Dilip Chhabria has made a very good living out of modification. He’s been at it for over a decade now, and his DC Design is pretty much the best-known name in the business in this part of the world.How do you see the modification space developing in India?
Why do people get into modification?
They get into it primarily for the exclusivity aspect which a manufacturer can’t offer. I am primarily talking about car modification and not the larger projects that we do. The need of the customer is to stand out. It is not speed. Okay, he wants to brag about speed. He is never going to use it or test it but he wants to brag that I have got 300 or 500 horsepower. Primarily, it is the looks part. That’s what drives it in the first place.
The complexity comes in when the question arises ‘how to add value?’ My view is that you have a lot of mom & pop shops who don’t really have the depth. They get into the business of customising because it seems simple on the surface but its not. At the end of the day and I am talking aloud on the basis of the experiences that my customers have had. Customers feel cheated at the end because the quality is bad, the sensitivity to design is not there and in the bargain has happened is that the customer has actually endangered his asset. That is the pitfall of this business and a reason why this business doesn’t seem to get organised.
How do you stop that from happening?
For that you need a good understanding of automotive engineering. Where are you going to get it from? Now if you are a good designer, you will seek employment as a career option in one of the established institutes worldwide. Why would anyone come back and swim in the uncertain waters of entrepreneurship? So that is the dilemma currently as I see it from an industry player point of view. From the demand point of view, it is going to be huge as we all know that for the simple reason that we as human beings are encoded quite differently from each other.
How many customers actually know what they are looking for?
Customers are very well informed. The fact that he wants to do something to his car, it only means that he is an enthusiast to start with. Because he is an enthusiast then probably he has grown up loving cars and being involved with them. So, by the time he gets to a level where he is able to afford to spend, he gleans a lot of knowledge. He is a self professed expert. So they know a lot and it is helped by the Internet, travel and satellite television. In fact, the toughest part of my business these days is how you impress a jaded customer or a very well informed customer because he has got choices. So we are forced to move up the bar every single day of our lives and therefore we position ourselves in a position where we want to offer products and services that a manufacturer will not or cannot. That’s the distinction that we have set for ourselves. And therefore if you see what we have done over the years, we have got ever more bolder and our budgets are high because we realise that to create a brand you have to make an impression with the customer.
Is there is a lot of room for growth for the modification and customisation business?
Well, we all know that. Because, the hunger for things automotive is huge and we all know about the record sales in the automotive industry because the penetration levels of the car industry are so low that this industry is only going to grow.
So, your business is only going to take off from here?
Not only take off. In fact, ever since inception we have grown 40 per cent year on year and the limitation of 40 per cent has come not because of demand, it has always come because of capacity. This year in fact we should grow in excess of that number because we are adding capacity. Three Golden Rules of Performance Modification
• Never modify a vehicle that has a low power to weight ratio.
• The higher the torque of the vehicle, the easier it is to extract performance out of the engine.
• Ensure availability of parts and a support system.
(This story appears in the 16 April, 2010 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)