The car major is a victim of workshop gossip over the issue of airbags
Toyota is facing global queries on the issue of faulty airbags supplied by Takata Corp, manufacturers of safety devices, including seat belts, for major car companies across the world who constitute its consumers. Toyota is taking rapid action all over the world to fix the issue. Here, in India, the news is that the manufacturers are still ‘considering’ what action needs to be taken, beyond some small gestures here and there. ‘Voluntary recall’ of safety feature is seen as a big favour to customers and diluting the message is par for the course. (According to news reports, airbag inflators made by Takata are exploding with too much force and government officials and regulators in many countries, including the US, are investigating.)
What’s even worse is the disinformation campaign being spread: genteel queries with taxi-operators, on the airbag recall issue, reveal that most taxi-operators don’t have airbags even in their top-end cabs and, if they do, very often, these airbags have either been de-activated or have simply never been tested. In one case—and I am talking about one of the oldest cab companies going—the middle-level staff told me that they stay clear of the issue of airbags as it makes drivers careless.
Another rumour, which has gained mileage, is that replacing airbags will reduce fuel efficiency of larger vehicles. I have no idea how these things start; but can only assume that this is workshop gossip. The message is everything—one would have expected Toyota to have issued full advisories on the subject of safety.
On the subject of safety and cars, one manufacturer, which does not appear to be diluting any global standards as far as safety is concerned, is Volvo cars. Here, I must point out that this is totally different from the approach taken by Volvo heavy vehicles, buses and trucks, which have permitted major changes, especially to their buses, to ‘adapt’ to Indian standards.
Volvo buses appear to have bowed to market forces by permitting buyers to build ‘sleeper’ coach configurations which would not pass muster in most other countries. Even China has stopped registering fresh sleeper bus coaches on safety grounds. But, in India, this risky approach continues unfettered.
Volvo cars, on the other hand, simply do not permit any flexibility with safety on cars sold in India. This is unlike most other manufacturers who smartly delete safety features, passive as well as active, without really letting customers know.
If you care for safety and are spending good money on your car, the simple question you should ask the seller of the car is whether the piece you are getting in India is exactly the same as what is sold in the manufacturer’s home country or in, say, the United Kingdom. And take that answer in writing. You will be surprised.
In summers, when manufacturers choose to throw press conferences, getting hold of the motoring media willing to come to an air-conditioned hotel for a mediocre meal and to meet even more mediocre middle-management-level people is a tough task assigned to public relations (PR) entities. One such PR agency, obviously, couldn’t gather enough headcount for a Monday afternoon press conference in heat wave wrapped New Delhi. Come Sunday, then, the barrage of plaintive emails and messages started flowing in—it will be followed by lunch, can I send you a taxi?
Just to see how far they would go, I asked them if they could specifically send me a high-end SUV, made by a global rival, as a taxi to pick me up and then drop me back after the event. As I type this out, I am told they are working on it and will revert. Such is the reality behind ‘exclusive’ press conferences too!
(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.