Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Volkswagen Steering Column problem

This blog is about how I handled a car problem.


Here is the chronology of events. A Volkswagen Vento (petrol or gasoline model) was bought from Sundaram Motors in Chennai in April 2011. The original owner sold the car in 2013. I bought the car from a reputed used car dealer in December 2013.


In March 2015, we noticed a tightening of the steering wheel. An effort was needed to turn the steering. It began to stick. We took the car to Sundaram Motors for scheduled maintenance. We asked the Service Department to take a look at the problem. We were told that the steering was absolutely fine.


Move the clock forward. It is July 2015. We get drivers from the Top Four service in Chennai. I am not able to drive in Chennai. Driver after driver, without being asked, told us that there was a problem with the  steering. As the steering was turned, right or left, we could hear ‘tick tick tick.’ We feared  that the steering could pose a safety issue.


We found out that the battery was failing. A new battery was installed. Our car has an electro-magnetic steering.  My fond hope was that the new battery was what the doctor had ordered and that it would correct the steering. I was not lucky. The problem did not go away.


Soon after, the car was taken to Sundaram Motors. The car was kept for three days. Then the verdict was delivered. 

The entire steering column had to be replaced. The cost was about 65,000 Rupees. I asked Sundaram Motors if I could get help in view of the fact that the car had been on the road for a little over four years. The steering column is not a part that is subject to ‘wear and tear’ like a tire or a belt. Further, in a car like Volkswagen, having a serious problem with the steering column in a span of four years from the time of sale, is not a good advertisement for the brand. Above all, the car had only 20,000 kilometres. My plea fell on deaf years.


I sent an email to Volkswagen’s main office in Germany. A reply came in a matter of hours. “We want to help you. We want to keep you as a customer. It is difficult for us to make decisions from here. We are instructing our Mumbai office to take up your predicament with the Chennai dealer. We assure you that Volkswagen will do everything possible to resolve the issue in keeping with our standards and to your satisfaction.”


I received an email from Mumbai.  I got a call from Sundaram Motors. I was asked to bring the car to the dealer for inspection. After a (test) drive, the problem was confirmed.  Mr Srinivasan, the Customer Satisfaction Manager, and Mr Sudhakar, Service Manager, met me. I explained my situation. They listened patiently. I was promised that some help will be offered and a decision will be conveyed in two weeks.


The two-week time frame passed. I called and began to put (gentle) pressure. Mr Srinivasan sent an email. “Sundaram  Motors will meet you halfway. If you  paid 50% of the bill, the steering column will be replaced. There will be a two year warranty on the work done.”


My wife and I agreed. The car was taken to the dealer on a Tuesday morning. The repair was done. I picked up the car late Wednesday. The car has been handled by one Top Four driver. He gave the steering a clean bill of health.


Mr Srinivasan called to find out what was happening. We expressed our satisfaction.


What is the lesson? Do not give up. Sundaram Motors could have given me the 50-50 deal but it was done only after Germany (main office) got involved. If there are avenues you can take, please explore them. Be polite but firm. Our perseverance paid off.


Mr Srinivasan, I would now like to call him the Customer Extreme Satisfaction Manager, was very helpful. My wife and I express our appreciation.          

Friday, September 4, 2015

It is Yash Narredu's day At Pune

It is a tricky card on Saturday in Pune. However, I have some picks.


In the second race over 2400 metres, my selection is The General. The Mallesh Narredu trainee was a comfortable winner two back in Pune. He had the beating of Aquamarine who was an easy winner last Sunday although running with her kind. In his second Pune venture, The General was overmatched. It was the race that Amazing Grace won. To be ridden by Yash Narredu, The General returns to handicap company on Saturday. Okavango’s form leaves a lot to be desired. Caesar’s Star has not won in ages. Al Shamsheer, a son of Yeats who won the Ascot Gold Cup four years in a row from 2006 to 2009,  is likely to set the pace. Yash should not let Al Shamsheer get away with slow fractions. That is how Al Shamsheer beat the streaking Zazou in the waning days of the Mumbai campaign. Yash should tackle Al Shamsheer early enough. There is no denying that The General is the best on current form. Pace will be the key.


In the third, my selection is Zahrazan. The  daughter of Arazan broke the duck in her Pune debut. She came out of post 13 and was on the lead in a matter of strides. In her next outing, despite drawing the fence, Zahrazan could do no better than take fourth.  Zahrazan is a free-wheeling type and was in tight quarters and failed to put her best foot forward. The horses finishing ahead of Zahrazan  have all performed well in Pune in recent weeks. On Saturday, Zahrazan comes out of post 12 in the 1000-metre race. Yash Narredu needs to show alacrity. Blasting out and getting the lead will be critical.


Enthralling was  an eye-catching winner last time out. Raghubir Singh, an apprentice claiming a five-kg allowance, is Enthralling’s rider. Post one is a big blessing but why seek an apprentice’s services to get the weight benefit? That is not exactly a vote of confidence in the horse.


Abbey is my choice in the sixth. In her second career start in Mumbai as the season was ending, Abbey, a Phoenix Tower filly, was three parts off the winner. Running after a layoff, Abbey dismissed the strongly-fancied  Magnum Opus with an eye-popping make-it-all effort. The three year-old filly has drawn three and has Yash Narredu in the irons. I believe that there is more to come.


Abigail left the maiden ranks in Mumbai. She was scratched two weeks ago in Pune with a swelling issue and that is a red flag. Fitness questions linger. Phoenix Fire, a last outing winner, returns and is a player. He dug deep to repel the bud from Magnum Opus. On the other hand, Abbey handled Magnum Opus with little or no fuss.


The final pick is Dramarama in the eighth race. She was unplaced in the 1000 Guineas on December 18, 2014. She returned to the racing wars on March 7, 2015. Carrying top weight (20-46) in a 1400-netre race, Dramarama,  Colm O’Donoghue up, won in effortless fashion. The Phoenix Tower four-year-old goes in a 40-66 race on Saturday. She has above average ability. She runs well when fresh. She has drawn six and that makes a lot of options available to her.


You will see that, in general, I favor repeat winners. There is no substitute for current form. What you see is what you get in horse racing. Stick with what is known and avoid traversing unknown territory.                  

Trail-blazing English trainer Clive Brittain announces retirement

There is an Indian connection to the Group I Betfred Sprint Cup to be run at Haydock Park on Saturday, September 5, 2015.  Gordon Lord Byron will carry the Poonawalla colors in this prestigious contest. The Poonawalla torchbearer won the Sprint Cup in 2013. He was the bridesmaid in 2012 and 2014.  Gordon Lord Byron has won 12 races in his career and three of those wins have come in Group I events.



Aaday, winner of three races in his last four starts and victorious in Newbury’s Group II Hungerford Stakes, is the favorite at 6/1. Co-owned by Dr Cyrus Poonawalla and Morgan Calahan, Gordon Lord Byron is the 8/1 third choice.  There are 17 runners in the 1200-metre race.


Wayne Lordan, the Irish ace, rides Gordon Lord Byron. Tom Hogan trains the productive seven year-old. Coming off a third place finish in the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville, Gordon Lord Byron has been working well. Trainer Hogan expressed satisfaction. “Gordon Lord Byron worked extremely well last Tuesday and I’m very happy with him. He likes flat tracks like Haydock and Deauville.”


On Saturday, Saratoga in upstate New York, hosts two Grade I races. Freshman girls are in the spotlight in the 1400-metre Spinaway Stakes. Six go postward.


Eight run in the 1800-metre Woodward Stakes. Liam’s Tap, second to Honor Code in the Whitney Stakes, is in fine fettle and is the one to beat.


Del Mar’s feature on Saturday is the Grade I Debutante Stakes for two year-old fillies. Eleven answer the starter’s call in this contentious race.


Clive Brittain, 81, is calling it quits. A legend in the British training fraternity, Mr Brittain has been a trailblazer. In 1985 when the Breeders’ Cup was only run for the second time, he won the Fillies-Mares Breeders Cup Turf (2400) with Pebbles at Aqueduct. That was the first time a British trainer had won a Breeders’ Cup race. The incomparable Pat Eddery was the rider for Pebbles.


Perhaps the most notable Brittain accomplishment in the US was the runner-up effort from Bold Arrangement in the 1986 Kentucky Derby.


I  spoke To Mr Brittain in 2003 at Epsom Downs after his Warrshan (by Caerleon) had won the Coronation Cup. It was that first Friday in June in 2003 that Martin Dwyer won three races including the Oaks with Casual Look. Warrshan got an encore in the Coronation Cup in 2004.


Jupiter Island, a Brittain pupil, won the 1986 Japan Cup. It was another feather in Mr Brittain’s cap.


It was in 2005 in Tokyo that I got to chat  with  Mr Brittain for a few minutes. Warrshan was in the Japan Cup (grass) field. Alkaseed won that race in a photo finish from Heart’s Cry.

Clive Brittain made a statement. “I am retiring at the end of this season. I have had a good innings and enjoyed nearly all of it. It has been a fantastic life and lifestyle but it has come to the time where I want to retire.”


          Ahmed Zayat, American Pharoah’s owner, has confirmed that his Triple Crown champion will go in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. “We’ll run him in the Classic. My concern was about American Pharoah’s condition because he did not run his ‘A’ race in the Travers. He, however,   has come out of it in great shape. There was a combination of factors that prevented him from doing his absolute best. I think he can run  his best again and deserves the chance to do so.”


Beholder is a likely prospect. She is the indisputable ‘distaff queen’ at the moment.


Gleneagles, from Aidan O’Brien’s yard, skipped York’s Juddmonte International because of soft ground. The English 2000 Guineas hero is supposed to go in the Irish Champion Stakes on September 12 at Leopardstown subject to the course being satisfactory. Another target is the Q E II Stakes on October 17 at Ascot on Champions’ Day. Trainer O’Brien has said that Gleneagles  will be in the Breeders’ Cup Classic line up at Keeneland on October 31. It is a leap of faith. That will be the first time that Gleneagles will go on dirt. If Aidan O’Brien, the maestro that he is, cannot make his colt manage the transition, who else can?


I am fortunate. My wife and I will be in Lexington for the Breeders’ Cup extravaganza.