Over 70% Indians do not consider safety while buying a car: Rahul Gautam, Ford India

We interviewed Rahul Gautam, Vice-President, Marketing, Ford India to know about the Ford's new campaign and the company's plan to increase safety awareness among buyers from communications as well as product perspective.

By: | Published: May 30, 2017 10:47 AM

Ford India has recently been in the spotlight for rolling out some innovative campaigns around reliability and safety. The most recent campaign focuses on the growing importance of safety, something that India and its citizens inherently lack respect for. A recent survey by Ford India revealed that over 70 % of its customers did not consider safety while making their vehicle-buying decision. Considering Ford’s limited presence in rural areas, the actual figure could be much higher across the country.

In order to understand the objective of Ford’s new campaign and how the company plans to increase safety awareness among buyers, we caught up with Rahul Gautam, Vice-President, Marketing, Ford India. He gave us a low-down into Ford’s approach to safety from communications as well as product perspective.

Express Drives: Starting with the safety campaign, I believe 70% of the respondents say they aren’t concerned about safety, it’s quite a high number. Was this poll focused at the urban populace?

It was a Twitter poll, which means we couldn’t filter for locations -- and out of the phenomenal 22,000 responses that we received, 70% of them said that they do not consider the safety features of a car when buying it.

That’s incredible if you consider that most people who buy cars aren’t even on Twitter.

I think it’s apparent how unaware of safety we are, just take a short drive anywhere and you’ll see people driving on the wrong side of the road, breaking signals and crossing roads at will. In some ways it reflects on the lack of infrastructure, but what it exemplifies is our mentality where safety is concerned.

When it comes to parameters that we use to decide on a vehicle, the usual suspects are looks, features brand and price. Safety tends to take a back seat. And the same is reflected when our customers make trade-offs. These are tradeoffs we make every day, when it comes to our safety even our health.
That is the mindset.

Which is why at Ford our approach to safety metrics is entirely different.

Our bonuses are linked to the entire company safety metrics so even if there is an incident at a plant our bonus is affected. We do get incentives for increased safety metrics as well. Which means that safety is deeply ingrained in the way we do things. That is the reason why Ford has been a pioneer when it comes to safety. We were the first to put seatbelts on a production car straight out of the factory as early as 1962.

Even the way our cars are to drive, and the way they make you feel, is all based on safety. What we are trying to here do with this Safety campaign is to start a movement.

We were one of the first carmakers in India to introduce a factory fitted Bluetooth system. The entire thought process behind it was to ensure that the driver’s attention stayed on the road and their hands stayed behind the wheel.

From there we did SYNC. And that's what we try to do is bring new and innovative technology to the market. We try to bring it first and more importantly seeing as we don’t differentiate between segments we try to bring it to everyone. We believe in democratisation.And that’s one aspect.

Other features like My key, of course, ABS and the likes come as standard.

When it comes to safety, the campaign in itself is great. But what about the cars that you make that don’t get the privilege of factory-fitted ABS or airbags like the base variant in the Figo.

We soon plan to remove the base variant of Figo from our sales listing and apart from that all our cars come with ABS and front airbags as standard.

Starting this year, India is set to embrace new laws and policies for safety. What are your thoughts on the subject and where do feel there is space for improvement when it comes to these laws?

It's a great star and we welcome them. They are much needed and we feel that their implementation has actually got delayed. We have a policy to meet or beat norms. And we feel if there were safety norms in India, our line up would surely beat it. Albeit we welcome it.

How much do you estimate it would raise the standard price of any car to add ABS and airbags once they become mandatory?

There are several factors to estimate the cost of these features. Scale is one of them. However, I can’t put a number to it but we think it will nominal. More so if you consider that safety of one’s is in the bargain, in comparison to this whatever the cost incurred is nominal.

How long do you plan to continue with the safety campaign? What is the reach and ultimate objective of it and how much of a difference do you think it will have?

We haven’t set a metric to it. We want it to ultimately result in a change in perception and to that end as it is buried in our core philosophy, we will be relentless. The television, however, may not always be the chosen medium of communication.

Ford as a brand has been behind a whole lot of campaigns in the past. Especially to change consumer perceptions, how successful have they been?

There was a common myth that says that Ford is expensive to maintain. However, if you think about the total cost of ownership. We are quite confidently cheaper than our competition or the segment leaders. The campaign has surely brought around a change in the perception of consumers and people have a more positive outlook towards reliability of Ford cars now.

That was the thought process behind the “Feels like Family” campaign. We did manage to largely change the perception among our customers. Then we backed it up with results and transparency. For eg., All our part prices and service charges are up on our website. So a customer knows what he’s going to be spending on his next service.

Getting back to the safety campaign; do you have any plans of addressing the problem at a grassroots level? At children more specifically ?

We understand that the best way to implement change is to focus on the future drivers of our nation. We ascertain to that philosophy with our ‘Driving Skills for life”, where we teach young drivers the basic skills and etiquette required to drive in the city.

We are now taking this even further with our new programme, which focuses on courtesy on the streets. The idea is to be courteous to your fellow road users. Once we learn to be courteous, things, like indicating before lane changes and not cutting lanes and using our horns wisely, becomes common. It comes from mutual respect.

With new emission norms hitting in 2020, experts say that BSVI will increase the price of small diesel vehicles by up to Rs 1 lakh.Your thoughts?

That is true. In fact, we will be leap-frogging, skipping BSV straight to BSVI. Yes, it may affect prices of vehicles but we believe that as it always has, the market will bounce back. We are confident on this count as consumer aspirations and affordability is at an all-time high.

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    abhinav
    May 30, 2017 at 12:05 pm
    How about ensuring the same safety standards in Indian market as your products don in North America or Europe? Recently NCAP did a crash test of a very successful small SUV (though not Ford) and found that the suv sold in Indian market had a lower rating because the size of airbag was smaller for the Indian version ! Is that up with Ford too?
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    1. M
      Manas Swain
      May 31, 2017 at 1:37 pm
      Dear Sir....Actual point is awreness. I purchased three cars..each time i asked show room representative regarding safety..most of the time they discouraged to buy vehicles with safety featchers and always trying to convince you to save money why wasting money. How ever I found my vehicle frm Hyundai with 6 Airbags..ABS.EBD..Rain sencing wiper...crash crunch zone... etc etc..and that also on spl booking. Frnds were intersted to buy such vehicles.. I proceed to one of Ford Show Room and asked them to suggest a ford. They were not interestd to deal further as Ecopsort was on high demand. Then I suggest my frnd to go for Jazz as Hyundai in its next variant cut short the safety features eg..frm 6 airbags to only 2. Awarenss should start from the showroom itself. Maximum small cars in India have failed the safety crash test. Phirbhi small cars r capturing 45 (approx) mkt shares. Thats why it is India. No initiation on Awareness....to sustain autoindustries shld start awareness.
      Reply