The tragedy of history



Question 1: How many auto industry executives do you spot at a classic car rally? One. Or in a good year, three.

Question 2: How many auto industry executives do you spot at an awards function? One hundred. And if everyone gets an award, three hundred.

We all agree that cars and bikes are not mere appliances like refrigerators and washing machines. They are emotional objects and a huge degree of irrationality is involved in their purchase, unlike white goods. So you’d expect the auto industry to be populated by passionate individuals who live and breathe their automotive brand. Because you are making and selling emotional objects and not appliances, for heaven’s sake! But sadly it is not so. Today you sell cars; tomorrow you’ll sell toasters – same difference, right?

You’d expect auto industry professionals to know the history of their brands. They would know the highs and lows of the career of the brand, its greatest moments and its lowest moments. Its best-selling models and its duds. Its achievements and its losses. And if these executives were particularly good, they would know not only the stuff about the brand they are working for, but of other great marques as well. But that’s asking for too much in India. It’s not the case in mature markets. I have noticed that industry people in many countries abroad know their stuff, are passionate about their brands and cars/bikes in general, watch motorsport and heck, drive their own classic machinery too.

If I were an executive working at Jaguar Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, Fiat, Skoda, Volkswagen, Renault, Nissan, Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Toyota and Volvo, I’d better know the history of these all-time great nameplates which have a significant presence in India. I have not included performance and luxury brands like Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini simply because I expect their employees will ideally be far more knowledgeable about history than those working for mass-appeal brands. I hope I am right! Not just executives, but every employee of the firm who is making and selling these brands should get a crash course about the history of their brand.

Why is it important? A long, chequered past doesn’t automatically guarantee success, does it? After all, Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai and Tata Motors are the biggest carmakers in India and they have relatively shorter histories. Exactly my point: the market is still young and awareness is low but we are maturing rapidly. By investing in the past of your brand, you are preparing for the future – you’ll be ready when today’s youth become tomorrow’s buyers.

Historical knowledge will only help make better cars. Your brand’s history is your property; nobody can take it away from you. If you don’t celebrate your brands’ heritage, then who will? If you don’t highlight your identity and heritage, you will also be a me-too. Your heritage is your competitive edge. Only if you have a solid grounding of your heritage that you can aim higher.

Great automotive brands are not built only during the course of your career in the company, but you can contribute. If you don’t know about the heritage of your brand, you won’t do a good job of making it or selling it. Which could be detrimental to your career. So for your own sake, better read up, absorb the brand’s essence and of course, visit classic car events regularly, meet the owners and drive the old-timers. It will also do the whole Indian auto industry a world of good.