After just a couple of hours of sleep, I and my colleague Naveen decided to head to the Madras Race Track, Irungatukottai, Sriperembudhur, Chennai to attend the "Record of Records" event by Maruti Suzuki. We received an invite from Maruti last week requesting our presence, and to reciprocate in the right manner, we undertook this journey which changed the way we perceive Maruti.
We arrived at the event at exactly 8:00 AM fearing we would miss the flag off. The objective of the event was to have the maximum number of Maruti Suzuki Swifts lapping the MMSC circuit. The previous record for such an event was held by Mazda in New Zealand where about 250 Mazda vehicles participated and set the record.
Being a Sunday morning, I wasn't expecting to see everyone report on time. My judgment was proved right by hundreds of Swift owners who drove even an hour later than the specified time. I was expecting Maruti and the organizers to adjust the settings, rethink their strategy and clear the line of cars waiting outside the gate, eager to participate in breaking this record. Instead, the gates were locked and the drivers who turned up late were denied a place on the grid. The situation turned ugly when these drivers, teamed up and denied the entry of a backup vehicle into the complex which carried supplies and crucial items in the case of an emergency situation. They broke into a tussle with the security guard, and the poor management skills of the organizing committee was starting to become clear.
My intuitions were right when one of the event representatives had no idea when I asked him about the revised starting time, two hours after the original starting time. He said he stopped the count at 610 vehicles as they wanted to have the same number of vehicles in Delhi and Mumbai where the events were conducted simultaneously.
After heavy protesting outside the gate, the late comers were finally allowed to join their team mates who were badly managed on a hot Sunday morning, which was only get hotter.
The organizers were finding it hard to manage a gamut of Suzuki Swifts, whose drivers were fast losing patience. Some had tagged their kids along while some others had their grand parents for whom the Chennai heat and the heat emitted from hundreds of other Swifts at idling was literally killing.
The event organizers had no other choice but to begin the rally. They used a microphone and loudspeaker to communicate the rules, which was a faint whisper for those lined up at the far end of the track. Many of them who turned up late were not aware of the rules. They did not know what Suzuki set out to do. They revved hard, did wheelspins and took the corners hard in the formation lap.
The drivers had all assembled, stretching for more than a kilometer. The event was flagged off, but many of the drivers were unaware that they had to fall into a formation of two lines. The announcer screamed into the microphone, standing in the middle of the race track, frantically trying to split the cars into two rows. His spot management technique showed how poorly the event was organized. At that very moment, I sensed the record would not be broken. All that was going to be broken were a few Swift-loving hearts and probably a few teeth of this announcer, who had clearly lost it.
Even after two laps around the circuit, the organizers were not sure if the Swifts had scripted the record and they ordered a third lap hoping that rules would be followed and the cars would fall into place and pull of a miracle.
One Swift owner parked his car horizontally ahead of the cars and stopped any further progress. He demanded justice and asked the organizer to appear in front of him immediately. He couldn't hold on to his frustration any longer. One of the organizers rushed to the scene only to be pushed almost to the floor by the angry man. Witnessing this emotional outbreak, a few other Swift owners joined this him, joining hands to prevent the other vehicles from going any further.
These owners had arrived at the race track at 8 AM and their kids were getting restless. One man allegedly had a 9-month pregnant woman in his car and was anxious to take her to a safer spot. A few owners parked their cars in the grass and decided to take matters into their own hands. Frankly they knew how to sort the mess, and surprisingly they were successful in talking the agitated participants to get back into their car and go home. The cars started to move again, only to pile up at the counter supposed to have fuel and amusement park coupons for the participants. The were shortage of coupons and the flow of vehicles was therefore disrupted.
Indian Autos Blog couldn't take this any longer and decided to flee the premises. Suzuki had invited 600+ Chennai Swift owners and treated them in the worst possible manner. They clearly underestimated the response, but had an incapable team of managers who could speak loudly, but not effectively. There were children, elders and people who had driven down 300km to attend this event put to shame by Suzuki.
It seemed like Suzuki merely wanted to enter the record books and the best possible way to achieve this feat was to use their customers by promising them free fuel and a ticket to the local amusement park, and not being able to completely fulfill that promise either.
Suzuki, why do you have to gift your customers to Volkswagen, Tata and Ford this way? You are India's largest car manufacturer and dare I say the wealthiest. Can't you find the better organizers for an event where your reputation is on the line? If your customers had left this event with a smile, their bond with Maruti would have gained strength. What happened was quite the corollary.