you bought it from, for after-sales service. In fact, it may well be a better idea to send it for free services and guarantee repairs to a competing dealer’s workshop, from within the same manufacturer’s network. The reason is simple: the competing dealer will try to keep the billed costs down.


Since you, as a customer, are on free/pre-paid service and warranty, it does not matter to you; so please take advantage of this wonderful option while the vehicle is still under pre-paid or free service and/or warranties.


Safety Measures for Taxi Services


Some simple measures can be applied, to make taxi travel safer in all cities across India:

• Vehicle and permit number to be painted inside the taxi on doors, behind the front seat, dashboard and on the outside of doors.

• Two-tone colour should be used—black-yellow till the ‘waist’ of the car which comes just below the window, instead of the current requirement of the two-tone that is used just on roof.

• Photocopy of vehicle driver’s licence and other details to be available in a pouch on the windscreen as well as behind the front seat.

• Phone number and full postal address of vehicle owner should be painted on both sides of the taxi.

• Four-digit numeric part of the registration number should be painted on the roof of the vehicle for easier spotting from above, in a big font size of at least 30 centimetres height of numerical on the roof (painted flat).

• Child-lock on rear doors should be permanently disabled by law and this needs to be checked by passengers after entering the vehicle.

• Rear windows should always be of the manual winding down variety, instead of power windows which can be locked by the driver.


• ‘Emergency help’ switch to be provided in the rear seat of the vehicle which sets off a horn and warning flashers of the motor vehicle.


None of these steps requires rocket science of any major electronic sort; these are just basic precautions which can protect both, the driver and the passenger


(Veeresh Malik started and sold a couple of companies, is now back to his first love—writing. He is also involved in helping small and midsize family-run businesses re-invent themselves.)


Consumers Win a Victory in Utah Open Records Case's wins an important battle to obtain complaints against Utah-based companies
Consumers received an important holiday present this year when the Utah State Records Committee ruled in favor of’s request to obtain copies of consumer complaints filed with the state Department of Commerce against three e-cigarette companies that had been the subject of an agency enforcement action. 
There’s much to applaud in the State Records Committee ruling, most notably that it rejected the state’s assertions that the hundreds of complaints were protected records and could not be disclosed for a variety of reasons. And when I say variety, I mean the state made several different arguments as the case evolved.
First, the Utah Department of Commerce argued that it couldn’t release complaints filed with its Division of Consumer Protection because it considers complaints confidential investigatory records. Such was its argument in the first records case appealed regarding efforts to obtain consumer complaints against Utah-based WakeUpNow. The Records Committee ruled in the agency’s favor on that one. But it seems the tide is turning.
In our second appeal regarding consumer complaints filed against the three e-cigarette companies –which had all been the subject of a investigation — we pointed out that the companies’ names were released by the state when it announced citations against them this summer. Yet the state claimed it still could not release the consumer complaints that prompted the citations in the first place because the investigations of the three companies had not yet concluded and disclosing the complaints could interfere with a pending law enforcement proceeding.
When the state did reach final settlements with the companies in October, Assistant Attorney General Ché Arguello, arguing on behalf of the department, said that the state legislature never intended to release consumer complaints, and if it had it would have specifically listed consumer complaints as having to be included in the public files of enforcement actions. He also claimed that if the state released the consumer complaints it could be divulging private financial information about consumers who filed the complaint. Like what? That consumers had gotten their credit cards debited repeatedly without their consent, as was the case with the e-cigarette companies?
During the appeals hearing before the Records Committee, Arguello argued, “In the world my client (Department of Commerce) operates, complaints are evidence of nothing.”
When I requested the records, I didn’t feel we were asking for anything unusual. Indeed, most states disclose consumer complaints and some even post searchable online databases. Consumer complaints are also readily disclosed by the Federal Trade Commission.
We think complaints are important information consumers should be able to access in order to make informed decisions about doing business with a company. And we think it’s also important that the state disclose the complaints so its citizens can know whether state agencies are responding to them appropriately.
But Arguello took issue, telling the committee in the appeals hearing:
They insinuate there is something nefarious going on. I think that is inappropriate. I think that is dangerous and I think it is offensive….I think we need to dispel with that nonsense.
To be clear, isn’t insinuating “that there are any nefarious activities going on,” Laura Smith, legal director of told the committee, “but the issue is we’d have no way of knowing if there was.”
Committee member Holly Richardson, a citizen representative, took issue with the state’s presentation, saying she found it “offensive.” Said Richardson:
I, this month and last month, have found it to be disturbing and frustrating that the presentation made to our committee has been condescending and has been, I think from my perspective, an effort to jump through an incredible number of hoops to prevent the public to having access to records.
Specifically, several members of the committee were critical of the state’s assertion that when the state legislature wrote the government records management act it did not want consumer complaints disclosed. Richardson said:
I am very concerned with the absolute statement that the legislature deliberately omitted specific things when they passed the law. I do not believe that to be the case. Having been in the legislature, I can tell you that frequently there are, in fact almost always, laws passed that address a specific situation and not every single situation can possibly be contemplated and included or excluded in the law … I do not agree the law as written specifically precludes the department from releasing the information requested.
Tom Haraldsen, a journalist who is a member of the committee, said:
If the Division of Consumer Protection by name is designed to protect consumers…why isn’t the public allowed to know if you’ve received complaints?
Committee Chairwoman Patricia Smith-Mansfield when further and called into question whether a complaint is an investigatory record and thus exempt from disclosure.
I don’t view a complaint file necessarily as the investigation…. I don’t think complaint files are expressly identified as being anywhere included [in the statute] as being restricted access.
This view opens the door to the notion that consumer complaints are vital public records and that the state legislature never intended for them to remain secret. And that’s an important victory for consumers in Utah. 


Years After Tobacco Deals Sold, SEC Says Rating Agencies Still Conflicted
The latest Securities and Exchange Commission examination of credit rating firms found problems similar to those documented in ProPublica's investigation of tobacco bonds
In our story last month about credit rating agencies and tobacco bonds, we detailed numerous instances in which bankers pressured Standard & Poor's, Fitch and Moody's to give favorable treatment to bond issues being put together on behalf of state and local governments.
Documents showed that the bankers brazenly played one firm against another to relax rating criteria and grade risker, longer-term tobacco bonds. These actions mostly pre-dated the 2008 financial crisis, in which the raters earned widespread criticism for giving high marks to bum mortgage securities packaged by Wall Street.
Now, a new report from the rating agencies' regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission, found similar conflicts of interest at the firms, which are supposed to evaluate the riskiness of various debts at arm's length from the banks and issuers they serve.
The SEC's annual examination of the firms' business practices, published on the same day as ProPublica's ratings story, cited numerous examples of how the firms continued to compromise the objectivity of their rating process during the 2013 calendar year. For instance:
One of the top three rating firms changed its rating criteria "in a manner that addressed" concerns from business managers and proved advantageous to a trade group that had lobbied for the changes, the SEC said, concluding that "business and market-share concerns influenced the substance of the criteria." 
One of the top three rating firms took financial models that were developed by outside parties and used them for its credit rating process – without independently verifying their validity. It turned out that "errors in these third-party models resulted in changes to a substantial number" of the firm's outstanding ratings, the SEC said. 
The SEC also uncovered instances of analysts having access to business performance data, such as market share, which could influence their decision making when assigning ratings. The failure to separate analysts from business activity was particularly egregious at one smaller rating firm, which allowed an analytical supervisor to participate in sales and marketing activities for ratings while also participating in determining those ratings.
The SEC's report does not name specific credit rating firms, other than indicating whether they were the three largest firms, S&P, Moody's and Fitch, or their smaller competitors. The SEC also made recommendations for improving their procedures to avoid the problems identified in the report. In statements reacting to the SEC's report, S&P, Moody's and Fitch each said they continue to enhance their policies and procedures.
Rating criteria – the standards that agencies use to evaluate repayment risk across various types of debts – are not supposed to be negotiated for the sake of winning business. But ProPublica found evidence that criteria for tobacco bonds — debts backed by payments from a massive 1998 settlement with cigarette manufacturers — were heavily negotiated by bankers.
In marketing documents collected by ProPublica across 22 tobacco bond offerings, bankers for UBS, Bear Stearns, Citigroup and others repeatedly took credit for getting the firms to bend their criteria. The raters earn hefty fees if they're chosen to rate an issue.
"Bear Stearns is the ONLY firm in two years to have negotiated new rating criteria pertaining to stress tests and tobacco sector fundamentals," the now-defunct investment bank said in a 2005 marketing document typical of the firm's claims of influence over the rating process.
After our story published, Wisconsin responded to a ProPublica public records request with a disc containing dozens of tobacco bond records dating to 2001. They include more claims by bankers saying they had swayed the rating firms.
In 2008, bankers from Lehman Brothers told Wisconsin that S&P had agreed to hear arguments for rating the state's tobacco bonds "even if" the debt couldn't satisfy the firm's "newly-minted, more stringent" rating criteria, according to a proposal submitted by the bank three days after its historic Sept. 15, 2008, bankruptcy.
Courtesy: ProPublica


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