Through its fairly long journey in the country, Ford India picked up a negative perception of offering high maintenance vehicles. This perception though wasn't entirely baseless and was a result of a few particular models. Like most perceptions, it easily got stuck onto but proved hard to shrug off. Lately though, the company has been more successful with its new models but the common man in many cases, especially in smaller cities has that doubt brewing in his/ her mind. We're aware of some serious efforts put in by the company in the last few years to turn around this perception so we talked to N Prabhu, Vice President, Customer Services, Ford India to get an idea of the scale of improvement.
Brand Perception Transformation
Prabhu told us that Ford India has made many efforts to transform its image in respect to ease of maintenance and competitive pricing. The area that Prabhu is responsible for involves delivering affordable and accessible service to the consumers. The former involves pricing the parts competitively and increasing service intervals, which lead to a combined reduction of service expenses, he added. One focus here has been on sub-assemblies, also known as child parts. The effort here is to replace only the dysfunctional part and not the entire assembly, lowering the replacement bill for the customer.
Responding to a query on overall cost of ownership, Prabhu said that Ford India categorises its parts into three areas – scheduled replacements (service), running maintenance (wear & tear) and damage (accident). In all three areas the company has made efforts to lower the costs, which when combined with the expanding network results in lower cost of ownership for the consumer.
He gave us some numbers to prove the same by taking the new Endeavour as an example. The Endeavour's total service cost over 100,000 km, including labour charges, is estimated at a Rs 55,304 and needs only one service every 10,000 km or in a year. Prabhu said that a figure of just about 55 paise/ km for service cost over 100,000 km should be able to break the myth that big vehicles need big bucks to get serviced. Running maintenance is another area where Ford India pips the competition at Rs 306,000 against Rs 308,000. This cost, however, is the total of all parts that may need replacement during 100,000 km so figures for customers will vary on individual basis and the benefit of sub-assemblies will depend on the extent of damage or failure in a particular system. For damage replacements Endeavour's cost is higher than the competition by Rs 3,000. Overall cost for the Endeavour, when considering all these factors, is considerably lower than the competition. He added that the story is similar for EcoSport, Figo Aspire and Figo hatchback, highlighting Ford's focus to lower ownership cost across its portfolio.
Technology Enabled Quality
System reliability or life plays a critical role in deciding the overall ownership cost for any vehicle. Prabhu told us that Ford India has maintained this as an area of focus and engineers have been successful in delivering more reliable products. Citing examples, he mentioned that the air filter of Ford lasts 10,000 km longer than the nearest competition. Parts such as pollen filter and rear differential oil needs no replacement at all but the competition mandates replacement, resulting in additional cost, he added. Prabhu attributed this improvement to constant two-way communication with the engineering team and also the constant work of the purchase team with suppliers. The last part is critical for overall costing since the more parts that the purchase team can localise, the procurement cost and time gets lesser.
In addition, customers can access a service cost calculator on the Ford India website or through a mobile app to check the exact service cost for any given mileage of the vehicle. The cost indicated here is as per the location and kilometres entered and inclusive of taxes. Prabhu said this allows customers to get an idea that servicing the vehicle from a local mechanic might not be cheaper contrary to popular belief. Going forward, the company will take multiple steps to communicate the cost-reduction more effectively to the customers through various platforms including dynamic apps on mobile, said Prabhu.
We did our own search and found out that servicing a five-year-old Figo with 100,000 km on the odometer costs Rs 5,879, all inclusive in Delhi. A nearby local mechanic quoted the same work for Rs 6,000 but didn't include changing the AC mesh filter, which was a part of the Ford job card at a lesser price. The conversation with Prabhu and our own investigation made it clear that maintenance for Ford vehicles is no longer expensive and is lesser than competition in many cases. Reliability too has improved significantly and so has the turn-around time for parts in the market, owing to higher localisation.
In a nutshell, the effort has paid off well with the aim turning into an achievement. The challenge now before Ford India is to communicate this improvement to the market in a more effective way. They've offered great vehicles in the past but haven't been able to market them successfully. The same stands as the only challenge in our view for Ford India in the maintenance aspect. They've certainly broken the perception but it needs to be seen how well they can communicate this to prospective buyers.
Text: Arpit Mahendra
Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay