So, one of the things that kept slipping down my to-do list is travel.
It might sound surprising because even though I’ve been traveling between US and India, and within US, I feel guilty for not traveling within India. Be it Yosemite or Vegas, everywhere I go, deep down I feel the guilt. Should’ve traveled more within India.
So in 2018, as part of starting up more operations in India (if you didn’t know, I started a new startup for consolidating my businesses to India), I decided to spend more time in India, traveling. So, I decided to get a large SUV or MPV. Something that I’d drive comfortably for hours together.
In the US, I drive a Toyota Corolla sedan and a Honda CRV. The CRV is my preference for anything long distance. Like from Irvine to San Francisco. I love it for the space and comfort. There’s little bit of body roll, but it’s reliable and a nice SUV.
In India, I have a hatchback (Hyundai Getz) that folks use while I’m away. But this time, since I planned a lot of travel, I wanted to get a bigger vehicle. Something very comfortable and in which I could carry like four – five people comfortably. Hatchbacks won’t do it. 5 + 2’s like the Ford Ecosport was more of a compromise I thought.
So, in my research, I stumbled upon the Tata Hexa. I loved the cars looks. I could see the Land Rover engineering getting carried over to Tata.
But that was about it. I didn’t know anything about the vehicle other than that it had good features, was large enough and overall was a good car for long drives.
I hadn’t used Tata’s vehicles before and don’t know anyone who used it. I remember once getting on an Uber, that happened to be a Tata Indica and I remember how plasticky the car looked. But that was some time back. The Hexa looked very upmarket.
Thinking of getting a SUV under 40 Lakhs INR in India. ? What would you suggest? (I know it depends on various factors but if you were to pick blindly…) ? Thanks.
— Mani Karthik (@manikarthik) January 6, 2018
First date with Hexa
So, when I came to India this year, I decided to check out the Hexa. I made a few calls to their dealerships in Kochi (three of them – RF Motors, Concorde and Malayalam). All three responded but Concorde was the first to reply.
I told my requirement and the executive arranged for a test drive at home. He said he’d come with a vehicle the very next day and I could test it out.
He did come on time. And the vehicle was looking great. Huge and spacious.
I noticed it was making a lot of noise even when idled out. I asked why and he said that it had met an accident recently and the front part was damaged, and hence the noise. None of my concern.
Oh! And by the way, I was interested in an automatic vehicle, but it wasn’t available so he brought a manual vehicle.
I drove the vehicle and liked its size, space and how it felt on the road. Kinda like the Toyota Fortuner. Dominating.
I didn’t like the drive quality though. The gear was hard to reach (even me being a 5 11′ guy with long arms) and it was making lot of noise on the road (perhaps the accident, I thought). But I left it at that.
It was ok I thought. I drove a manual, and it had met with accident, so probably not the best vehicle I could get my hands on, I thought. Whatever, it was ok.
The executive promised to let me drive an automatic the next day, so this time, I paid a visit to their office.
Boring second date
This is when I started to see things go the other way around.
Typically, car sales folks are super aggressive and they take care of customers really well, be it in the US or India. That’s my experience.
But at the Tata showroom, I almost felt like being at a Govt. office. I mean, they offered us drinks and everything but I could clearly see the lack of enthusiasm.
People were tired. People weren’t happy. I could tell.
Anyways, I got to test drive the automatic version of Tata Hexa. This vehicle was far better than the manual variant. It drove smoother, felt easy to drive. It also had an impressive power mode.
However, there were seemingly small issues that I wanted to ignore because I liked the car so much.
Like the sidestep of the car was broken. Or it broke when I stepped on it. Ouch!
I asked the executive (who was a well behaved guy by the way) why the side step broke to which he replied that this car was driven by many people and they didn’t get time to fix it. Hmm.
I was impressed by the car but not so much with the Tata experience. Their showroom folks weren’t rude but far from being courteous or enthusiastic.
Now I was getting double thoughts. I researched a bit about Tata ownership. Joined multiple forums and Facebook pages to see what people were talking about.
I also rang up folks on my friends list who’d know about owning a Tata, and the response I got wasn’t encouraging at all.
A friend who worked in the same field (apparently close to Tata) told me that the car is really good but forget about the dealership or company support after you get the car.
You’d curse them if you’re trying to sell the car later – he said.
Apparently, Tata’s after sales service is pathetic. Their older cars (Tata Indica, Manza etc) had terrible product issues and owners cursed their decision of buying a Tata.
Tata’s resale numbers were flat. Like terribly flat.
Now, I was starting to get a better picture. See, what Tata was doing was that, since they bought the Jaguar/Land Rover engineering unit, they’ve been using that talent to build better products for Tata.
The Hexa is a by-product of this effort. And they managed to get it right. The Hexa is still getting raving reviews from motor heads across the country. YouTube reviews, forum posts.. wherever you seek, you’ll see people saying great things about the car and its ride quality.
Where they go silent is what happens after owning a Hexa. It’s too early to say something as the product is new.
But looking at Tata Motor’s history, Tata car owners don’t have good things to say. They usually feel they were trapped.
I even tweeted to Tata Motors asking very politely my concern. To this date, no reply. 🙁
— Mani Karthik (@manikarthik) January 11, 2018
This is when I started to rethink my decision of getting the Hexa. Don’t get me wrong. The Hexa is a great car. No doubt.
But what Tata’s don’t know (or don’t bother about) and where companies like Toyota excel much in is not just delivering a great product, but building relationships and honoring a long term commitment.
Ask any Toyota car owner what they think about their experience buying the car and they’d start raving about how awesome they feel as a customer. That’s the Toyota experience. This is what Tata was missing (or not seeing).
So, since I started getting my second thoughts on Hexa, I decided to get a third party opinion. I took my folks along with me this time to check out the Hexa. This time things fell apart.
The Hexa I was given to test drive was terrible. A/C fans were blaring out uncontrollably. A/C controls wouldn’t work. I recall, last time when I test drove the automatic Hexa, its driving modes weren’t working either. The sport/eco/whatever else mode it had was stuck.
Similarly, this time many more things were’t working (some interiors were out of place). When I asked the executive why, he’d repeat the same excuse. This car came without a PDI done, so somethings don’t work.
Wait a minute. If I were the Tatas I’d ensure that I give my best car for test drive. Not let things break and have excuses ready for my potential customers.
Offering a great/excellent experience in the very first touchpoint between a potential customer and product is basic marketing one on one. Tata doesn’t seem to bother about it.
I could extrapolate this and figure out what I might end up with if I bought the car (read running around Tata trying to get small things fixed and ultimately getting frustrated about it).
P.S – I even tweeted to Tata Motors over my concern (sounding very polite I assume) but to this date, they didn’t bother to reply. Ouch!)
After the third test drive, I told the executive that I’m not impressed. He expressed his helplessness. I asked for the manager, and had a brief conversation with him.
Dude was least concerned. I could tell, he’s been getting a lot of flak like this and he gave two f**** about what I said. I told him that Toyota wouldn’t treat their customers like this (this was a totally chilled out conversation, by the way).
He said something like “They’re right around the corner, you could go there.”
Next to the Tata showroom was Toyota. I got out of Tata saying that I’ll let them know my decision by tomorrow, and went to the Toyota showroom.
I went to the Toyota showroom, and boy the difference I could feel.
Super courteous staff, very knowledgeable salesmen and overall an amazing experience. They had answers to all my questions. Note that they didn’t bad-mouth Tata, considering where I came from.
I told my bad experience with Tata and the guy politely smiled and only cared to explain why a Toyota car would help me.
They really cared about what I wanted, my requirement and recommended a car accordingly – the Toyota Crysta.
I felt like these guys were so experienced, they have heard or experienced everything I said or asked, a thousand times before. The closer I felt to this experience was in CarMax in USA, when I was selling one of my cars. They don’t talk about frills, just the real thing that you need. Similar kind of experience.
Just after the first test drive experience, I was sold to Toyota. I mean, compared to Tata Hexa, the Toyota Crysta wasn’t as macho-looking or majestic. But Crysta was the kind of car that would grow on you. (Like how Dhanush says in one more “engala maatiri pasanga, paakka paaka thaan pudikkum (you’ll like guys like me slowly)”.
I did a lot of research on the Crysta as well and almost all of them had raving reviews except a few minor glitches in product (tyres, steering etc). Toyota was already listening to a lot of feedback and had made changes in the product soon enough (like making the driver seat height adjustable).
Long story short, in two days and a visit to the showroom, I was told to Toyota. I booked a Toyota Crysta. Should be getting in a few weeks.
What Tata might want to learn
It isn’t always about the product. Of course, bad products are obviously not going to make it, but when it comes to customers, they trust good relationships. When selling cars, you not only just build a good product, but also honor a lifetime commitment, by making sure you offer good after sales service, good product support and basically offering a great life time value for the Dollars/Rupees customers spend.
My decision to go with Toyota was purely based on this. I know their design isn’t just as amazing as a macho looking land rover, but hey that’s not a deal breaker. They treat people like people. Not as customers.
I hope Toyota stays the same and continue to offer the same exceptional service to me like they’ve done for millions.