Sriram Narayanan on: greedy car dealers

Posted by Sriram Narayanan at 19:34 pm on Friday February 28, 2014

You know how the real estate industry works here. Truckloads of money, zero transparency and zero accountability. It’s a parking lot for illegal funds. And it attracts the underworld, politicians and local goons – same difference – the way free onions attract grocery shoppers these days.

But for all its unsavoury elements, real estate is something that’s always tempted the entire nation. A decent house in a city like Mumbai is beyond the reach of most people. Most people eking out an honest living, that is. Yet, a home is the only thing you want. You win KBC or a huge lottery, and the first thing you’d want is a home. Sure, you say you’d get yourself a Ferrari 458. I always think I will get myself the Maserati GranTurismo Sport. Buying a car is simple. Walk into the showroom, dish out the cheque, drive away.

No shady deals, no black money, no waiting periods that see wrinkles growing on your face. But the problem with the 458 or the Maserati is that they begin depreciating the minute you drive them out of your showroom. Your home, well, it appreciates in value the minute you sign on the dotted line. And the minute you pay a booking amount and the first installment for your under-construction or ready home, you don’t have to pay extra at the time of possession because of inflation, a falling rupee or P Chidambaram suffering a fit.

With cars, though, things aren’t as simple as they used to be. When the only cars you could have were the Premier Padmini and the Hindustan Ambassador, the waiting lists for these things were so long, people would pay more and buy a used car. It seems like those days are back.

My previous neighbour called me up with the good news that he had booked himself a Japanese car. Great, I told him. Then previous neighbour called me up again with the not-so-good news that the dealer wasn’t delivering the car by the date promised. Relax, I told him. Then previous neighbour called me up with news that the dealer wanted extra money because between the time the car was booked and the time the car was to be delivered, prices had gone up by 12 grand.

In real estate terms, if you booked your house at Rs 10,000 per square feet, and by the time you got possession, prices went to Rs 15,000 per square feet, even the most unethical of developers wouldn’t ask you to pay that extra. Sure, there are a thousand clauses in millimetre-high font about how prices are subject to change, how everything is at the discretion of the manufacturer or the dealer, and how you should feel as helpless as you were the day you were born.

Anyhow, when I spoke to said manufacturer, they had hilarious explanations. Ranging from “it is the norm” to “the dealer over-promised on the delivery date”, and “your neighbour could’ve gone for the colour that was available when he paid the booking amount”.

Really? At a time when car sales are down across all segments, do manufacturers really want to start off a relationship with a customer by arguing over 12 grand? Frankly, 12 is nothing. There are lots of them asking customers to whip up 50 to 80 grand extra between the time they book and the time they take delivery.

Of course, the 12 grand issue was resolved. And my old neighbour got the car he wanted in the colour he wanted at the amount he had booked it at. Still, he says the episode left a sour taste in his mouth, and he’s now bracing for worse when he needs to take his car for servicing.

Car manufacturers, listen up. Forget the fine print, forget the law, forget the consumer courts. Don’t risk badwill for the sake of a few grand. Even the notorious real estate industry has better sense than that.

TAGS// sriram narayanan

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