Royal Enfield Himalayan Recall: I told you so

By | July 7, 2016

Don’t know how many of you watch Family Guy, but this is THE perfect representation of my thoughts right now.

It’s actually not a big deal, anyone with half a brain could’ve told you this was going to happen. Everything from Yamaha R1 to Kawasaki ZX-10R to even the Ducati 1199 Superleggera have been recalled in the past, and it just seems to be an inevitable side-effect of bringing something new to the table.

However, there are 3 reasons why Himalayan owners might be a pissed at this development.

1. Sid Lal’s use of stupid jargon to explain the situation:

“We have feedbacks from some customers about high engine noise. Although it doesn’t affect performance we have found a solution to it. Usually we rectify such issue in first servicing but we are asking customers to bring their bikes earlier to get it resolved. I want to clarify this is not a recall. Recalls are actually meant for safety related and other large issues. In fact this is commonly referred to as proactive service update.”

He is not wrong about the whole “recall” logic, but the point is that nobody gives a shit, this is not a test of English proficiency. You made something, it has problems, you fix it. I hadn’t expected the CEO of company that has proudly made giant uncoordinated hunks of metal for decades to be so defensive about a simple problem, especially considering how desperately “cool” he appears to be at most times.

The bigger problem with the jargon is that it complicates things. In most recalls, companies tell you exactly what bike, with what manufacturing date, or even chassis number need to be brought to the service station. With the Himalayan, RE is being as vague as a politician on live TV.

“These issues are not across the board and out of multiple of thousands of the bike we have sold so far, only a few hundred are affected depending on the type of complaint.”

This does not inspire confidence, because what that implies is this:

“We made multiple thousands of bikes, but since our quality department is staffed by sexually promiscuous hamsters, we have no idea which ones are fucked and which are not.”

What this also does is put the responsibility of providing a fix for free, or not, on the shoulders of Royal Enfield service centres, which is kinda like walking into a tiger’s cage and expecting him to be reasonable enough to not eat you alive.

Also, this soft recall thing, or rather the silent one, makes one look guilty to begin with. You are a corporation, you don’t have feelings, you can’t feel guilt. If there’s something that’s gone wrong, be open, tell the customers, give them precise instructions, and fix it all. I guarantee you customer satisfaction and brand image would go up far more in value this way, rather than behaving like a back alley crack dealer.

2. The lack of a proper body governing automotive safety:

In the US, whenever a recall happens, it’s done by a thing called NHTSA, or National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They have the authority to not only call out the manufacturers for their faults, but also levy penalties and fines and court cases. In India, it’s more of an honour system, automotive companies do such recalls only if they are scared of people dying and spilling blood on their logos.

What this also means is that Royal Enfield can call this a “proactive service update”, and there’s nobody out there actually policing them, nobody to confirm the facts. We have to take their word for it, which is, as you might expect, a hard thing to do.

This also makes the waters far more murky than they need to be. When a company fucks up, it’s obviously a good idea to have an outside entity find out why and then find out a solution. A company cares only for money, and you can’t reasonably expect them to be completely transparent in matters that might affect their income. This creates unnecessary confusion in the mind of the owners, which ironically creates more problems for the company.

3. It’s another Royal Enfield bike that’s sucky:

RE was never known for producing reliable machines. With that marketing campaign surrounding the Himalayan, they seemed to imply that this one would be different. Even though their own videos sometimes turned out to be comically against that basic idea, the overall look and feel, along with the inclusion of CS Santosh made it feel like Royal Enfield had finally moved out of their mom’s basement and were looking to do something serious.

Take a look at this article, which chronicles all the problems that customers have been facing with this bike. Some of the items in there, like the paint inside the fuel tank chaffing off and blocking the fuel supply, are hilariously familiar. It’s a sad fact that what RE has made is a one-of-a-kind thing in India, and it’s also true that they’ve priced it well based on what you get, but you can’t just give everyone dreams and feelings and then come inside their bedroom with a baseball bat and beat the shit out of them all.

This again casts a different shadow on Sid Lal’s words. They claim this recall to be just something to fix a noise problem, which is fairly vague to begin with, but then there are reports of people taking their bikes to the service centres and getting multiple problems sorted. Hard gears, clutch problems, overheating issues, there seems to be far more to it than RE would like us to know, and that’s not good. What this does is create even more confusion in the mind of the owner. Should he even go to the service centre, or wait for a call from RE? Is it more of a “Squeaky wheel gets the grease” kinda deal, or do these people even know what they are doing?

All in all, RE doesn’t seem to have learnt much from their encyclopedia of mistakes. What they’re doing is basically a Triumph after their detuning fiasco, except the part where Triumph tried to sue everyone who even remotely criticised their methods. There’s no shame in admitting a mistake, your customer base is basically a bunch of people who don’t mind buying a 50-year-old sandwich with nothing between the breads, and then worshipping it like the greatest invention since bread. There’s nothing you can do to antagonise them, believe me, I’ve tried.

Not just RE, this goes out to any other manufacturer out there: Don’t be afraid. All humans, bikers or not, respect honesty and clarity of thought. If you sell me a bike and it turns out to have problems, just tell me you’ll take care of it and be done with it. The more mouths you try to shut, the more gossip you’ll end up dealing with.

  • Suryanarayan Mondal

    This is the first time in the history of internal combustion engine, somebody has installed a radiator to cool engine oil directly instead of using a coolant jacked. RE is so scared of introducing coolant into their engine is because they sucked in designing gaskets. Each next day RE will have at least one complaint of mixing coolant with engine oil.

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  • Manu

    Hey guys,
    im a 22 year old amature rider.
    looking for some bike which can be for both city and get away type.
    im confused which bike to buy under 2 lacs.
    pleast suggest some.
    have plans to take RE himalayan/CBR 250r

    • Akhil Kalsh

      Duke 200.

      • Manu

        but reviews says duke is not a good option for comfort.

        • Akhil Kalsh

          It’s perfect for your requirement.

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  • LV Venky

    The rather harsh and uncharitable commentary about Sid Lal an industry doyen, by Akil Kalsh, laced with profanity and sarcasm, I felt was an over reaction and uncalled for. Have you heard of such comments and character attack by a German on Volkswagen on the emission scam? Or a Japanese reacting to faulty airbags on a reputed Japanese car?
    Probably not. We Indians have a low self worth, and this manifests in our exaggerating minor issues as though they are unsurmountable. If I have offended Mr.Kalsh I am soory, but he needs to reflect the need for such a vicious commentary..

    • Enfield

      Do you ride motorcycles, specifically RE and can you Plz imagine the durability and trustworthiness factor a touring-rider needs and expects from RE after spending close to INR 2lakhs?
      Indian manufacturers need home prepared criticism to force them to come up to a standard if not equal to global means which is safe, prestigious and trustworthy for a paying buyer. Since our manufactured automobile products are no where close even by Asian standards!

    • Rajaghuru KP

      I find nothing wrong with this article. Basically, as consumers we buy something with “our” hard-earned money & we expect the product to be well-tested & withstand the vagaries of time; not be fed with a half-baked attempt. Sid Lal is not running a charity organization where he donates the Himalayan. He is selling his product (for a profit, mind you) and therefore has a moral & legal obligation to ensure that it conforms to the safety & qualitative requirements. Will you be happy to be sold with a sub-standard product? As a leader with passion, Sid Lal had an opportunity to ‘connect’ with aspiring (and existing) tourers & former RE haters to rely on his product and service. I guess that is not so the case, now. This is especially disappointing, because, the Himalayan is a great product (although, a tad under-powered) & terrific VFM.

      I find your linkage of patriotism to a critical viewpoint of how a leader of a well-renowned brand, handled a recall, absurd. Just because a German didn’t criticize VW or a Jap didn’t criticize the air-bag maker (forgot the name), doesn’t mean that the product wasn’t faulty in the first place! I guess we Indians need to learn, how to accept criticism & feedback in our lives. And yes, anyone who has cried hoarse in the past, multiple times & still finds the product / service to not have displayed improvement, tends to get vicious & scathing. Doesn’t mean I endorse that behavior, but that’s called angst.