Like every aspect of our economy, Covid-19 has deeply impacted the auto sector and some of this seems to be permanent. For instance, reversing the growing trend towards public transportation, 2020 saw a shift back to personal vehicles. According to a Capgemini survey, 57 per cent of Indian consumers are considering buying a car due to safety concerns. Further, with more people working from home, usage has moved from weekdays to weekends with a significant increase in long-distance travel. This has had a direct impact on how people service and maintain their cars. In fact, the service, repair and maintenance space of the auto industry has seen the most noticeable shifts due to changing consumer needs and behaviour. To cater to this change, the OEM Industry needs to relook at how it takes care of the 32 million cars currently plying on our roads.
Changing car maintenance landscape
Car owners in India have three options. The traditional authorised service centres with tie to the car manufacturer, multi-brand service centres like Pitstop, Fixcraft, Bosch, Mahindra First Choice etc. offering hi-quality brand agnostic service and the omnipresent small, independent garages that offer proximity and take care of basic requirements. While the unorganised players are not high on reliability, with only 8500 of the other two options across the country, they play a key role in the industry, like in every other informal sector. Customers, depending on the age of their car and their inclination to spend, choose the option that works best for them.
The system is neither perfect nor adequate and faces issues of transparent, high-cost and replace-over-repair practice. However, until now, there was no pressing need to change the status quo, from the OEMs’ POV. But with COVID-19, there is an increasing demand for contact-less service, at-home car maintenance and faster turn-around time. With people using their vehicle to travel regularly outside their cities, demand for higher reliability and professional service is increasing.
According to data from India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), 65 per cent of owners of “post-warranty” cars choose to go to multi-brand car service centres. The cost factor along with at-par or superior service quality pulls the average car owner from the unorganised garages as well as authorised dealerships. With the projected rise in demand, this indicates the possibility in the loss of post-warranty customers as well as some of the new car owners due to overburdened authorised service centres.
Multi-brand car service centres and OEMs
Branded multi-brand service centres during the pandemic have gained the attention of many people due to the ability to quickly adapt to changing customer needs. Capability to offer customised packages, at-home service, transparent billing, etc. without compromising the quality has helped this segment to grow significantly. Bosch recently opened its 250th and the largest service centre in NCR while Pitstop grew on an average of 40 per cent every month, are great examples of the growing relevance to this segment.
New normal and partnerships
As more and more people reimagine their car ownership, OEMs should reinvent themselves and cater to the post-Covid needs of its customers. For instance, offering at-home service can not only help them deliver the cars to customers faster but also free up precious bay space at the service centres for more complex repair and maintenance. Several brands like Maruti Suzuki, Suzuki, Royal Enfield, Ford have already experimented with the at-home service during the pandemic and are now thinking of expanding and strengthening the same.
A significant part of a car service is basic maintenance. Very few of these need high-tech intervention. It might, therefore, make sense for OEMs to use the growing network of professional multi-brand service centres for some of these regular car maintenance work. This could be especially true for OEMs with a relatively smaller footprint of authorised service centres. It can not only help them optimise their service network but also ensure they provide higher value to their customers.
— Mihir Mohan, founder, Pitstop
Express Drives feels that what Mihir says is quite true. You see the workshop of India’s number one carmaker and you will realise the flood of vehicles there. This compared to an independent workshop wherein your car will be given personal attention. This is because, in the latter, there is less load. At the same time, customers too will drawn more to a place where they can associate a service person’s name with a face – something the independent workshops allow the luxury of. Few independent workshops also show the customers the different stages of their car repair, thereby lending a higher amount of transparency.
Few new players in the Indian car manufacturing scene have also adopted these practices. Especially when the vehicle is picked up from the customer’s place to be serviced right till it is delivered. The customer is always informed of the whereabouts either through the app or by messaging apps. Images of the car, as well as service being done on it, is apprised to the owner from time to time. This not only instills trust in the customer but also goes a long way in ensuring that the car comes back to the same workshop in the future. Referrals through customers also work in a big way.