Manufacturing facilities of SRM Auto Tec, DC Design, Jayalakshmi Designers and Koyas & Sons are running overtime. Workers are busy refurbishing vehicles for party bosses at a time when campaning fervor is at a high.
Door-to-door visits, which used to be the main medium of campaigning during elections earlier, are no longer in fashion. Technology has touched each mechanism of going to polls, including how leaders move about spreading word.
Customised luxury buses, vans, sport utility vechicles, are in vogue, and the customisations are being done by a Rs 300-crore industry, which is largely unorganised and dominated by six players. These firms refurbish vehicles for sums of Rs 5,00,000 to Rs 5 crore.
On Saturday, SRM Auto Tec handed over a refurbished vehicle for Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumarsamy. He chose to retain the vehicle he used during the last campaign. The factory, on the outskirts of Chennai, is guarded and workers are busy churning out vehicles for many parties from within and outside the state.
R Harikrishna, general manager, SRM Auto Tech, said demand doubled as number of leaders and campaigners, including celebrities, have increased.
Earlier, each party would have at least one or two such vehicles for the top leader, but today each party wants at least six such vehicles, Harikrishna said and added that MLAs and MPs are also ordering such vehicles on their own. His estimate is Tamil Nadu alone would require around 200 refurbished vehicles this election.
Dilip Chhabria, founder of Mumbai-based DC Design, agreed on the spike in demand and said every year the demand is increasing. Chhabria’s firm designs and produces premium customised vehicles for the who's who of Indian politics.
Comfort, connectivity, convenience, and security are the key features, Chhabria, who has worked for Rahul Gandhi, said. Refusing to divulge names of takers, Chhabria said these vehicles help leaders connect to more people compared to a helicopter.
Customised luxury buses, vans, sport utility vechicles, are in vogueRefurbishments can cost anywhere from Rs 30,00,000 for an Innova to Rs 5 crore for a Volvo bus. Experts said refurbishments take 2 weeks to 3 months. Components are manufactured in India, while electronic equipment are imported.
And, with many of the previous generation customised vehicles getting older, there is also a big replacement market.
At Coimbatore, more than 50 people are working round the clock for Koyas & Sons’ deliveries. P V Mohammed Riaz, managing partner of Koyas & Sons, said they are in this business for nearly five decades. The firm said it was working on tempo travellers for Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and Deputy Chief Minister
O Panneerselvam. Sources said Palaniswami may be using the same vehicle that the former chief minister, late J Jayalalithaa, did.
Koya is also a preferred destination for politicians from Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, where there could be demand for around 100 refurbished vehicles.
Security, luxury and utility define refurbished vehicles. Sometimes such vehicles are nothing less than mini hotels with high-end wooden furniture, comfortable sofa-cum-beds, massage chairs ,home theatres, LED lights, high-calibre speakers, lifts with revolving seats, and even attached toilets like those found in aircraft.
To address concern for safety, the vehicles come fitted with bullet proof material.
According to Chhabria, they don’t alter the characteristics of the original vehicle. The challenge is to make sure they don’t exceed the original target weight, except when it is armoured. Also, according to regulations, one cannot structurally modify vehicles, so refurbishment does not include altering the length, breadth or the height of the vehicles.