Working with Indian Fleets. An anecdote

During my first (professional) trip to India, the objective was to meet OEMs, leasing suppliers, but also to take part in the daily life of one of the employees of the client I was working for. In this article, I’ll share an anecdote of my travels around in India.

India is traditionally the country of the small car, and that makes complete sense: streets are narrow and crowded, most of the cars have only one occupant and cars are not all that cheap for people with average salaries, even the locally produced cars. Hence the enthusiasm of the employees of my client to drive big, fuel addicted 4x4s that were about twice the size of a reasonable car. Hence also their employees’ suspicion about my trip to the north of the country, not too far from the Nepalese border, to “live the lives of the local workforce”. The plan was clear – I’d join a sales person in, what was supposed to be, a normal day of the week.

Put up in “the best hotel in the city”, completely empty and denied of any kind of connectivity, because it had rained, I was picked up on a Friday morning by a friendly gentleman in a Mahindra Bolero. We would spend the day together and he would explain me why the employees needed a car as big as a tank.

We drove away from the city centre, over completely normal roads, then cracked concrete roads, then dust roads, to end up driving through mango fields on roads of sand and rock with enormous holes. The car was shaking, I was sitting in the passenger seat, holding myself to whatever I could. During breaks and pauses, our driver explained us that a big truck was necessary – to do the job of course.

And it was true. The countryside roads were horrible – no way for a normal car to survive this 4x4 experience. However…. Once we reached our destination, at about 1pm and after 4 hours of driving, we notified to our driver that we had a plane to catch at 5pm and that we shouldn’t waste too much time. Message was understood and we were told that it wouldn’t be an issue. We were wondering how this could work out.

This happened: rather than taking the country roads back to the hotel, our driver took what could be called an “expressway” to exactly the same location where we started in the morning – it took an hour and a half of comfortable driving. Not 4 hours of massacre through holes and over rocks.

Obviously we returned back to our customer’s HQ with the opinion that a big 4x4 is not necessary and we decided to order a much smaller car for all 400 employees,

Why is this important?

Our driver, clearly instructed, had gone through enormous lengths to show us why the employees needed a big car. We were perceived as the enemy who was going to take away a benefit, a part of their social status and replace a big Mahindra by a small, insignificant car. If it weren’t for our driver’s small strategic mistake to get us to the airport via the expressway, we’d have never known and probably ordered massive jeeps again.

In reality, what should have happened, is some good change management. We should have explained that we were mainly worried about the employee’s safety (the Mahindra Bolero has only a driver airbag, no passenger airbag, and often colleagues ride along). The employees, or at least their leaders, should have explained us exactly what type of needs they have in different regions of India. We could have achieved a better result by connecting the stakeholders, not being suspicious of each other but be better aware of each other’s sensibilities.

Fleet Management is a people’s business. Sometimes we need to be reminded about this.

Authored by: Yves Helven