Atithi Devo Bhava


JimBell-NanoAround five years ago we wrote an article on the automotive industry in India and had meetings with the Indian Automotive Dealers Association in New Delhi.

One of the most mind blowing experiences was their belief in Atithi Devo Bhava which roughly translated means “the guest is God.” This isn’t just a mission statement that no one cares about, it is a mantra by which they live every day. It really is about treating customers with the utmost respect and showing complete transparency.

Every service department we visited had a huge window in the customer reception area looking into the workshop, in comparison there is a new dealership where we live in Canada that has a small window in the reception area painted over. When we asked the dealer about that he said, “because the technicians did not like the customers watching them.” So what were they hiding?

Recently, we decided to visit India again but on this occasion went to Mumbai (formerly Bombay) which has a population of more than 20 million people. Our main interest on this trip was to focus on the world’s cheapest car, the Tata Nano, and see just what went wrong with the marketing.

When it was released back in 2009, the Nano was supposed to take the world by storm. Being driven around Mumbai (there is no way you would want to drive yourself here), it was amazing to see numbers of Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Jaguar and Audi models on the streets but not a Tata Nano in sight!

It was reported back in August that Tata (which now owns Jaguar), sold the same amount of Jaguar XF sedans as Nanos with a price ratio of around 14:1.

The sharp deceleration of the Indian economy has no doubt hit vehicle sales across the board and isn’t helping to sell the Nano, but it also appears that Tata misread the market. With the middle class expanding, the Nano was aimed at the two-wheeler market — it’s amazing to see a family of five riding on a motorcycle or moped! That said, the new middle class are looking for more prestige and don’t want to be seen driving the cheapest car in the world. As a result many of them are setting their sights on something a little more expensive than the Nano.

It is rumoured that Tata spent close to $400 million developing the Nano and hundreds of millions more building a factory capable of manufacturing 15,000 to 20,000 of these cars per month. This is an amazing vehicle considering you can change from compressed natural gas to gasoline on the fly by turning a switch on the dashboard.

Despite its size, the Nano is considered one of the safest cars in India. According to Tata it has passed all local safety standards including a front impact test, though it would be interesting to see what kind of engineering updates it would need to meet North American standards.

Currently, the Nano is powered by a two-cylinder, 37 horsepower engine which can automatically switch from compressed natural gas (CNG) to gasoline should more power be needed. If it were fitted with a bigger engine, power steering, air bags and traction control, then maybe we could see them on the road in Canada! A fuel-efficient low emission vehicle with a four year or 60,000 KM vehicle warranty and built-in maintenance service package for under $10,000 has to have some appeal and considering that Tata owns Jaguar and Land Rover, setting up a dealer network probably wouldn’t be too difficult.

From a personal point of view what we would really like to see India export is their attitude to customers. Our experience showed dealership staff to be pleasant and hospitable, always going out of their out of their way to make you not feel like a nuisance!

We watched with interest how staff handled customers in the service department — to begin with the service advisors always seemed to stand up when greeting a customer. It was also evident that service managers spend more time talking with customers and staff instead of sitting in an office. One manager told us “we try to make sure every customer leaves us happy and fully understands the work we did.” In short, they aim for complete transparency with their customers. Compare that to a study carried out in North America which showed that around 70 per cent of our customers leave our service departments not fully understanding what we did, or more importantly why we did it!

About Jim Bell

Jim Bell is a writer, consultant and motivational speaker. He can be contacted by phone at 416-520-3038 or by e-mail at

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