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Thursday, July 19, 2018

A merc-y picture

Three years later,potholed roads have laid low Aurangabad’s Rs 65-crore 184-Benz dream.

Written by Partha Sarathi Biswas | Published: September 8, 2013 5:04:11 am

It was India’s biggest and most expensive car deal,and a record of sorts even for automobile giant Mercedes. When Aurangabad residents shelled out Rs 65 crore for 184 Mercedes-Benz cars in a collective purchase in October 2010 though,nobody took into account one thing: where were the roads?

Three years down the line,almost 40 per cent of the group members have stopped using their vehicles. “Twenty per cent have sold them,” claims Ajeet Mulay,one of the fabled 184 buyers,who claims to have spent over Rs 1 lakh in repairs already. “Many of us are thinking on those lines now. Those who are using their Benzs are using it for long drives where the roads are good.”

Businessman Chandrakant Malpani’s E-Class remains mostly in the garage,as does industrialist Shailesh Kasliwal’s. Both paid Rs 70 lakh each for the cars. Noting that he uses his Innova for daily commuting,Malpani says,“The roads in Aurangabad have been at their worst since last year and I shudder to think of the harm they would do to my Merc. I do not want to risk permanent damage.” The shock absorbers have been a regular casualty,Malpani adds.

Except for daily cleaning,Kasliwal’s E-Class doesn’t leave his home compound. “My vehicle has not even crossed 14,000 km in the past three years,yet the rims of the tyres got damaged and had to be replaced,” he laments.

The October 2010 deal was the result of an idea born during one really adventurous early morning jog. As a consequence of it,a group of businessmen,industrialists,doctors and realtors together placed an order for 184 Mercedes-Benz cars,of 150 models,in a deal that got the world’s attention. The then chairman and managing director of the company himself drove down to deliver the vehicles,while the chairman of State Bank of India personally facilitated extension of vehicle loans at record low interest rates. Over Rs 44 crore was given as loans to 116 customers within seven days.

Tenorite Grey,Calcite White,Obsidian Black,Iridian Silver and Carneol Red had been the most preferred colours,with Aurangabad’s newly dubbed ‘Merc Club’ picking up,among others,17 S-Class (Rs 80 lakh and above),six GL-Class (Rs 72 lakh and above),74 E-Class,39 C-Class (Rs 27 lakh and above),and 18 M-Class (Rs 59 lakh and above) vehicles.

According to Sachin Nagori,the originator of the idea,the single deal woke up the world to the financial power of the city,otherwise mostly known for its ancient Ajanta-Ellora caves. “We showed that our city had arrived,literally,” he says.

It isn’t just that these high-end cars are meant for better roads,even Aurangabad’s roads have seen better days. Since last year,roads within the city as well as arterial ones have taken a turn for the worse. Torrential rains and lack of proper maintenance are the main culprits,with residents saying the multiplicity of authorities responsible has further added to their woes.

The predicament of the buyers has even caught the attention of Mercedes. Eberherd Kern,Managing Director and CEO of Mercedes-Benz India,issued a statement last week that dealer B U Bhandari based in Pune (they have a service centre near Aurangabad) had been directed to initiate talks with the affected customers. “We will be supporting the customers in all possible ways,” the statement read.

Deven Bhandari says they have been noting the damage to the vehicles,especially to their tyres and alloyed parts. “The effect of wear and tear is quite visible,” he says,adding that they are talking to customers about “extended warranty”.

Aurangabad Mayor Kala Ozha admits that the civic body delayed taking up road repairs in the last year. “Tenders were floated for the repairs,but when the first rains started,we gave directions for the work to stop. We should have started the work well in time,” she admits.

Everyday he sees his E-Class now,he feels a stab of regret,says Malpani. “I feel it would have been better to invest in land,” he says. His Benz has covered 45,000 km,driven mostly to the garage and Malpani’s office,apart from the occasional long-distance trips.

Rahul Pagariya,another Benz owner and the director of Pagariya Auto,has spent Rs 1.5 lakh on repairs. His vehicle had travelled around 75,000 km but after it fell into a ditch on the outskirts of the city,it suffered extensive damages. “I use my Merc only when I go out of town. Bad roads have taken the pleasure out of driving completely,” he rues.

Suyog Machar’s repair expenses have been even higher at Rs 2 lakh. His car has travelled 70,000 km. “Every time the vehicle fails to clear a pothole,my heart skips a beat. This vehicle was supposed to be a dream come true,but the dream has turned sour,” he says.

Realtor Kiran Wadi admits that even that other imagined benefit of the Merc deal—Aurangabad on the fast-track of progress—has sputtered beyond bringing in a few new malls.

Mulay says “the wear and tear” is too high. “I’ve had to replace the break pads twice and also two of my tyres burst and had to be replaced,” he says.

Incidentally,the M-Class he bought in 2010 was Mulay’s third Benz purchase. Now Mulay is looking at purchasing another car for city commuting. Anything within the range of

Rs 10-12 lakh.

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