Skip to main content

Cyrus Mistry, PM Modi’s brother: What do these accidents have in common? Merc!

By Rosamma Thomas* 

In September 2022, in an accident at Palghar near Mumbai, Cyrus Mistry, former chairman of the Tata Group, died in a road accident. On December 28, 2022, a road accident in Mysore left one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s brothers injured. What is common in these accidents? The car that crashed into the divider on the road, in both these cases, was manufactured by “prestigious” German manufacturer Mercedes Benz.
One former dealer of Mercedes Benz cars in India has been raising issues of the threat to the lives of those riding these cars for many years now. Cama Motors, among the oldest dealers of foreign cars, having started business in pre-independence India, noted over 10 years ago that Mercedes Benz was indulging in corrupt practices. The cars are currently priced between Rs 41 lakh and Rs 2.92 crore in India; few people realize that the pride of owning a Merc comes at considerable risk to life.
Cama Motors carefully documented several of the flaws on a website. This has set off a David vs Goliath struggle, as a defamation case drags on for nearly 10 years in a Pune court (the Mercedes Benz manufacturing plant in India is based in Chakan, Pune.)
In early June 2022 news from Europe showed the Indian car dealer was right all along -- Mercedes Benz acknowledged flaws and announced recall of one million vehicles manufactured between 2004 and 2015 – models from its ML and GL series of SUVs and R class luxury minivans were recalled. Models were recalled in the US too (also click here).
Cama Motors, however, had been raising the issue of fatal flaws in the cars even before 2004. In the absence of a proper regulatory framework for bringing such matters to light, however, the problems have gone generally unremarked upon in India, save for two articles on website Moneylife.
Brake failure in Mercs was reported even in 2002, and the recalls could have come 20 years too late. In India, even if such a recall were to occur, the vehicles would have changed hands several times over – it would be next to impossible to trace current owners. And if the current owners were indeed traced and vehicles returned, it would remain unknown what process would be undertaken to deal with defective parts.
Rustom Cama, chief executive officer of Cama Motors, experienced repeated brake failures in his own car in 2002-2003. Over time, many more types of defects which could lead to engines stalling or gearboxes getting locked in one gear on the road were discovered and proved by the dealer; service documentation of Mercedes Benz itself exists to prove these.
In India, for example, drivers who took their Mercs on long rides in the heat found that the clutch assemblies of their cars would be stuck to the floor when warmed up – this could prove fatal. Even though Mercedes Benz engineers began to realize that there was this flaw in certain models, they did not transparently own up to it. Even experimental remedies were not made available to customers. Instead, dealers were instructed in writing not to inform customers, but to secretly replace parts when the customer returned for routine work.
In an extreme case, Mercedes Benz began informing customers that they had won a lucky draw, and would be entitled to a free inspection of their vehicle. The draft of such a "lucky draw" letter was given to each dealer with instructions below to exchange the turbocharger of the vehicles on the car’s next visit!
Pralhad Modi, Cyrus Mistry
Rustom Cama, as executive director of Cama Motors at the time the flaws were being reported, wrote letters of complaint to Mercedes Benz-India, its parent company Dailmer AG, the German Embassy in India, the Competition Commission of India, and the ministry of surface transport. He got no response. That is when he set up the website, https://thetruthaboutmercedes.com/.
On the website, Cama explained that he feared that customers he believed he was serving in good faith may have put themselves in danger’s way by getting themselves the Mercedes Benz. “Daimler AG and its daughter companies have been studying the unimaginable defects produced in their cars for more than a decade and reacting with criminal procedures involving secret replacement of defective parts and software. These procedures have been misrepresented to their dealers who are forced to secretly carry them out as “CUSTOMER SATISFACTION CAMPAIGNS…"
The website explained that the dealer was informed that the company was engaged in a continuous improvement campaign, but what in fact occurred was a stealthy replacement of defective parts or software.
“We never understood or expected that some of these campaigns, which amounted to removing parts and software and replacing it, were connected to life-threatening defects. We ourselves were so embarrassed by the pathetic quality that we blindly carried out these measures which you will undoubtedly be disgusted by when you see the details,” the website announced.
It was one dealer’s attempt to rectify the damage caused by a prestigious car manufacturer. Cama Motors was slapped with a Rs250 crore defamation suit in 2013.
Brake failure was only one of several life-threatening defects. It is likely that the admission of flaws in its vehicles came as Mercedes Benz faced a class action lawsuit in the US. In India, however, the Merc is still considered a sign of prestige – with some people on Twitter now wondering how PM Modi’s family, famously of humble origins, rides Mercs.
Given that luxury car manufacturers serve only the powerful and the wealthy in India, they function with little regulation by the state. Civil society activists too do not bother with issues that involve only the wealthy. Poor regulation, combined with shoddy manufacturing and fraudulent sales means the ultra-rich in poorer countries like India and Bangladesh face a threat they do not themselves fathom.
---
*Freelance journalist

Comments

TRENDING

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Don't agree on domestic subsidies, ensure food security at WTO meet: Farmer leaders

Counterview Desk  The Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements (ICCFM), a top network of farmers’ organizations in India, in a letter to Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce and Industry, has asked him to “safeguard food security and sovereignty, even as ensuring peasants' rights" at the 13th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO MC 13), to take place from 26 to 29 February 2024 in Abu Dhabi.

Sharp 61-85% fall in Tech startup funding in India's top 'business-friendly' States

By Rajiv Shah Funding in Tech startups in top business-friendly Indian states has witnessed a major fall, a data intelligence platform for private market research has said in a series of reports it has released this month. Analysing Tech startup data of Telangana, Maharashtra, Delhi NCR, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, Tracxn Technologies Ltd , the Bengaluru-based research firm, finds that except for Kerala, funding witnessed a fall of anywhere between 61% and 85%.

Maize, bajra, jute, banana cultivation banned off West Bengal border: Plea to NHRC

Counterview Desk  West Bengal-based human rights defender Kirity Roy, who is secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Manch, and is national convenor of the Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, in a representation to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission, second within few days, has bought to light one more case of trespassing and destruction of a fertile banana plantation by BSF personnel along the Indo-Bangladesh border, stating, despite a written complaint to the police has taken "no initiative".

India second best place to invest, next to UAE, yet there is 'lacks support' for IT services

By Sreevas Sahasranamam, Aileen Ionescu-Somers*  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the best place in the world to start a new business, according to the latest annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey. The Arab nation is number one for the third year in a row thanks to a big push by the government into cutting-edge technology in its efforts to diversify away from oil.

Solar energy funding dips 9% in 2023; 2024 'kicks off' with US$1 billion investment

By Lakshmitha Raj*  Solar energy tech companies have already secured slightly over US$1 billion in funding in 2024 (till Feb 7, 2024) after total funding into Solar Energy companies in India fell 9% to US$1.55B in 2023 from US$1.7B in 2022. A total of 39 $100M+ rounds have been closed till date, with Delhi leading the city-wise funding, followed by Gurugram and Mumbai.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Mahanadi delta: Aggressive construction in flood plains, reduced fish stock, pollution

By Sudhansu R Das  Frequent natural calamities, unemployment, low farmers’ income, increase in crime rate and lack of quality human resources to strike a balance between growth and environment etc. continue to haunt the state. The state should delve into the root causes of poverty, unemployment and natural calamities.

Narmada Valley's fossil evidence: Ground for 'nationalists' to argue primates' India roots?

By Saurav Sarkar*  In December 1982, a geologist digging in India’s Central Narmada Valley found something he did not expect. Arun Sonakia, who at the time worked for the Geological Survey of India, unearthed a hominid fossil skullcap from the Pleistocene era. The discovery sent shockwaves through the field of paleoanthropology and put South Asia on the map of human prehistory. Some experts concluded that the skull likely belonged to a member of a predecessor species of ours, Homo heidelbergensis , or perhaps was a hybrid of homo species, while Sonakia himself suggested “ an affinity… to Homo erectus .”