The Indian car market is growing at a frenetic pace and seeing such numbers like the one reported above, in the headline, is pretty much run-of-the-mill these days. Alright, the Toyota Etios Sedan is brilliant value for money and of course, sports the Toyota badge on the bonnet. So, the huge number of bookings even before test driving the car while somewhat being justified for the brand that Toyota has come to be in this country looks ludicrous when it comes to the interminably long waiting period. This is precisely what piques me no end and the fact that car makers still rule the roost when it comes to hassling customers with waiting periods that rival the conception of a child further compounds matters. Oh, while that’s pushing things a little too far, what really is the justification of a waiting period of six full months for a Toyota Etios Sedan?
If you ask me, it is plain ridiculous. Just as the Maruti Swift Diesel has waiting periods of up to four months, the Toyota Etios Sedan has decided to make customers wait a whopping 50% longer, for a full six months before they can drive around in their very own Toyota Etios Sedan. And no, saying that they weren’t prepared for this kind of demand simply won’t cut the ice here as it happened with the Toyota Fortuner, which saw Toyota temporarily suspending bookings for the Fortuner. The Toyota Etios Sedan was expected to create a buzz, what with brand Toyota being in the fray and to an equal extent, the overdrive into which Toyota’s PR mill went to paint the town red, er, vermilion with the Etios’s arrival. Toyota India, fully knowing that the demand could be high for the Etios should have, in my opinion, made plans for a suitable production ramp up in case of a strong demand.
This somehow doesn’t seem to be happening with customers forced to wait for long periods of time for car deliveries. And this issue doesn’t seem to be confined to Toyota alone. Honda is notorious for making folks wait for the Honda Activa Scooter which also commands a ridiculous four month waiting period and how can I forget the Maruti Suzuki Swift Diesel’s atrocious waiting period that has resulted in more than a handful of Swift Diesel buyers, deservedly and justifiably jumping ship and buying cars from other car makers. The long waiting periods was a point of discussion a few days ago and a mechanical engineering student keenly interested in understanding the workings of the Indian car industry and manufacturing sector had a very interesting observation to make.
According to him, the Japanese car makers like Toyota, Honda and Suzuki follow the “Just-In-Time” manufacturing process. Time for some engineering management folks. Translating the engineering management term of Just-In-Time or JIT manufacturing, it essentially means that ordering just enough parts to avoid any inventory pile up. In the words of Ryan Grabosky, the just-in-time inventory system focus is having “the right material, at the right time, at the right place, and in the exact amount”. While it sounds all nice and rosy to ensure minimum inventory pile up or wastage, this manufacturing process means that the car makers will manufacture just enough cars that a stable demand necessitates.
If this is the case, cars should have been produced based on market demand and thus hordes of people waiting for long periods, for cars like the Swift Diesel, the Swift Dzire Diesel, Volkswagen Polo Diesel and scooters like the Honda Activa should have stabilized after the initial unstable demand, just when the product is launched, stabilizes after a period of time, when demand settles down. But that doesn’t seem to be happening in the case of Japanese car/motorcycle makers in particular. Long after the demand for a particular car or motorcycle has stabilized, Japanese manufacturers continue to sell their products with huge waiting periods. Companies like Tata Motors, save for the initially high waiting periods are somehow able to reduce the waiting period after the demand stabilizes. While that might not ensure maximum profitability, it at least brings a smile to the customers face when he or she is not faced with the prospect of waiting for summer to turn to winter before driving off into the sunset.
Recently, Ford India launched the Figo Hatchback, to a roaring sales success, particularly the diesel model. The clamor for the Figo Diesel began and waiting periods were just about to get longer and longer. Ford India promptly ramped up capacity, added an extra production shift and now, the maximum waiting period for a Ford Figo Diesel is about three to four weeks. If Ford India can do it, why can’t Toyota, the supposed leaders of manufacturing technologies and processes? This question merits an answer not just by Toyota, but by all other automobile manufacturers indulging in making the customer wait for long periods, even as the manufacturers laugh all the way to the bank. Legislation to prevent such occurrences is the need of the day and this is one area that requires governmental regulation. All said, it sometimes feels like we’re back to the license raj era when Bajaj Scooters reportedly came with a waiting period of over a year. Like someone rightly said, the more things change, the more they remain the same. But that shouldn’t stop us from airing our opinion, isn’t it?