By : RACHNA TYAGI
Travel isn’t going to be the same for a while and that’s a given. Whether it is your daily commute, getting from point A to point B, or that long awaited holiday break that you were so desirous of embarking on, everything is now going to be a new transformed version of what we’ve been used to in the past.
Following the outbreak of COVID-19 earlier this year, travel and transportation was most significantly impacted. While the rest of the world stayed home, people associated with essential services industries needed means and measures to travel sans compromising on safety. MERU, one of the first ride sharing companies to have established in India, saw this as an opportunity and within no time partnered with major banks across metros, to ferry their employees safely. As a ride hailing service, MERU implemented all possible precautions to ensure that there was no risk to both, their passengers and drivers’ health. To ensure this, the company introduced various measures such as, ultra-hygienic cabs with 7-tier safety measures at every touch point, ozone sanitization treatment, air protect barriers, which separates the drivers from the passengers, along with IPA sprays for frequently touched surfaces in cabs to driver temperature checks with IR thermometers, and ensuring availability of essentials like hand sanitizers, hand gloves, masks, for drivers and face shields for ground staff at airports, says Neeraj Gupta, Founder & CEO, MERU.
Apart from this, their drivers were also trained for social distancing and self-sanitization. On the other hand, if the passengers felt that their driver was unwell, a contact number was displayed for notifying about the driver’s health. They also had some important guidelines for the passengers/guests using their service, which included using hand sanitizers before and after the ride, covering their mouths while coughing and sneezing, maintaining social distance while conversing with others, using cashless modes of payment and avoiding ride sharing especially with unknown people.
After almost three months of stringent nation-wide lockdown, various state governments in India, cautiously and slowly, are working towards lifting various restrictions, largely in order to revive the economy. Under this scenario, industry experts feel that personal mobility space will see immense growth, as employees/workers resuming work after many months will seek safe and personal mobility options over public transportation. CredR, a company engaged in buying and selling of used two-wheelers, expects to benefit from this trend. “The situation is far from resolved and we can expect another wave of cases as all cities crawl back to normalcy,” says Sasidhar Nandigam, CSO, CredR.
“With offices opening up, many companies are now expecting people to report to work. Firms, which are gradually starting their operations as the lockdown measures ease, are concerned about their workers well-being and productivity. Despite such concerns and public transport being risky, many large IT firms have also discontinued their pickup and drop off facility to reduce the spread of virus. As such, employees are now left to fend for themselves,” he adds. As a result of this, the company feels that sales of personal vehicles will increase in the near future.
“The more deep-seated social distancing becomes in the scheme of things, the more people will start relying on private mobility as compared to shared/public transport. People will definitely start migrating to low-cost, economical private mobility options in the coming days. Factors such as fall in disposable income and financial uncertainty, people would be driven towards more value-for-money purchases such as a used 2W. We have personally also seen a massive surge in demand in Lockdown 4.0 and Unlock 1.0, which is almost a 400% surge in search and enquiries from the first week of Lockdown 1.0. You will also see surge enquiries for auto loans and EMI-based mobility products,” he says.
Another beneficiary of consumer’s increasing focus on safe personal mobility is Hype – a Luxury Car Rental company. Speaking of changing consumer preferences, Raghav Belavadi, Founder & CEO of Hype says, “Prior to the pandemic, while a lot of car rental apps just focused on providing facilities for commute, luxury car rental apps focused on providing a luxurious, refined experience to the patrons taking into account two big aspects of luxury – privacy and safety.”
“Earlier, people considered renting a luxury car when they had an important meeting or a big event in the family or in their organization. Fewer people opted for luxury car rentals on a regular basis. However, after the pandemic, people will want more exclusivity and safety incorporated in their commute. So, the cars which they earlier rented as a luxury will now be viewed as a necessity. This means that they will want to rent it quickly, they won’t have time each day to browse through several different options. They will want a luxury car that guarantees them exclusivity and they will want it at their doorstep within a short span of time,” he says.
“In the future, you can expect car rentals for longer bouts of time wherein patrons will book a certain car for a longer time, [with] increased focus on sanitation and privacy, and a shift towards more exclusive segments of cars,” he adds. Further stressing on importance of technology for maintaining safety standards, Belavadiadds, “At Hype, we take pride in our impeccable safety standards. Once a customer books a luxury car, s/he is given complete assistance from start to finish. They are provided with Bluetooth connectivity and each car comes with GPS tracking for smooth surveillance, in case of any emergency. This entire process is stress-free because of technology. From start to finish, from the moment the customer enters a drop location on their phone to the moment he/she is dropped off at the destination, the execution, monitoring, and surveillance of the ride is possible due to technology.”
Pandemic-driven shift in strategy is being implemented by automakers too as they see growing demand for small cars. “In the immediate future we see customer sentiment shifting towards personal mobility over shared mobility. We believe there will be an increase in traction for the compact and used car segments. We have witnessed a surge in the demand for small cars for people who are graduating from two-wheelers to four-wheelers. We have garnered strong response for our compact SUVs with the VENUE receiving 143,000 bookings and over 97,000 sales numbers since its launch in 2019, while the all new Creta has already received over 30,000 bookings and sold 14,889 units since March 2020,” says Tarun Garg, Director, Sales, Marketing & Services, Hyundai.
Not just the small cars, “The used car business, and leasing to enterprises will take center stage, as they are perceived to be pocket friendly,” feels Garg.
As India’s First Smart Mobility Solutions Provider, Hyundai has the first mover advantage of providing Connected Technology in automobiles. We believe that such technologies have the power to democratize individual’s mobility to a large extent. All our new portfolio of cars namely VENUE, ELANTRA, Spirited New VERNA, All New CRETA are integrated with Connected Technology and will provide Peace of Mind to our customers during this Covid-19 situation.
The ongoing pandemic has also changed the purchasing habits of consumers. This is evident from the fact that most OEMs are fast moving towards digitalizing sale of cars. “The ongoing pandemic is the onset of a ‘New Normal’ and Hyundai Motor India as a quick adapter has made an encouraging beginning in May. Being a forward looking brand, Hyundai was among the first brands to offer Digitalization of Sales and Service processes. As early adopters of Technology, we have pioneered the online car retail space with our Click to Buy platform that was introduced in early January this year and have received tremendous response with over 1800 bookings through our Click To Buy platform,” says Garg.
For the ones with deep pockets, entrepreneurs such as Dilip Chhabria, who specialise in providing ultra luxury automobile solutions, come to the rescue making safety and privacy for their clientele their top priority.
Dilip Chhabria's DC2 offers “The Lounge” or what is also popularly known as the EPC Package which takes care of not just the privacy aspect but also the social distancing aspect. This is what people get installed in their expensive vehicles when they don’t want their chauffeurs listening in on their conversations, especially when deals worth millions of dollars are being struck in these moving luxury vehicles whilst on the road. Dilip Chhabria, who has been offering this product for almost a decade says that he sees a surge in demand for orders from across India. In fact, so fond is he of his own product that he is now building one for himself, he reveals. The best part about “The Lounge,” he says is that the distance between the driver and the passenger is over 6.2-feet which is also what is recommended by ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research). According to him, vehicles such as Toyota Crysta, Toyota Fortuner, Land Cruiser, KIA Carnival, Mercedes V-Class, Nissan Evalia and Mahindra XUV500 make for perfect candidates. Besides, they also do custom orders for other luxury marques.
On offer inside “The Lounge” besides almost every conceivable luxury, is the "shield" which is made of a combination of glass and fiber glass among other materials and which really does a full proof job. Unlike other flimsy barriers made from plastic and other materials such as vinyl, which is more of a stop-gap arrangement, their shield really helps up the safety as well as the privacy quotients.
Definitely something that people with deep pockets who spend a lot of time on the road, being chauffeured, on our highways, would want to consider to keep themselves as well as their loved ones safe.