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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,
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



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