Maruti Suzuki replacing part in 28,500 cars

Maruti Suzuki replacing part in 28,500 cars

New Delhi: Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, the country’s largest car maker, plans to replace the front wheel drive shaft on at least 28,500 cars manufactured between May 2006 and February this year, the company said.

The replacements are being made due to defective greasing in the shaft, which a worker at a Maruti service centre claimed was not a serious manufacturing defect.

A drive shaft delivers power from the engine to the wheels of a motor vehicle.

The shafts were manufactured by Delphi Automotive Systems Pvt. Ltd, the local unit of Delphi Corp., and the defect was brought to the attention of the auto maker when customers complained of excessive vibration while driving their cars.

Maruti said the faulty shafts found their way into three car models—Wagon R, Alto and Zen Estilo—and estimates they will affect nearly 5% of the cars made in the 21 months from May 2006, a number that works out to 573,000.

The company, which has stopped short of formally recalling the affected cars, termed the measure “pro-active". “From the safety point of view, there is no risk to passenger safety," said a Maruti Suzuki official, asking not to be named.

The India offices of Delphi declined to comment specifically on the shaft replacements. When contacted, the firm’s managing director Ashok Ramaswamy said his company would revert on Mint’s queries. “We work closely with our customers to ensure our products meet their needs. It is Delphi’s corporate policy not to comment on customer related matters," a spokesman emailed in response to Mint’s questions.

Maruti has been carrying out replacements as and when cars come in for servicing and other repairs to its 237 dealers across the country.

To be sure, this is a practice followed by many car companies in India, and preferred to a so-called product recall.

A circular dated 23 September that went out from Maruti to dealers asks them to take vehicles produced during this period for a road test and specifies that in the event of any problem, the part needs “to be replaced". The note was read out to Mint by a second Maruti executive, who also did not want to be identified

A problem such as this usually surfaces after a car has travelled 7,000-8,000 km.

Maruti, declining to put a value on the cost of the replacements, said it would be premature to comment as the replacements were still taking place—about half the estimated cars that have been affected have been fixed—but clarified Delphi would bear the costs. Executives at the auto maker said each drive shaft costs about Rs3,000. By that estimate, the maximum cost of replacement could work out to be approximately Rs8.60 crore, but this could not be independently verified by Mint.

Auto companies across the world routinely recall vehicles to replace faulty parts—something that is rare in India.

An industry expert put this to the absence of strong liability laws in India. “In the US, for instance, liability laws are very strict. As soon as a manufacturer gets complaints, they recall cars on a widespread basis, before consumers take them to court. However, in India in the absence of a robust system for liability, recalls are very less," said Dhiraj Mathur, executive director at audit and consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

In January, Toyota Kirloskar Motor Pvt. Ltd replaced a part of the rear axle assembly in about 20,000 of its multi-utility vehicles sold under the Innova brand. In December 2005, Maruti itself said it was fixing a possible fault in the exhaust system of its Versa model, covering at least 2,200 cars.

Mohit Arora, senior India director at market information services firm, JD Power and Associates, said he saw Maruti’s efforts to replace the faulty drive shaft through dealers as the “best way to go about it".

Shally Seth in Mumbai contributed to this story.