India is waking up to the phenomenon of self drive cars, many years after the west did. Two major operators, Zoom and Carzonrent offer self driven cars across various Indian cities. While self cars are yet to take off in a big way, prospective car buyers can take heart in the fact that self driven cars are a boon of sorts, at least for some. We’ll get there in just a bit but before that, let’s take a look at what test drives in India are all about.
So, you want to buy a car, which perhaps is your life’s second largest investment. Since we’re talking big money here, the family needs to be taken into confidence before you drive your favourite ride home. You land up at the car dealership with family, and perhaps even a few friends in tow. The test drive begins. Barely a kilometer into the drive, the car salesman promptly points to the nearest roundabout and asks you to head back to the dealership.
You do this for half a dozen cars that are in your radar and one weekend goes for a royal toss. While pesky salesmen continue to call you until you feel like simply aborting your buy, your dilemma has somewhat whittled down to two cars. While one car seems to fit the needs of you and your family, you simply need more time with the car to figure things out.
You’ve drive the car for a couple of kilometers and are expected to make a buying decision. You’re stuck. Well, this is the reality of the car buying experience in India where most people, save for a select few, manage to make do with a test drive that hardly lasts a few kilometers. Don’t blame the sales man though. S/He is under constant pressure by the dealership to have one eye on the sale and the other on the fuel gauge.
It isn’t uncommon for dealerships to pull up salesmen in their monthly reviews for offering test drives that are “too long”, in other words 8-10 kilometers long. God help you if you want to drive a hot selling car such as the Ford EcoSport or say the Maruti Celerio. With a steady stream of buyers queuing up for test drives, longer test drives are simply impractical for dealerships.
So, what do you do?
1. You read reams and reams of internet blogs and forums to understand what the car offers, stuff that you simply cannot absorb in five or say 10 minutes of driving the car.
2. Ah, your colleague has just bought the same car. Well, asking one to part with his car, even for a test drive, isn’t the politest of things to do. And if s/he refuses, the thin skinned among us may even be emotionally scarred for life.
Enter the self driven car.
Companies such as a Zoom and Carzonrent offer self driven cars at affordable hourly/daily prices. So, if you’re in the market for a car that these companies currently rent out as self drive options, you can take your entire family in tow, live with the car for a full day. Why, you can even take a self driven car on a holiday.
For instance, Zoom offers cars such as the Ford Figo, EcoSport, Mahindra Scorpio, the Volkswagen Vento and even the BMW 3-Series. Take it on shopping trips, mall hopping, airport runs and the likes, to figure out whether the car really fits into your life rather than you tailoring your life to fit your new car.
Many car buyers have already begun exploring the self drive route before finalizing a car of their choice. With more players in the self drive sector and more cars to pick and choose from, buyer empowerment is real. Talking of extended or even paid test drives, this is one sector that has potential, especially with the Indian car market maturing and buyers becoming more discerning.
Even as you’re reading this, plans are being charted to give India a paid car test drive service, something that allows a buyer to connect with a car on a more personal level than the impersonal fling that goes by the name “test drive”.