The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Car recall out of closet
- Common practice in the West makes debut

New Delhi, June 25: Car recalls have finally started in India — and it’s official.

As customers become more demanding and quality conscious, Indian carmakers are recalling their models to fix malfunctioning parts.

Unlike in the West, it’s being done in a discreet manner — without a public announcement. The new Honda City — a 1.5-litre sedan launched last October — has won rave reviews and notched up sales of 13,000 units since.

It has now become arguably the first car model to be officially recalled by an India automaker to fix a problem with its shock absorbers. Honda Motor has sent letters to its 13,000 customers in India to get the front damper fixed free of cost.

“We conduct rigorous tests on the components of all our vehicles on an ongoing basis with Honda Motor Company Ltd, Japan, to ensure that the highest standards are maintained. In one of these tests, a batch of front dampers of the new Honda City has been found to fall short of Honda’s stringent quality control standards. The company has, therefore, decided to replace the existing front dampers in your car with new dampers which meet Honda’s rigorous standards,” says the letter to customers from Neeraj Garg, the head of marketing at Honda Siel Cars India Ltd.

“Dampers are essentially shock absorbers and we would like to assure you that even in the unlikely event of a malfunction, your car and its passengers are at no risk whatsoever…. Our dealers… will get in touch with you shortly to schedule an appointment with you from the period 1st July 2004 to 7th July 2004 for the completion of this job,” the letter says.

The company has assured customers that it will require no more than a couple of hours to fix the problem, the replacement coming free of cost.

Garg said the automaker still has not received any complaints from customers. Neither has there been any report of an accident stemming from the problem. “The possible defect was reported to us by our suppliers and, consequently, we decided to replace them,” he said.

Dealers said it would cost between Rs 4,000 and 5,000 to replace the front-end dampers if it was carried out after the warranty period.

Honda’s new City has been a runaway success since its introduction and has clocked sales of around 2,000 units a month.

Industry experts say other carmakers have also resorted to unofficial recalls — usually through free car servicing programmes to fix suspect parts.

Ford India Ltd had conducted a similar customer campaign for its earlier Escort model while the local unit of German automaker DaimlerChrysler AG’s recently upgraded the software in its E-class sedans.

Although almost all large foreign car companies have opened shop in India, a practice like official recall common in the West has yet to become a transparent exercise. Honda could well set the trend.

“It’s a question of a concept,” said P. Balendran, the chief of corporate affairs at General Motors India. “Unlike in the US where the vehicles are self-certified by the respective automakers, in India it is certified by the Automotive Research Association in India.”

Logically, once a model has passed this test, it is assumed to be defect-free, said Balendra.

Garg said automakers were afraid to go public with a recall as it could hurt the brand image. “In a price sensitive market, automakers have to be cautious not to hurt their brand image,” said an auto analyst.

Thirteen automakers, including the local subsidiaries of global firms like Suzuki, Hyundai, General Motors and Ford, manufacture cars, vans and utility vehicles for the domestic market.

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