For eight days in November, Automotive Logistics India correspondent, Ramesh Kumar, travelled nearly 3,000km on a Mercurio Pallia car haulier from Chennai to Gurgaon, accompanying a driver, Umesh, and his assistant, Pinto, along with eight Hyundai i10 cars. What Kumar witnessed, and documented by twitter, blog posts and in a forthcoming feature for Finished Vehicle Logistics magazine, was a testament to both the growing strength of the Indian economy and automotive logistics industry, as well as its many shortcomings, including treacherous driver conditions, corrupt border and patrol officials and a road network that is still painfully inefficient, particularly around cities.
Kumar, who is also an editorial adviser for India’s Logistics Times, will publish an exclusive road diary of his journey in the January-March 2011 issue of Finished Vehicle Logistics. He will also be presenting details and photographs of the trek at next week’s Automotive Logistics India Conference in Chennai December 8-10th .
Kumar’s account lays bare the daily difficulties faced by car hauliers in India and thus for carmakers in general trying to meet the demands of India’s growing car market. The drivers contend with poor to nonexistent roadside facilities, frequent crime in some areas and consistent harassment from state officials. Along with more than 40 tolls and interstate fees amounting to more than Rs.20,000 ($440), Kumar tallies a further Rs.1,222 paid in bribes.
Conditions were revealed to be particularly bad for crossing Mumbai, which took Kumar and his companions more than four hours to complete even while travelling at night, and which required a bribe payment after the requisite tolls. The following day, at the border to the Indian state of Gujarat, Kumar captures the class and status divides that still haunt the Indian motorways.
Two officials, standing in the middle of the road, quietly collect a Rs.300 bribe from every passing commercial vehicle. Another Mercurio Pallia truck in front of us shells out the ‘speed money’ and moves on.
Our vehicle is stopped and the two officials wait. Pinto jumps out with Rs.200 in hand, and they smile. As Pinto hands over the bribe, I walk towards them. There is an instant shock on their faces. I don’t look like a driver or cleaner, although by now I am dressed like one: a crumpled T-shirt, a short red towel slung around my neck, dishevelled hair. I reckon they suspect that I am some government official on a surprise check. Quickly, they thrust the money back into Pinto’s hands. “Go!” they shout, turning their back to me, perhaps to prevent my recognising them later. We drive away laughing and rejoicing over saving Rs.200!
While Kumar’s account includes encounters with drivers battling robbers, angry security dogs and prostitutes, it also illustrates the growing strength of the Indian economy and its logistics sector, with details of many new roads and construction that carry an tremendous flow of lorries, car carriers and vehicles. Implicit in the story is the problems the sector will face without considerably reform, including the need for long-distance rail transport, a more streamlined state border system and a centralised tax system to replace the many various state levies.