The Times, They Are A-Changin’

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’
Bob Dylan, “The Times They are A-Changin”
You can mark the milestones in your life by the cars you’ve had. In 1983, my first car was a hand-me-down Ambassador that had been in the extended family for more than 20 years, a car with gears so hard that by the time I learnt to drive it expertly, I could’ve driven any vehicle, large or small, on Indian roads.
In the early 80s, we also bought our first Premier Padmini. The waiting list was for more than 3 years, but we managed to get an out-of-turn car through some professional quota. Given the prevailing imperious attitudes, arranging a loan from the local bank and taking delivery of the car from Premier Automobiles were both quite harrowing tasks; the bank was the nicer of the two. Once we got the car we never went back to the company for anything; which explains why there was a flourishing business in places like Koliwada, for repairmen and mechanics. That company completely deserves its current fate (Dylan was so prescient).
Then came the Maruti revolution, which not only ushered in the era of choice, but also allowed cars to be purchased without any significant waiting. And by the time we bought the Zen in the mid-90s, private banks had already started their liberal and aggressive lending policies, which we first experienced when we moved to a Honda City in 1998. By then, things had completely changed. From the time we entered the showroom till the time we left after a test drive, we were treated as if we really mattered as customers, a phenomenon that was further amplified in the years to come, by companies like Hyundai. The next couple of car purchases were even simpler with the car companies and the banks actually falling over themselves to give loans and extend freebies, to the extent that for one car, we actually received an interest-free, one-year loan.
But all these “changes-for-the-better” suddenly felt quite insignificant last Saturday, when I sat with this MacBook Pro, fired up Firefox, went to tatanano.com and clicked “Book Online”. I chose the model, input my personal details and paid the deposit through my netbanking account…all in a mere 10 minutes. Sure, there is a waiting list for the Nano and I may not even get an allotment this time; but I was actually able to book the car and pay for it online, in the comfort of my office, without having to bother about showrooms, bank loans, etc.
It is not just that the car is relatively inexpensive and significantly “green” as compared to the others in the market. The Nano shows us how far we have come; from those times when a Premier Automobiles clerk or peon could throw us out of the showroom if we made even the slightest mistake during the purchase process, we are now in a world, where we can see, book and pay for a car online without having to interact with any human-being, if we so desire.
But do you know what the Dylanesque paradigm shift is? India is the only country in the world today where you can actually and truly buy an entire car online. Trust me…I’ve searched and searched and searched.

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