Sunday, June 29, 2014

My thoughts on Uber India

Top post on, the community of Indian Bloggers
This post shares some of my thoughts on Uber, the app based on demand taxi service that is making news off late. I was holding back this post thinking it is not fair for me to write about it without even experiencing it once. My taxi needs are very seldom and few times when I tried, Uber was not available, hence I couldn't try them so far. So this post is purely based on information available in public domain. Once I experience their service, I will write another post.

Uber fans may not like this post much, as it raises a few concerns. If I have written something wrong, I am willing to correct. Do comment.

As you know, Uber is an app based taxi service, who have a fleet of luxury cars which arrive on demand and customers are charged to their credit card.

To begin with, Uber is a western concept. In cities like New York or Singapore, taxis keep plying on the road empty all the time and if one goes to main street, one can hail a cab by waving their hand. Most of the time there will be one cab or the another, hence probability of not finding a cab on the street is very low.
Contextual Image of a luxury car- BMW 320d
However, in India cabs don't keep plying empty. Only Auto rikshaws do that. Cabs are often stationed and await a booking call. People who need a cab usually book in advance to ensure that a cab will be available when they need it. Of course there are others, who will have ad hoc requirements.

Uber automates the cab hailing process through its revolutionary app. It is good for those who suddenly decide they need a cab, like now. But I see following drawbacks:

1. I need to rely on my luck and can't book in advance. Most of my taxi requirements are for early morning/late evening airport drops. Before I go to bed I need an assurance that there'll be a taxi at specified time to pick me up. I usually call Fast Track, give a reporting time after factoring 30 min buffer for any delays, get a confirmation and go to sleep. When I wake up, I will have an SMS detailing driver details, which assures me that taxi is on its way. If I don't get an SMS or driver is far away, I will have some reaction time. 

With Uber, I can't book a car say 12 hours in advance. I need to wake up in the morning, try the app and check if cabs are available. It is all good if one is available. But what am I supposed to do if there're none? Scramble and call all taxi companies one by one desperately to check if they have a cab available like NOW? If not reschedule my flight to suit Uber black car's availability? It is this uncertainty that is preventing me from trying Uber time and again.

Similarly I've read in some reviews that ETA may increase after booking confirmation- which is even worse when you have time bound tasks.

On the left you see a msg I got when I tried booking Uber at Koyambedu at about midnight, few months ago.

Why is it a concern to let customers request a cab say 24 hours in advance and block a cab for them?

2. Time based charges: Uber has a Rs 2 per minute time based charge in addition to regular fare. This is a factor I have no control on. I would like to know if I can ask the driver to go faster, road conditions permitting. Consider below example:

Assume I need to go to Airport, some 50kms from city, early in the morning.
If driver goes very slow, at 25kmph, it takes 2 hours to reach airport and I need to pay Rs 240 extra
If driver goes at moderate 50kmph, it takes an hour and I need to pay Rs 120 extra
if driver can go at 100kmph, it takes 30mins, I need to pay Rs 60 extra
If driver can go superfast at 150kmph (all modern cars can go at that speed), it takes 20 mins and I need to pay just Rs 40 extra

Agree it is hypothetical situation and most of the time drivers drive at decent speed.  Going too slow could cause the driver his next customer. Nevertheless, if I can't ask driver to go faster and driver decides to go super slow (because say he has no other rentals for rest of the day), I need to simply shut up and pay.

3. Same fare for all cars.
While Uber promotes and tempts prospects with luxury car in its fleet, customer has no control which car he/she will get. You may be dreaming of BMW 7 series, but a corolla or an Innova might pull up. Fare is same for all cars, which I feel is not fair. Uber hasn't declared the breakup of their fleet- how many 3 series/C Class or 5 series/E Class they have vs the Innovas and Corollas. If Innovas and Corollas constitute only 10% of the fleet, then may be I will take my chance. But if it is other way round, my probability of getting a Merc or BMW will be very poor.

This pricing model also encourages more and more ordinary cars in the fleet over time. I am assuming what Uber pays to driver/car owner is also on the same lines- owner of BMW and owner of Corolla get same amount. If this is the case, any fleet owner will find it practical to add 3-4 Corollas, instead of buying one 5 series car and earning one fourth the amount.

Similarly, I may have 6 people, so may need a 7 seater. I may have to go an area which has bad roads where low ground clearance cars may not be ideal. If I can't give these inputs, there're chances I will not be happy with the ride.

In lots of cities Uber has different prices for different categories of cars- for example, try Uber Boston I feel they should introduce this rate structure in India as well.

Of course above drawbacks are overshadowed by a fleet of luxury cars, interactive mobile apps, good amount of marketing, initial launch offers and other things. Uber's success has put traditional taxi operators on the backfoot.  Steadily increasing fan base (in India) and one price revision already indicates that Uber is doing good and gaining popularity. So my best wishes to them.

Uber is launching a budget version called Uber X [Details]. Of course competition among taxi companies are a good thing for Chennai people, where auto drivers readily quote more than Uber for any destination. Courteous drivers, clean cars and reliable service will soon get lots of loyal customers.

Credit card penetration is low in India- having a swipe machine in cars for say debit cards or accepting cash can get them many more customers. But then, they will be at par with other operators and Coolness might be lost...

Let me see when I can try Uber next.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

5 Things missing in Carzonrent Press Release on Benz Self Drive

This post is again about cars- those not interested may click and read travel stories here

One week ago, last Wednesday, June 18, I broke the story that Mercedes Benz cars can now be booked for self drive with Carzonrent (and also with Zoom, who've added new A Class). Read: How to drive a Merc without having to rob bank. This post was shared by Zoom and few others and has got 76+ likes so far and 1000+ pageviews in 10 days.

For several days after that, Mainstream media as well as Myles and Carzonrent facebook pages were silent on this development. Not a mention of the Mercs.

Early this week, on June 23rd, Carzonrent issued a press release and next day almost every mainstream newspaper have copy pasted it, almost word by word. Read it on Overdrive * Business Standard * ET * Zigwheels *

Whoever wrote that press release for Carzonrent did a good job- reading it sounded as if one could walk in and drive out with a mercedes benz. Journalists who wrote about it also didn't do any due diligence. Probably many of them never rented a car on self drive). They also comfortably forgot that Zoom cars is already offering a BMW 320d and also has added A Class recently.

However, there're many things completely missing in the Carzonrent Press release about their adding Mercs to the self drive fleet. Below are the facts you should be aware of, if you're thinking of renting these cars on self drive from Zoom

1) To rent such cars you should have a credit card with minimum 70000 available limit. This amount will be blocked as security.

2) It takes 15 working days, which could be 20-21 calendar days to release this amount. That means the amount remains unusable and if you have some other expense, you should have alternate plans. Either you should have a credit card with lots of limit, or you should have multiple cards or you should plan your expenditures such that next 3 weeks you don't need to spend big. If you've to rent another car within next few days or few weeks, go rob a bank! My feedback that this process is not viable hasn't resulted in anything worth mentioning.

3) Rental amount is Rs 7446 per day for C Class and 10900 per day for E Class, after adding tax. PR cleverly mentions pre-tax amount of Rs 6500 and 9500

4) These may not be new cars. The C Class given to me in Chennai was close to 2 years old with 83000 kms on the odo and was being used by a regular driver, whose personal stuffs were all over the car. Car also seemed to be tuned for fuel economy, not performance. There could be some new cars, but it is also possible that existing Merc fleet has been offered in self drive probably because of lack of patronage from corporate sector.

5) Paperwork could take 20-40 minutes easily, depending on how busy the attendant is and how easily they manage to swipe your card for pre-auth. I feel they should learn a thing or two from Zoom Cars in this regard.

Read my C Class Rental Experience & Photos and review of the car.

I am not very clear what is Mercedes Benz's involvement in Carzonrent luxury fleet self drive-Was it included for sake of publicity? Apart from selling cars and servicing them, which Merc will do for both self drive or chauffeur driven rental models, it is not clear what's extra they're offering in Carzonrent Merc self drive scheme. May be they're giving some extra discounts to self drive agencies to promote Benz cars, hoping that some of the rental customers who are impressed by the car might eventually end up buying it one day. (If this is the objective, Merc should insist rental agencies buy some intermediate/high end variant and not the cheapest variant without any features. Also self drive customers usually want cars tuned for performance and drive-ability and not really fuel economy. Fuel economy is good, but not at the cost of performance or driving pleasure.

Happy journey!

Most popular posts during Jan-June 2014

Half of 2014 is almost gone. Close to 150 posts were published in these 6 months. Below is a listing of most viewed, most liked and most commented posts published during first half of 2014. In case you've missed them, you may wish to read them now

Most viewed/most liked posts

Drive a Mercedes Benz without robbing a bank - tells you about the availability of super luxury cars for self drive, from the stables of Carzonrent and Zoom

Zoom car vs Carzonrent- Comparison of their self drive services- Compares services of 2 major self drive players in Bengaluru

6 ways travel websites make money - In a super competitive travel market, what are the ways travel portals make money?

Ford Ecosport Titanium from Zoomcars - Drove Ecosport diesel Titanium for a day and this post is my review of the vehicle

Tata Nano twist- The evolution of Tata Nano - Explains enhancements to Nano, from the days of 2010 Nano Superdrive.

Scenic Kendatti Quarry near Kolar - Now blocked for tourists, Kendatti was a scenic place in Kolar, created during stone quarrying activity.

Kadu Mane Narasimha and his honey bee story - How many of you dare kissing honey bees? Mr Narasimhan, who runs a homestay in Dandeli, is very passionate about bees. Do read his story.

Top 10 Adventure Activities in Karnataka- From skydiving to scuba diving to rafting, Karnataka has it all- Do read to find out what all adventures can be tried in Karnataka

Most commented posts
Compared to posts where I might have written lots of text, posts with good photographs seem to attract more comments. Below are some of the most commented posts.

Sunset at Dandeli - Sunset pictures clicked at Dandeli

Sunset at Mullayyanagiri, Chikmagalur- Sunset pictures clicked at Karnataka's highest peak

Skywaltz-Balloon ride cancelled, no refund - Experience account of the balloon ride that never took off

An evening with XUV500 - A set of sunset photos with Mahindra XUV500

Sunset at Muttukadu, ECR - Sunset at Muttukadu, ECR

Few other recommended posts

5 days, 5 states, 2040 kms road trip across North India : Driving across North India, covering Delhi, UP, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana was very refreshing.

Fly an aircraft for 5000 Rs- Zenair vs Xair microlight aircrafts : Did you know you could fly a plane for a few minutes, even if you don't have formal license? Find out more in this post.

Scuba diving in Murudeshwara : Netrani island, 10 meters under the surface- Scuba diving was fun

Golden Temple Amritsar-night photos - Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab

Also read: Best of 2012 * Best of 2013

Friday, June 27, 2014

A morning with BNI (Business Networking International) Chennai Chapter

Since long time, I was away from various events and meetups that keep happening in Chennai. I was recently invited to attend an event-organized by BNI’s Chennai chapter, called Crown. Agni Sharman, who owns and operates Sharman’s Cab Company had invited me to attend BNI’s weekly meeting as a visitor. BNI stands for Business Network International and is a business networking and referral exchange initiative where members benefit from referring/helping each other. Attending this event helped me understand a lot about what is BNI, how it operates and what are the benefits. I am sharing my findings with you. If this benefits you/interests you, you may consider joining a BNI chapter closest to you.

What happens at BNI?

It is a meeting group of like-minded people, mostly business owers- similar to how Toastmaster club members meet to improve their English skills or startups meet under the umbrella of say Open Coffee Club, BNI members meet weekly to exchange their business referral needs and help each other.

Here's how the day's meeting went:
Unlike other groups that usually meet during business hours or late evening, BNI meetings happen early in the morning, so that members can finish it and go to their offices. It is held from 7.30 AM till 9.30-10AM, once every Thursday morning.

There were close to 30 members and 10-15 visitors. Early comers introduced themselves to each other and exchanged cards. The meeting started on time, Chapter president and his deputy performed opening formalities. Few statistics were shared and the ambition to grow the chapter and attain platinum level was stressed upon (51+ members = Platinum chapter). I learnt about their approach of VCP- be Visible more, build more Credibility, which will lead to more Profitability.
Rewarding the member who gave maximum referrals
Subsequently each member got 30 seconds- to give a superquick update and also do a 'Give' and 'Ask'. Give= If a member has a referral for others (such as 'I can connect you to Chairman of Company XYZ') 
Ask= When member needs help reaching out to specific prospects, such as "I wish to connect to Purchase Head of ABC Company Chennai branch". This open and direct approach of giving and asking for referral was appreciated by all the visitors- in other platforms, referral is done offline, in a one to one mode. In BNI, being able to exchange quality referrals and help each other's business grow is core purpose of the meeting.

After the 30 second quick intro visitors introduced themselves to the group.

A folder containing visiting cards of the chapter members was circulated. Visitors could take card they felt useful.

Then one of the members is given an opportunity to give detailed presentation of their business. This week it was Agni Sarman's turn. Agni spoke about his cab business, which is now 220+ team of driver-owners to operate their cabs under the umbrella of Sharman's Cab Company. Agni stressed on his policy of not supporting corruption and training his drivers to behave like a true business owner and not just a driver. Started 7 years ago with very few cabs, today Sharman's cab company counts World Bank and many other MNCs as its clients. Apart from Corporate rentals, they do undertake consumer rentals (They are very famous for Tirupati trips), airport drops and other such cab services (but NO SELF DRIVE : ( )
Agni on fire, talking about his business
You can connect with Agni Sharman and his cab company using following links

After this business presentations, those who had referrals to give got up and indicated the same. (If you could give referral to those who 'Asked' for specific contacts earlier). Those who could give more than 5 referrals got a standing ovation and one giving max referral got a gift.

Next, members exchanged thank you notes-to thank members who had given them references earlier that converted into some real business. These conversions are tracked by the chapter for their monetary value. 

One of the important policy at BNI Chapter is to have only one member per category or profession. If you're a lawyer and sign up,  no other lawyer will be able to sign up to the chapter. This is to avoid competition among members and enable healthy referrals. However, there could be a workaround to this, as people may sign up with slightly different categories/titles- For example, there could be a 'Villa Developer', 'Property Consultant', 'Real Estate Builder and Promoter'- there are some minor differences but they all could be chasing same customer base.  Similarly those running multiple business may sign up with whatever category convenient/available. Chapter leaders exercise due diligence in this regard while accepting new members, but it may not be 100% foolproof. 

Few of the visitors gave their feedback, they were briefed on the benefit of signing up. Later meeting ended and everyone had breakfast.

So how much does it cost to become BNI Member? It costs close to 30k to sign up. (Some 22k one time fee, 4k annual fee and taxes). This amount will sound like a big one for us office going folks. But if you're a businessman, this amount could be much less than what you'd otherwise spend on advertisements to promote your business. BNI enables quality business referrals and there by higher probability of business growth. 

There could be other fees/expenses, please check with the chapter.

Also note that there's an attendance policy- members are allowed to skip only 4 meetings in 6 months. They need to send a substitution if they can't attend a meeting.

Refer for details.

I got to meet founder of custom T shirt maker,  Arun of, a retired commander who runs a detective agency and many other businessmen who are into wide range of things such as graphics and animation, accounting services, cables, export/import services, financial services/wealth management, real estate and so on.  I was an odd man out there- when everyone asked "What business do you run?", I was like "I am not a business man. I work for an employee at an MNC, but in my free time, I run a blog" . Nevertheless, it was a morning well spent.

In another update, BNI's Bangalore chapter is called Symphony and I saw an update by the owner of Padaki Tours and Travels- Mr Muralidhar Padaki that he got the award of Notable Networker during the BNI weekly meeting in Bangalore yesterday. Best wishes. 
Photos sourced from Internet-Credits to Agni Sharman & Muralidhar Padaki

Related: Dandha- how Gujarathis do business

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Best Kept Secrets- Jeff Archer

Reading this book was a disaster- I had bought Jeff’s ‘Best Kept Secrets’ long back and it had got sidelined among other things that kept me busy. Later I bought another of Jeff’s books “Be careful what you wish for”. Unfortunately I ended up reading “Be careful what you wish for” first, while I’ve not yet read ‘Best Kept Secrets’. I was under the impression that these were standalone novels, but only after reading “Be careful what you wish for” I realized that it is part of a mega series and are incomplete on their own.

There is no indication on the book cover that these are part of a series. No way a buyer can suspect it, unless he’s read enough reviews about the book. Me blindly trusting the popular author and buying his book without reading reviews backfired. I recently finished reading ‘Best Kept Secrets’ but couldn’t enjoy the book. Because ‘Best kept secrets’ is the 3rd book in Clifton Chronicles series and narrates that plot that happens in Clifton/Barrington families, much before the plot of “Be careful what you wish for” (4th book). There were 2 books before ‘Best kept secret’ and there could be few more after the 4th book, before the series ends in a logical conclusion.

Each character I read about in ‘Best Kept secrets’, I already know their future- that Jessica will be killed, Emma will be on board of the shipping company, what Major will be doing in future and so on. So the whole surprise and curiosity is completely lost. I had to finish reading ‘Best Kept Secrets’ largely because I had paid for it. I skipped several pages where I felt that they didn’t have anything interesting/valuables worth reading.

If you’re buying, buy the entire series. Don’t pick individual titles.I don't plan to write about the plot- Wikipedia has good summary, which you can read it here.

Title: Best kept secrets
Author: Jeffrey Archer
MRP: Rs 399 
No of Pages: 381
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: PanMcmillan

However, learnt a few things about book publishing, arm-twisting in elections, smuggling etc.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Myles Mercedes Benz C Class-Photos, details, comparison with 320d

Sharing close up photos of the Mercedes Benz C Class that I drove [Rented from Carzonrent-Myles, Rental experience here], with brief description/review where possible. Also read: Drive a Mercedes Benz without robbing a bank.

Exteriors: Nothing much to comment- this is an older generation C Class with protruding tri-star logo. Current models do not come with such logos. I would have liked the other Benz at their yard with AMG front grill better. Nevertheless, you've seen enough of Mercs on the road, so I will not write much about its looks.
 Click to view enlarged photos
 The fin look so out of place- not body colored and poorly shaped.

Driver's seat-Good thing about driver's seat was that it had both manual and electric controls. In BMW 320d I had to press a button and wait patiently while the motors pull the seat back- in C Class, you can either do that, or pull a lever and push the seat back, just the way we do in ordinary cars. This helps save several seconds. Seat was showing signs of aging.
If I pull the seat to its front most position and sit upright, my head would touch the roof. For maximum comfort, I needed to move back a little and sit in a slightly inclined position to ensure that there's some space above my head. It is similar situation in 320d as well.

A small storage box exists under driver's seat and co passenger's seat. (This and other storage space was filled with car's regular driver's stuff).

Not having a sunroof was a disappointment. Some higher variants in both 320d and C Class get sunroof, not the cheapest variants.

Gearbox: Again less posh than 320d. No Sports mode. Took couple of moments to get used to it. Each time car is started, it defaults to economy mode (must be one of the fuel saving configuration done for Carzonrent) and I had to keep turning it off. I tried changing manually (+ and - signs)- I couldn't. Not sure if I missed something.

In comparison, 320d's gear lever (below) looks neat, clean and better overall. Operating in manual mode was also easy and fun. 320d is available for rent with Zoomcars Bangalore

Speedo console: Looked better than 320d. Car's photo pops up each time car is started. The coffee cup symbol you see is the attention assist- if the car is being driven in a zip zag manner, car detects that driver might need some rest and the coffee icon suggests driver to take some rest.
Above: C Class speedo console,
Below: BMW 320d's speedo console

Drive:  Engine appeared to be heavily de-tuned for fuel economy, at the cost of performance. In my 2 hour drive I couldn't get enough of empty straight road, but when I pushed the car to 140 kmph, C Class pulled itself fairly OK, but it felt as if forced to go fast, not voluntary to go faster. Noise was clearly audible inside the cabin as the revs increased. BMW 320d on the other hand had much smoother pickup and less engine noise (To be noted that 320d was new while C Class was close to 2 years, 83000kms old)

I had a 50km limit for 2 hours, so couldn't go long distance.

320d has a limit switch on the steering wheel, while C Class gets an additional lever to provide that input. (Limit switch helps setting top speed and ensure that car doesn't go faster than that).

Central console:
Feels outdated by today's standards and current C Class should be having much better units. Had all the standard stuff. As I had very little time, I couldn't explore it much.
 Above: BMW 320d steering wheel, below, C Class

There're lots of lighting overhead.

Second row seat: If first row seats are pushed backward to maximum, second row seats are just as spacious as an Indigo. Only if first row seats are moved little forward, legroom for second row passengers gets decent enough. 320d also has same problems. Probably it is a psychological way of forcing customers to upgrade to a bigger/spacious E Class/5 series after a while.

As is 320d (below), 2nd row is designed for 2. Centre armrest in C Class is multi purpose- can be opened to hold cups and other materials, or can be used as armrests or can be pushed back into backrest.
Seats in 320d are a bit thinner, hence can give more space.

Second row central armrest- can be expanded to serve as cup holder and other utilities. As far as I can remember, 320d's armrest wasn't this multi functional.

Both cars have boot space large enough for 3 people to sleep :)

Above:  C Class boot
Below: 320d boot
C Class comes with a spare wheel which sits under the boot floor mat, while BMW doesn’t offer spare wheels. (BMW has run flat tyres which can go for 200kms even after a flat, hence BMW claims there’s no need for a spare tyre. In fact their boot design can’t even accommodate a spare tyre, hence when Zoom bought an additional tyre, they had to keep it exposed in the boot.)

Similar: BMW 320d review * More BMW 320d photos *

Monday, June 23, 2014

My wishlist for Indian Railways Improvements

Railway fares have been hiked and there's been lot of debate on this topic last week. I am not adding to that, but simply wish to present my priority wishlist, for Mr Sadananda Gowda & Modi government to implement.
1.       Set up an online complaint collection & resolution mechanism. There has to be a defined timeline within with a passenger complaints are addressed and where Railways is found to be deficient in service, suitable compensation is to be offered to passenger.

2.       Work on hygiene and cleanliness. Once #1 of complaint mechanism is in place, target 50% drop in complaints related to hygiene  and cleanliness within 6 months. It should drop to near zero within an year.

3.       Modernize stations one by one. Most of the current stations are 50+ years old and aren’t equipped to handle the amount of passengers they are handling. Railway stations hold acres of prime real estate in all cities and hardly have one or two floors. Just the way how BMTC has upgraded its bus terminals in Bengaluru, railway stations can be upgraded into multi story complexes and revenue could be earned by running hotel rooms, parking areas and so on.

4.       Introduce RORO service all across India, extend it to cars and buses as well. This will reduce burden on highways, reduce fuel consumption and risk of accidents.

5.       Better law enforcement- In states where respect for the law is very poor, deploy armed personnel to tackle them. People without ticket, those with general class ticket entering reservation coaches, encroachment of berths/seats etc should be stopped, so that ticket paying passengers can travel peacefully.

6.       Redesign double decker with better spacing and leg room- remove 15-20 seats per coach, increase space between two rows. This will get you more passengers and you won’t have to kill golden goose like Brindavan Express to fill double deckers.

7.       Increase Tatkal duration from 24 hours to at least 4-5 days. If I need to make a weekend trip, I can’t book onward ticket on tatkal without knowing if I will get a tatkal ticket in return.

8.       We don’t want IRCTC to help us with shopping, air tickets and dozen other things. Let it please focus on selling train tickets, in a reliable and efficient way.  See how IRCTC can be made better.

9.       Average speed of trains in India is very low- slower than inter city buses. Trains are capable of going much faster, so at least between metros we need more high speed trains. More than that, if we can have an additional track, then express trains can go much faster, without having to tail a goods train or passenger train. 

10.   Our coach design is half a century old. Can we rethink them? More fire safety, easier to maintain and more on comfort.

Safety tips for Indian Railway passengers * Nilgiris heritage train

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Chitlapakkam Lake, near Tambaram Chennai

Chitlapakkam has a large lake, which I had not explored so far. Got to spend some time around it and here're some photos for you.

Chitlapakkam is located off GST road, after Airport but before Tambaram. Anna University's MIT Campus is also closeby. Follow google maps or after Pallavaram, go on the overbridge and take left (There is a display mentioning Chitlapakkam.

Pelicans, Painted storks, Cormorants and many other birds can be spotted in the lake.

 Fishing seem to be favorite pass time for local people.

Lake has nice walk way around it, few trees on the bank and cool breeze blowing around. It is certainly worth a visit. Carzonrent garage is also nearby!

Mercedes Benz C-Class Self drive experience, Carzonrent Chennai

Recently I noticed that Carzonrent has added Mercedez Benz C Class and E Class to its selfdrive fleet [Full details here- How to drive a Mercedes Benz without robbing a bank] and out of curiosity, booked a short 2 hour ride with Carzonrent (Myles) Chennai, for Rs. 2061.
This morning I completed my 2 hour date with the German lady and this post summarizes what I felt about the ride and rental experience. I plan to write two separate posts- one reviewing the car and one more, comparing C Class that I drove with BMW 3 series which I'd driven earlier.

My booking was from 7 AM till 9 AM. But knowing that Carzonrent folks tend to delay paperwork, I went there well in advance, at about 6.15 AM.

I saw many Mercedes Benz in the campus-4 of them to be precise. I wondered which one will be assigned to me. 2 of them- a gray one a  white one had a sunroof, but they had yellow number plate, which meant not for self drive. Then there were 2 more- one white and another golden-golden one appeared to be the newer of the two, both didn't have a sunroof but had black number plates. (Self drive)

Of course, other self drive cars- Etios, Vento, Swift, Innovas were on standby.

As suspected, the paperwork took more than 30 minutes. The swiping machine wasn't working to block Rs 70,000 on my card. After few attempts, I suggested the staff they can get the amount blocked over phone, they called concerned number, were asked for MID Number (Merchant Identification Number), which they didn't have. I spotted that on back of a cover Axis bank credit card authorization details were listed, showed it to them and eventually they managed to get the amount blocked. One of the employees advised me not to enter any waterlogged street- if water enters engine compartment I will have to pay for full damage!

I asked about kilo meter restrictions- the staff was unaware of any- he suggested I can drive as much as I want, but have to return full tank. Obviously he wan't aware of daily rental rules- his supervisor later corrected the rules to actual- I can drive upto 50kms, no need to fuel up. Beyond 50kms, Rs 25 per km will be charged.

Car had many scratches and had 82000 kms+ on the odometer. While most of the other cars in Carzonrent Myles self drive fleet is new, premium cars seem to be older ones. Either because of reduced demand for luxury car chauffeur driven rentals, or to test self drive market for premium cars, Carzonrent has diverted some of their Mercedes Benz cars to self drive department. I was later told that if demand pickup for self drive rentals of luxury cars, they plan to buy new cars exclusively for self drive.

It is apparent that the car has someone else as regular driver- some coins, stationery and many personal items were left in the car in all places (I am legally entitled to either throw them away or confiscate, because these goods are not officially part of the car when I take delivery for self drive car, however out of courtesy I left them untouched). Newspaper and water bottles were also in place, which is good, but I am not renting a Mercedes Benz to read newspaper in it.

Obviously carzonrent is still keeping best of its Benz fleet for corporate customers, only below average ones are allotted to self drive.

They asked me if I am going to a wedding. I told them I am going to joy ride. I was asked if I am familiar with automatic- I said I've driven BMW before. It took a moment to get the car from P to D and we were rolling.

I had 2 hours and 50kms at my hand- had to return the car within this limit. Which meant I couldn't go long distance. I drove out of city limits, found a link road which had less traffic and pulled over, to know the car better. Clicked many photographs. I will write about the car in detail separately.

End of 2 hours I returned the car. My money blocked on the car will take its own sweet time to get released. Carzonrent should ease this whole renting process and paperwork- they can learn a thing or two from zoom.

Overall, I am not pleased with my short drive with Carzonrent Mercedes Benz C Class because of following reasons
  1. As suspected, car is one of the cheapest variants without much add ons.
  2. Car is close to 2 years old (Nov 2012), has lots of scratches and torn driver seat
  3. Car's engine seem to be detuned to optimize fuel economy, at the cost of performance. So engine doesn't volunteer to go further. If I press hard it does surge ahead, but with a comment "my old boss never pushed me this hard, you're hurting me..." I managed to touch 145 kmph within the short span of empty straight road I could get, but pickup and power was no match to BMW 320d I drove earlier
  4. No sunroof
  5. Each time we start the car, it defaults to Economy mode. It is annoying to having to keep turning it off again and again. There was no sports mode.
  6. Lots of personal stuff (may of car's regular driver) left in various boxes and pockets gave a feeling that I am in someone else's bedroom. [Read more]
I am glad I didn't rent it for full day. It was fine for 2 hours- got to know some basics about Mercedes Benz better. It was good to drive a Mercedes Benz for a while, but that's it. Rent it if you've never driven one or you need a luxury car for some special occasion. Otherwise, we're better off with normal cars. Probably after another 3-6 months Carzonrent will start adding brand new luxury cars to self drive fleet, till then it may be worth the wait.

I have an A Class and an E Class ride lined up for next month. Looking forward.

My opinion is based on my 2 hour ride, w.r.t specific vehicle I drove. It could be possible that other cars in other cities may give better experience. Please use your discretion.

Read more about the C Class and its comparison with BMW 320d

Also read: Carzonrent Chennai Self drive experienceBMW Financial and operating lease explained * Audi Annual Bullet scheme explained * Zoom vs Carzonrent self drive comparison *  BMW 320d Photoshoot