The local and non-OEM automobile service and repair industry is a huge ecosystem and worth more than Rs 30,000 crores. It also employs a huge population. The garage mechanics, popularly known as ustads are facing steep uncertainty due to the increasing emergence of electric vehicles.
Anywhere in India, the blackened mobile-oil smeared streets with men with blackened faces, hunched over almost dead cars & two-wheelers, is an unwelcoming sight. But there’s a reason, such sights or let us say, sites, haven’t moved away from our sight…something or the other, even if it is just a puncture mysteriously crops up in our lives every weekend!
Local/non-OEM automobile (four-wheelers and Two-wheelers) Service and Repair (ASR) industry is worth well over, Rs. 30,000 crores or a massive 300 billion rupees. pre-Chinese virus, the growth of the industry was well over, 60%, year after year. Interestingly, while the after-sales support (ASS) over the lifetime ownership, particularly for personal cars & two-wheelers, has had a major impact on the brand imagery and equity of the OEM’s brand and the OEMs/automobile manufacturers have been sweating over the same for a lifetime now, customers tend to move out of the manufacturers’ networks right after warranty periods end. Sometimes even before that.
As per some rough estimates, the penetration of manufacturers’ ASS is just about half, with the other half is thronging these oily streets.
The last two years of the Chinese virus impacted this ASR industry directly and substantially. People were just not moving out of their homes, let alone driving around! But I would stick my neck out to say, it was and is, still, a temporary impact. The impact of Change, which has got Govts, Economists, Environmentalists, Industrialists and just about everyone excited, is actually gonna be far deeper and far longer. However, even while content on and about the change is now literally coming out of our ears, none of these individuals, institutions, organizations and communities has spoken out about the grave impact of the Change on people in the ASR industry, as yet.
The advent of EVs is like a lethal electric shock to these roadside ustads.
These blackened men hunched over almost dead cars along the oily streets are largely uneducated, In fact, have hardly seen schools. The automobiles of the past and of today aren’t – though of course high-tech – too complex. Young boys hang around these roadside black shops for long hours, braving the fumes, the muck and the abuses of the ‘Ustads’ (maestros) 24×7. The hope, not entirely unfounded, is that this is the best and perhaps the only, way to learn the trade. To become the ustad!
One would never know the exact numbers, but there are well over thirty lacs or three million individuals employed in such places. I have come across some initiatives like Tata Motors sponsoring automobile Repair courses at some ITIs (Industrial Training Institute). But such professional support is just too little as of now. Even while it seems to be an insurmountable challenge, the change in the automobile industry has changed everything to the 10th gear!
The change…the electrifying change…the advent of EVs is like a lethal electric shock to these roadside ustads. EVs would hardly need servicing support from outside. The number of parts in an EV is about 1/100th of the number in our conventional ICE vehicles. It is being touted that a lot of remedial action, if any, can be DIY thru something like YouTube videos or content created by the OEMs. Remedial actions could even be guided over video calls and if there’s anything still left, engineers would take remote control, a la laptop support, of the EV and viola, it is all done!
With the kind of technology EVs have, which will become even more high-tech, such a large support workforce might not be needed at all.
On the one hand, these guys and their oily outlets would hardly be needed. On the other, more importantly, these guys who have hardly been to schools, are hardly trained to handle such high-technology stuff! Those employed in the OEM Plants would willy-nilly get trained. At least, those who are going to get retained. But what about these three million-odd guys?! We seem to have completely abandoned them. Govts or NGOs or Industry bodies like CII, FICCI, SIAM or SIAM or Industry professionals, each one of them and their uncles have view-point on the EV Industry. But not a single person or institution has uttered even a single word about what’s going to happen to these there million ustads!
With the kind of technology, the EVs have, which is going to get even more high-tech, year after year, such a large support workforce might not be needed at all. It is, therefore, not just about re-training these poor three million in the same or similar trade. It is about rehab, in fact. What’re their inherent skill-sets/competencies? What would enthuse them? What would help provide them with a decent life?! Data around the age of the workforce is not really available, but arguably the bulk of this workforce consists of youth. The consequences for these young men and for the society at large, of simply leaving these people to fend for themselves, is gonna be dark & drastic.
The change is happening very fast. We must at least, initiate a conversation on the challenges on the human front and not just go ga-ga over the machines!
(Thumbnail image: Author himself)
(Sanjeev Shukla is a corporate strategy and marketing leader with three decades of experience with Hyundai, Hero MotoCorp, Ford and the advertising world.)
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