As wanderers, road trips are probably considered the dreamiest and most intimate way of vacationing. However, with the unfortunate lockdown currently, a brake has been put to all those long drives until the red light turns green again. In the process, the automobile industry has had to shift gears and realign their strategies. We spoke to some of the biggest automobile companies in the country to learn more about how they’re ensuring the safety of the employees, how they’re helping #flattenthecurve and the road ahead. By Bayar Jain
1. What are you doing to ensure the safety of your employees?
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Martin Schwenk, Managing Director/CEO, Mercedes-Benz India Pvt Ltd: Keeping in mind the safety and well-being of our employees and to support social distancing, we have allowed employees to work from home even prior to the lock down began. Once we resume operations partially, we will continue to practice social distancing at the workplaces, in employee buses, in the canteen, in lifts, meeting rooms, shop floors etc. We have also been maintaining a safe and sanitised workplace environment, and we will continue to do that once we resume operations. The Leadership Team has been continuously communicating with employees, informing them about the various measures taken and also keeping a high level of positivity. At dealerships as well, a high level of sanitisation will be maintained once operation resumes. Different touch-points at dealerships like door handles, elevator buttons, chairs, reception counter, Café Mercedes, table tops, boutique counters, screens, washroom fitments, etc. will be cleaned continuously using disinfectants. In addition, close proximity to customers will be avoided and a distance of at least 1.5 metres will be maintained at all times. If the customer is required to be guided to a lounge, seating area or cabin, the dealer staff will proactively hold out the door to minimise touching of doors by customers. While collecting keys at the Service reception, the customer will be guided to sanitise their hands. Once the key is collected, it will be disinfected before handing it over any further.”
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Lexus India: “Our employees are remotely working from home. We are also encouraging our teams to maintain social distance and take precautions to keep themselves and their families safe.”
Steffen Knapp, Director, Volkswagen Passenger Cars: “We at Volkswagen have defined three key priorities for us: the safety of our team; support to our customers; and dealer partners. Even before the nationwide lockdown was announced, we took early measures and implemented work from home for our employees across all our locations in the country. In addition, we established an emergency medical advisory and crisis team to understand, implement and execute the necessities keeping all the relevant stakeholders into consideration. Further, we supported our dealer partners, with best practices that could be adopted for implementing precautionary measures. We even try staying connected with our customers, current and prospective, via digital mediums. Lastly, and more importantly, we have ensured our dealer partners with financial and infrastructure support as necessary to strive through these tough times.”
Shashank Srivastava, Executive Director, Marketing & Sales, Maruti Suzuki India Limited: “The company is strictly following and adhering to the directives set by the Indian government, and is observing the national lockdown. Our teams are working from home with our employees staying connected through factory servers and conference call facilities. The company has set up a 24×7 help desk to address any concerns and questions of employees, while the supervisors and managers regularly enquire about their employee’s health conditions. In fact, even before the complete lockdown was announced, we had undertaken a slew of measures to keep employees updated and safe. This includes setting up a special task force to closely monitor all efforts; regular Coronavirus-related bulletins and advisories from the Chief Medical Officer; advisories on personal hygiene on the employees’ app and employees portal; and directives to avoid large gatherings.”
2. As an automobile brand, what initiatives are you taking to #flattenthecurve?
Mercedes-Benz India Pvt Ltd: “We have taken necessary measures at an early stage– for example social distancing like travel restrictions, work from home for employees, special protocols at the dealerships. We are also supporting local communities and authorities in the region by setting up a temporary hospital with medical facilities and isolation wards for the Covid-19 patients. The isolation wards with 374 rooms will have a capacity to take care of 1500 patients in the Mhalunge-Ingale village, Chakan Khed.”
Lexus: “We have suspended local production of the ES 300h at our Bidadi plant. We have also temporarily closed our Guest Experience Centre’s around the country, as well as our Brand Experience Centre at the Delhi Airport until further notice. Our teams are available remotely to assist guests in emergency cases and our Lexus Owners’ Desk service is available to answer any queries.”
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Maruti Suzuki India Limited: “Apart from halting productions and office operations at our facilities in Gurugram and Manesar, Haryana, and closing the R&D Centre at Rohtak temporarily, we are even supplying food from the Maruti Suzuki canteens, in case anyone faces any food shortages. The Gurugram plant is providing packaged food – up to 7,000 packets for lunch and dinner – to support temporary workmen, apprentices and student trainees living in paying guest accommodations at the Satguru farm in Gurugram. We are also supporting the Gurugram administration by providing 500 kits of dry ration every day. These kits include rice, atta, cooking oil, sugar, soap and other essential items. Additionally, we are also distributing masks and clinical thermometers. Ration has also been distributed in five villages including Kasan, Alihar, Dhana, Baas-Kusla and Kho.”
“We have even entered in an arrangement with AgVa Healthcare, an existing approved manufacturer of ventilators, to rapidly scale up production of ventilators by providing our experience and knowledge to upgrade systems for production and quality control of the higher volumes. We intend on reaching a volume of 10,000 units per month. We will also help, to the required extent, in arranging financing, and obtaining the permissions and approvals required to enable the higher production free of cost.”
3. Amid pan-India lockdown, what are you doing to ensure your patrons are engaged on your digital platforms? If you have to recommend one iconic virtual road trip to a car enthusiast, which one would it be?
Mercedes-Benz India Pvt Ltd: “We have decided to use our social media handle to spread awareness and flatten the curve. We have been running an awareness campaign named #Mercfromhome on our social media platforms.”
Lexus: “With the lockdown in place, digital platforms are a great way for us to connect with our guests. We are using our platforms to send our guests a message of hope and solidarity that we can get through this together. Currently, we have a podcast running called Go and See which follows journalist Malcolm Gladwell as he travels to Japan and learns about the Lexus approach. This podcast gives listeners a chance to experience Japan while also understanding the Lexus brand. We’ve also initiated a Visionaries of Tomorrow contest inviting entries and dreams from the younger generation. This is a unique platform that aims to showcase the creativity and innovation in our young ones.”
“If we had to recommend one iconic virtual road trip, it would be to Mount Fuji. It is the most spectacular mountain in Japan and was recently named a World Heritage Site. It is an unmissable place on anyone’s bucket list. The drive to Mt. Fuji via the Fuji Five Lakes provides a scenic drive with magnificent views of Japan. Interestingly, Fuji also holds importance to us. The “F” in Lexus F SPORT vehicles stands for Fuji Speedway, our chief test site for performance vehicles.”
Volkswagen Passenger Cars: “We focus on different mediums digitally (emailers, social media platforms) to inform our customers on available after-sales services with limited staff or remote work functioning, roadside assistance, extension of their existing warranty contract and service value package as goodwill. Further, for customers that had booked a Volkswagen carline, we’ve informed them through personalised calls, emails and our contact centre on the delayed delivery. All throughout, we’ve ensured we provide transparent communication and retain their trust in brand Volkswagen. We believe every road trip (including virtual), will be iconic for a car enthusiast if they continue to drive a Volkswagen. It will make every journey memorable in itself.”
Maruti Suzuki India Limited: “We are using our social platforms to send out advisories on social distancing. We have put up audio-visuals urging employees, customers, partners and everyone else to respect the national lockdown and practice social distancing. Our service team is also sharing various maintenance tips with customers so that they can take care of their cars during the period of lockdown.”
Tata Motors: “Historically, we have always believed in letting our customers experience driving our cars and SUVs in the outdoors. This philosophy has been the backbone of our brand’s identity since time immemorial. However, the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has led us to make decisions that ensure the safety of our employees and customers. At Tata Motors PV, we are encouraging our customers to stay at home and practice social distancing for a stronger connection tomorrow. We have also advised our adventurous drivers from the SOUL road trip community to stay at home. We have a range of activities and engagements planned for our community drivers and customers when the situation improves.”
4. Are you offering any special deals to your customers at this point in time?
Mercedes-Benz India Pvt Ltd: “We are offering a host of customer service offerings to support our customers like Standard Warranty Extension, Protection against lapsed service, grace period to purchase extended warranty and insurance support.”
Lexus: “In this time of uncertainty, we are looking for new ways to be human, to put our guests, our partners and all our Lexus family members first. Lexus Guest Experience centres are temporarily closed, and new vehicle deliveries have been halted until the government lowers alert levels and it is appropriate to do so. In case Lexus guest’s vehicle warranty lapses during lockdown period, it can be claimed till May 31, 2020. For applicable guests RSA and Extended Warranty can be availed till May 31 if policy lapses during ongoing lockdown period. Moreover, our dealerships are offering individual validity extension of free maintenance service if it lapses during the current lock down period.”
Volkswagen Passenger Cars: “As normalcy resumes, we expect the market not to leap for deals, but focus on different requirements like privacy, security, hygiene and sanitisation instead. Currently, we are continuously monitoring the requirements and demand patterns closely to offer the best-crafted solutions to our customers in upcoming times.”
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Tata Motors: “We have extended the period for warranty and scheduled services till July 31, 2020, for those whose OE warranty and free service period are set to expire between March 15, 2020, and May 31, 2020. Additionally, any of our customers working on the frontlines of the pandemic can dial our dedicated Tata Motors emergency hotline for assistance in case they are stranded on their route to perform their duties. Moreover, our special segment customers such as corporates, teachers etc. can also avail exciting offers and discounts on the range of products across the passenger vehicle portfolio.”