Customer service, cost, timing – these are the three prongs in Skoda’s new strategy announced by company CEO Bernhard Maier, designed to break down the walls holding the company back in India.
The three focus areas are certainly well-thought-out and do address the obvious shortcomings of the group. Both Skoda and VW suffer from poor aftersales service, with Skoda being more affected the most. As far as cost goes, the cars are priced at a premium over the Marutis and Hyundais of the world, and spares are on the higher side, too. Improvements have been made with partial price reductions and service packs, but there’s more to be done. As for timing, a quicker rollout of the new products will only help.
But apart from these three prongs, the company would do well to add a fourth prong – quality. Sure, the company does speak of quality – often highlighting the fit, finish and feel of their products. In the conversations I’ve had with VW’s employees, I would often hear the word ‘haptics’ weave itself into play. And I agree. The soft plastics feel rich to touch, the seamless laser-welded roof looks super-neat, and the buttons and switches all have a wonderful damped feel that ooze quality. Even things like the sound of the door latches and the weight of the button springs are all engineered with meticulous attention. Certainly, the cars have great quality.
However, I realised that for most, quality is seen more in the context of reliability. Ask anyone why they bought a Maruti or what they like about it and they’ll certainly say it’s got great ‘quality’. I’ve often had people say to me: “Oh, the car is really nice, it’s never given any trouble at all. It’s of really good quality”. In the Indian context of car ownership, quality is mostly associated with reliability rather than things like feel.
Perhaps it’s because most of us have grown up in an India devoid of many luxuries, so today features like air-conditioning, and buttons that open sunroofs are luxury aplenty. The sound of the air draft or the feel of the button is pretty much lost. Power windows are great, but the feel of the switch doesn’t matter to most. Think of the Swift: its window’s switches aren’t the last word in quality, but the car is reliable as a bank; not today’s banks maybe, but you get what I mean.
And so it’s here that the group’s cars miss the mark. They s do have a quality feel, but they haven’t been super reliable. Many of them have given problems in India, and whatever the cause – poor fuel quality or weather conditions – Skoda would do well to focus on this area a lot more.
After all, VW’s ‘quality’ is seen as luxury, and reliability is deemed to be quality – And in the mass segments its quality (read reliability) that’s sought after.