A car is a must today. No doubt about that, especially when there is little effective public transportation in India. But the car ownership funda in our society is totally warped with “emotional” or perceived factors outweighing the logical and rational ones. India does not have a “driving culture” or an “automotive culture” save some few pockets here and there, and most of us don’t realize what is good about a car and what is not, because we seldom go beyond the looks, mileage and size. For instance, I have overheard in Kerala a small town guy with decidedly know-it-all air around him telling a new Skoda Superb owner that he should have consulted him before buying this car because he would have suggested him a much “better” vehicle, the Toyota Innova! If you showed a 1969 Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 to the people in India, most of them would dismiss it as useless because it has only two doors, is too old, has no AC and of course is low on mileage.
Car Owner Mentality in India
Deprived of the pleasures of life for centuries before independence and for 40 years after it, millions of impatient Indians today have moved up to the next level in life by the acquisition of a four-wheeled motorized means of transportation, and many more millions are itching to do so. But as it is with most things with us Indians, this process is also governed by 80% finance and 20% emotion. Being the most price sensitive market in the world, we do not look beyond price tags and mileage of the end product, with as much (pointless) haggling as possible thrown in.
Associated factors which make the car, the “car” like interiors, space, comfort, features and other add-ons don’t even count in most cases, unless they come free. Interiors and Comfort are the things that matter the most in developed markets, no one would dare sell the Volkswagen Polo abroad with the interiors it comes with in India. The hugely popular (old) Maruti Swift has a dashboard that reminds me of that of the Tata Sumo. Cheap plastic and utilityless. Why? Because
The primary function of the car is for us to show it off to the world, to let them know that we have arrived. The shinier and glamorous it is on the outside, the better. Cheap plastics, horrible ride and no space inside? Who cares! No one is going to “see” what is inside.
The bigger the car is, the better it is. The price should be directly proportional to the size of the car. A reason why maybe excellent smaller cars do not do well here if they are high-priced, like the Honda Jazz. And by size we mean the exterior size. The Nissan Sunny would have done even better if it was advertised as people looking from the outside saying it is a caaaaaar.
A car has to be acquired anyways and has to be driven around no matter if it takes more time, is heavier on the pocket, is difficult to park or is stressful to drive.
A car is a necessity out of convenience but it is still a status symbol.
And so on…. You get the picture.
The Story Behind the Car-Owning Mentality
I have felt many a time that our everyday life in India is a race to show how important we are, and how “better” and “superior” we are to other people in all aspects. We just thrive on boasting, flash and show-off. But we cannot be blamed entirely, history and how we have been taught has a lot to do with this.
As I said before, a large huge majority of Indians today must be the first in their family trees to own a car or even to acquire any substantial purchasing power. For hundreds of generations over thousands of years, our ancestors have lived and died in non-existence and poverty, killed by incessant wars, plagues, famines, genocides, servitude and slavery. We do not know who were our forefathers, what their status was, who they were, how they lived and died… We do not know where we came from. In fact, we Indians do not really know who were the ancestors of our people, no matter that some people think that they descended from “European Aryans” and so on. This generation of Indians are mostly the first ones who are recorded and “visible” in history, and have achieved some sense of prosperity. To enjoy that prosperity we have achieved, we go out and try to catch up with other civilizations which are way ahead of us by doing things that they do. Like buying cars for instance. The difference between them and us is that in their case the country has prospered more than the citizens have, but in our case the country is still stuck in a rut while citizens have prospered.
We still have that sense of centuries of poverty and servitude instilled in our deep subconscious, which cannot be erased overnight. The sudden influx of prosperity that has permeated our society has ironed out class and caste differences in India causing a rapid change in mindset of our people. With people rising out of repression they were subjected to for centuries, it is only natural for them to aspire to live a life of prosperity with all the pleasures it offers. Much the same way they were seeing the lords, wealthy, upper classes and affluent elite live their lives all that time. And this of course includes cars.
However, this rapid acceleration to prosperity without the acquisition of the associated education on the utilization of said prosperity has led to a social problem called “extreme self-delusion” among Indians. This is characterized by extreme self-righteousness, know-it-all-ness, egos more bloated than a Blue Whale, absolute absence of humility and consideration for fellow beings and a general “I am King” attitude and belief. This mentality of vehicle-users is a manifestation of all that is mentioned above, and is visible as the general anarchy on our roads which showcases “My Car, I paid money, I will drive it as I like and want to”, which includes showing “I am the most important **** around here by parking anywhere, crawling at 20 kmph in the inside lane and not allowing others to pass. It also shows our “I know it all” and “I know best” attitude when it comes to following rules, because we all are smarter than and know better than those who created the rules. That is the story of the Indian car buyer.