Category Archives: Business Systems

This Onsite Pop-up Plant Turns Excavation Waste into Building Material

A promising new applications technology and innovative thinking reblogged from ARCHDAILY  
This Onsite Pop-up Plant Turns Excavation Waste into Building Material, Courtesy of Watershed Materials
Courtesy of Watershed Materials
 

Excavation is usually a bane for real estate developers. To make way for new buildings, truckloads of excavated waste are removed from site in a noisy, time-consuming and gas-guzzling process. Exploring a more sustainable solution, the California-based company Watershed Materials have developed an onsite pop-up plant which repurposes excavated material right at the job site to create concrete masonry units (CMUs) used in the development. By eliminating truck traffic, reusing waste and reducing imported materials, the result is a win for the environment.

The machine is shown here at Watershed Materials’ pilot block factory and research lab in Napa, California. Image Courtesy of Watershed Materials

The machine is shown here at Watershed Materials’ pilot block factory and research lab in Napa, California. Image Courtesy of Watershed Materials

The pop-up plant itself works by applying ultra-high compression to loose excavation spoils, transforming it into a sustainable CMU. The pressure turns the mineral grains into a sort of sedimentary rock, mimicking the natural geological process of lithification. This unique manufacturing technology is the brainchild of Watershed Materials, who previously developed the compression technique in order to reduce the amount of cement used in concrete blocks by 50%.

Sample structural masonry block produced by Watershed Materials using excavated soil samples from the Kirkham site. Image Courtesy of Watershed Materials

Sample structural masonry block produced by Watershed Materials using excavated soil samples from the Kirkham site. Image Courtesy of Watershed Materials

As the founder of the sustainable building materials startup David Easton points out: “There’s absolutely nothing new about building masonry structures from local materials. Some of the oldest and best-known architecture in the world has been constructed from stone and clay sourced directly on site.” But according to Easton, “what is new and absolutely groundbreaking is that with upgraded technology and improved material science, a construction waste product the developer had to pay to dispose of can now become an asset and provides environmental benefits as well.”

The Kirkham Project Community Plaza, a one-quarter acre accessible open space in the center of the development, provides excellent opportunities for installation of Watershed Materials blocks as pavers and landscaping features. Image Courtesy of Watershed Materials

The Kirkham Project Community Plaza, a one-quarter acre accessible open space in the center of the development, provides excellent opportunities for installation of Watershed Materials blocks as pavers and landscaping features. Image Courtesy of Watershed Materials

The pop-up plant was born when Naomi Porat, development manager of Alpha Group and part of the team working on the Kirkham Project, approached the startup to bring their technology straight to the construction site. The Kirkham Project is an urban infill redevelopment in San Francisco spanning across 445 new housing units, community plazas and gardens. While addressing the city’s need for additional housing, neighbors expressed concern over construction traffic, making it the perfect place to explore this onsite approach.

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Autonomous Vehicles: Expect the Unexpected

A very insightful prediction of a future thats almost arrived but is just not evenly distributed yet, if even half of this turns out to be true, then the design of cites and their interstitial networks will be radically changed – and its not long from now – I can’t get my head around what all the extra people will do, but it certainly does not look good of the “workers” APRIL 3, 2016 BY 

A recent trip to the tax attorney’s office put me in close proximity to a fellow client as we waited. This guy was one of the lead developers of autonomous vehicles so I picked his brain for a while. He said his company is on track to have products on the road in four or five years. Here’s a little heads up for those of you who think you know how driver-less cars will play out in the culture and economy.

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The first commercial adopters of this technology (other than the military) will be fleets of long haul trucks. The big box retailers have already calculated the savings on labor and fuel efficiency as well as just-in-time delivery optimization with vehicles that aren’t burdened by humans.

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Uber and other taxi services have already announced their desire to convert to driverless cars in an attempt to improve service and lower costs. Car sharing services may convert to the on demand driverless taxi model as well. The U-Haul folks will eventually morph with the storage pod pick up and delivery services that are already in operation.screen-shot-2016-03-27-at-10-18-21-pm

Municipal governments hemorrhaging cash for salaries, health insurance, and pension costs will find it irresistible to phase out humans for sanitation vehicles. When I was a kid there were three men (and they were, in fact, always men) on each truck. Today there’s one person with a video camera and a robotic arm collecting the trash. Soon the truck and the robot arm won’t need a human at all. We can expect the same trajectory for mail carriers, utility meter readers, and other such activities.

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City buses will eventually see the end of human drivers, particularly as dedicated bus lanes and BRT come to dominate the surviving transit systems. In many suburban locations public buses may cease to exist at all due to loss of funding and competition from decentralized on demand services

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Even ambulances and fire trucks can be made more cost efficient if drivers are eliminated. The real value of humans is in their skill as EMS workers and firefighters rather than drivers. There’s already a well established precedent for existing unionized workers to accept such innovation in order to preserve their positions and benefits at the expense of future hires.

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You need look no farther than the fully digitized and mechanized toll both or parking garage to see how this is going to play out over time. The end result of all this is that some highly skilled workers are going to make lots of money in innovative technologies while large numbers of less educated people are going to be made redundant.

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For those of you who expect to be sitting in your own personal car being whisked around in effortless comfort and privacy as you commute to distant suburban locations…Not quite. The true promise of autonomous vehicles isn’t about you. It’s about the larger institutions that are relentlessly squeezing costs out of the system and optimizing expensive existing infrastructure. Aging highways will be maintained by charging for their use on a mile-by-mile pay-per-view basis. Traffic congestion will be solved by having more people ride in fewer vehicles. The rich will have stylish robotic SUV chauffeurs. Everyone else will be climbing inside a fully loaded eight or twelve passenger minivan bound for the office park. And in the future you will choose this voluntarily based on price.

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Here’s something else to consider. Insurance companies will become more and more influential players in the culture and economy. A few insurers are already offering customers a discount for having their cars chipped and monitored. Sooner rather than later auto coverage will be based on how well and how often a human drives. In the not-too-distant future the chips and monitoring may not be entirely negotiable unless you’re willing to pay a great deal extra for the privilege of opting out. You may think you’re a good driver, but you may quickly and expensively be informed otherwise by the authorities. That’s going to pull a lot of people off the road, especially when the gooey details of your swerving and speeding are cross referenced with local law enforcement. But the cops won’t necessarily be in squad cars. They’ll be the cars themselves. That’s coming too. And sooner than you think. Brace yourself.

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Yes! Brace yourself – Here comes robocop!!

Why women are the architects of our sustainable future

While I fully agree that this is what  it should be – I wonder when it will be so really? from  ecobuiness.com. Women are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change than men, but there is also a growing number of sustainable development solutions by and for women worldwide. Sustainia’s global communication lead Katie McCrory highlights three examples.

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Girls peeping from a classroom in India. Globally, as many as 62 million girls are denied an education, and women’s knowledge is often overlooked in the quest to find sustainable solutions and business models. Image: Shutterstock

Lilia Caberio is from Sulangan, in the Philippines. In 2013, her house was destroyed by the 170 mile per hour winds and 6-metre high storm surge during Typhoon Haiyan, and for a while she lived with her family in a tent erected where her home used to be. The typhoon was frightening enough for Lilia, but homelessness must have felt even more so. Until Elizabeth came along.

Dr Elizabeth Hausler Strand is the founder and CEO of Build Change, an organization based in Colorado, USA, established to build disaster-resilient homes and buildings in emerging nations. Elizabeth also happens to be a qualified bricklayer.
She and her team worked with Lilia to build a new, resilient home that will last a lifetime. Elizabeth is, quite literally, building a sustainable future for families like Lilia’s in disaster-prone parts of the developing world, and in doing so she is empowering women all over the region to become the architects of their own lives.

Build Change is just one example of the many sustainable development solutions bubbling up from the ground which are designed by and for women. In a world faced with the social, economic, and environmental consequences of climate change, it is women and girls who risk losing the most. Lilia and her family were lucky to survive Typhoon Haiyan, but many didn’t – and many more won’t.

The statistics show that women and girls are more likely to die in natural disasters than men. What’s more, women around the world aged 15 to 44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria. Globally, as many as 62 million girls are denied an education, and as working women they still only earn about 77 per cent of their male counterparts’ salary.

These are awful, unacceptable facts, and for too long they have resulted in women being depicted only as victims. In 2014 a UN Women report on gender equality and sustainable development drove this point home by saying, ‘Women should not be viewed as victims, but as central actors in moving towards sustainability.’ I couldn’t agree more.

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Vegetable stores in Kenya survive supermarkets’ siege

Fastmoving reported on the impacts of supermarket expansion  on small shops and informal markets in Kenya

Vegetable stores in Kenya survive supermarkets’ siege

Kenya has experienced a boom in supermarkets, with the retail outlets rapidly expanding in suburbs and town across the East African nation as competition stiffens.

The big stores have taken their services closer to the people enabling them to access easily a variety of goods that include household items, electronic equipment, clothes and groceries.

On the flipside, the result of the rapid expansion has been that the retail outlets have ruined business for shopkeepers in areas they have expanded to as they become one-stop shop for many consumers.

However, while shops have become one of the biggest casualties of rapid supermarket expansion, the retail outlets have failed to disrupt business for vegetable stores, mainly run by women.

The businesses, locally known as mama mboga, which means a woman selling vegetables, have fended off the muscles and predatory nature of supermarkets.

The women have remained the preferred choice for consumers, who want to buy different kinds of vegetables, tomatoes, onions, fruits, potatoes and other related food items.

This is despite the fact that the supermarkets have established sections where they sell all manner of groceries to woo shoppers.

“I have not experienced any drop in sales ever since two leading supermarkets were established in this area,” Nancy Kimani, a vegetable seller in Komarock, a suburb on the east of the capital said on Saturday. “People still come to buy here vegetables, onions and tomatoes despite the supermarkets stocking the items.”

One of the supermarkets, Naivas, was established in the area about five years ago while the second one, Setlight, is about two years old. A third retail chain, Nakumatt, is set to set shop in the area soon.

“Naivas is the biggest. When the retail outlet started its operations in this area, it was not selling groceries. At that time, I did not fear for my business but after about two years, they began stocking groceries that included tomatoes and onions,” she said.

As many other women in the trade, Kimani recounted she knew her business may collapse.

“I visited the supermarket soon after they established the groceries’ section and believed my business will not survive. Various kinds of vegetables, including traditional ones, tomatoes, garlic, hot pepper and onions were neatly arranged on the shelves, ” she said.

Her fears were informed by the fact that many people were turning the supermarkets into their preferred shopping stores.

“Besides that, I had seen a friend close her shop because of the two supermarkets. People were no longer buying things like sugar, bread and milk from shops yet these were the shopkeepers’ mainstay,” she said.

Kimani continued with her business as she prayed the worst does not happen. About two years down the line, time has proved her right.

Her business has not only survived, but it has also flourished despite the presence of the supermarkets.

She has been able to expand it, enabling her customers to buy different kinds of vegetables, including traditional ones, which have become popular among Kenyans.

“I have seen the effect of supermarket on shops but for us, we have been lucky since our businesses have defied the retail outlets. My sales have increased and I am hoping to open another grocery in a different part of the estate,” she said.

The private drone industry is like Apple in 1984

What could you do with your own  private drone: According to Tim Fernholz on Quartz Daily:

The Phantom UAV in flight. RedRocketHobbies.com

We needed iPhones to get a drone of our own

The Phantom is not a drone in the fullest sense of the word: It can’t follow a pre-programmed GPS path. But it can use satellite navigation to hover in place autonomously, and it can navigate itself back to where it took off from if something happens to the controller, or if you just want to show off.

But it is arguably the most complete consumer drone on the market, combining affordability, ease of use, robust flight abilities, and range. And it’s designed to usethe popular GoPro camera. Other drones are cheaper, like the Parrot, but it doesn’t have the Phantom’s range, or 3D Robotics’ ArduCopter, which is more fully-featured but requires more assembly.

The UAV industry is a fairly new one, and right now its main focus is on consumer products. That’s partially because it is growing from a consumer base: What has made them possible is the smartphone revolution, which drove down the price on the tiny electronic components needed to turn low-power remote control aircraft into flying robots that navigate, communicate, and sense. While defense contractors were making expensive and powerful drones for the US military, hobbyists were basically bolting iPhones onto remote-controlled helicopters.

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Bodega 2.0: A Business for Healthy, Walkable Cities?

What is the future of active streets when business is being funneled off to the internet retail to wholesale? 

Jennifer Pahlka  on Linkedin  muses that what is needed are more food stores that sell “real” food and are connected to the neighborhood.

Here are two things I do a fair amount (other than working and parenting): I think about how cities work, and I walk around my neighborhood in Oakland. Lately, I’ve been noticing how much of the retail space in my neighborhood is either empty or clearly doomed. Ford’s Fine Furniture on Grand Avenue is the latest to surprise no one by putting up CLOSING SALE signs in their window, but how much further behind can Silver Screen Video be? How long will a video rental with lots of square footage of retail space last in the face of Netflix and Amazon? What about that wedding dress store? And there are so many storefronts already empty.

I won’t miss Ford’s or either of the other stores (I would miss Walden Pond Books, and so we try to shop there a lot), but the thing I’ve been asking myself is this: If there are so many whole categories of stores that really just don’t make sense in an Internet economy, what does? What SHOULD move in when Silver Screen Video moves out?

In answering that question, my first thought was, okay, what seems to be doing well in my neighborhood these day? Well, nail salons and dry cleaners are clearly holding their own, and I see a lot of martial arts studios and places like Gymboree, where you take your toddler for an hour of inside play with other kids. The former are services and the latter are where you buy activities, not goods, and that makes a lot of sense. But the biggest category that’s thriving in the Grand Lake neighborhood is restaurants. Half a dozen appear to be thriving on Grand Avenue, several of them relatively new, and another half dozen just few blocks away on Lakeshore. They are taking over spaces that formerly held furniture stores (Camino) and shoe repair places (Boot and Shoe Service), but mostly they’re replacing really bad restaurants or fast food places with healthier, tastier options (Flipside, Chipotle, Kwik Way.)

So I’ll draw the unscientific conclusion that people seem to like the experience of good food near their homes. You can’t order a night out at Boot and Shoe Service from Amazon, and you’ll never be able to. But we can’t eat out all the time, and the options for good groceries in my neighborhood, and in most neighborhoods, fall pretty far behind the options for dining.

This has gotten me thinking about a business someone should start, or at least explore. I grew up in car-unfriendly New York City and back then you bought your groceries on the way home from the subway to the house. Sometimes that meant going to the A&P on Broadway for bigger items, sometimes you just stopped at the bodega on the corner if all you needed was milk and eggs. The bodega visit took about 60 seconds, so it was preferable. Now the closest store to our house is a Safeway, and while I suppose we’re lucky to have it there, overall it’s not what I want. The quality of the food is pretty low, it takes a long time to get in and out, and the experience does little to strengthen the feeling of being part of the neighborhood. We can walk to Safeway (with a large parking lot, it’s a driving destination for most people), but we tend to drive instead to get better quality food at Piedmont Grocery, Berkeley Bowl, or even Whole Paycheck — I mean Whole Foods. What we really need, though, are good bodegas, built in areas where people walk or would walk, but bodegas that carry more than milk and eggs, that devote more of their space to broccoli and less to beer.

I’m not exactly the first person to observe this, and I’m sure many people have much more insight into why our local corner stores tend to be so pathetic as purveyors of food items other than chips and wine coolers. But I did start thinking about some ideas of how to approach this problem from an entrepreneurial perspective, and I keep thinking I wish I had more time to explore this idea. So here, for what it’s worth, is my someone-else-should-try-this plan:

Reinvent the local corner storeBi-Rite has done this. My very first apartment in San Francisco was steps from a traditional corner store (not on the corner in this case, but whatever) that sold liquor, chips, and a scattering of actual food items. Thatf place has since become famous by reinventing itself as a source for local, organic, healthy prepared food and groceries (and making some of the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted). Sure, it’s in an area where people have money, and where most people really value these options and are willing to pay for them. But more and more people do, and are.

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Book Review: Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving

A review from UX Matters on a methodology which seems closely linked to ideas on Co-Design and transdisciplinary research without the baggage of its intellectual precedents and academic rigour – while citing social entrepreneurship it has yet to see how this might embrace both commercial and social actors in a unified field, I haven’t read the book yet but it looks worthwhile  and have ordered it. 

In this “Handbook & Call to Action,” Kolko introduces the idea of wicked problems—large-scale social issues that plague humanity, like poverty and malnutrition—then describes the role of design in mitigating these problems. Starting with the example of his experience with Project Masiluleke, Kolko points out that traditional approaches cannot deal effectively with complex social and cultural problems. Such wicked problems always interconnect with other problems, are costly to solve, and often lack clear methods for understanding and evaluating them.

Traditional ways of tackling wicked problems include the following:

  • top-down government policy-making and funding that are too broad and complicated to deal with the real issues
  • companies’ being motivated by revenue generation and mass production to maximize their profit margins
  • standard project-based frameworks with finite engagement periods that are too short and too shallow to create long-lasting social impact

Kolko suggests that it is possible to mitigate wicked problems through what he calls social entrepreneurship—entrepreneurship that aims to create social capital by adding value to the community rather than focusing only on creating economic wealth.

Kolko argues that designers need the skills of a social entrepreneur to tackle wicked problems effectively. However, in the commercial world, designer and entrepreneur are two separate roles. It’s unclear why this should be different in a not-for-profit context. Although it’s possible to combine the roles of designer and entrepreneur successfully in one person, this is an exception rather than the rule.

Kolko’s proposed curriculum is first and foremost a design curriculum—and a very promising one. While it is not convincing as a social-entrepreneurship curriculum, it is arguable whether one curriculum should even try to address both design and entrepreneurship.

Kolko advocates making students aware that they can position design within any context and teaching them how to deal with situations in which the circumstances may be complex and far from ideal. This is a very valuable proposition—one that would benefit every design course. It is admirable that Kolko wants to place the emphasis on solving social problems, but students must realize that making this choice has consequences as well.

Read the full review

Author: Jon Kolko

Publisher: Austin Center for Design

Publication date: March 2012

Format of print edition: Paperback; 8.5 x 8.5 inches; 176 pages

ISBN: 978-0-6155931-5-9

List price: $45

Free online edition: Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving

Africa embracing m-commerce

From putting people first blog information of how business targets the way people use their phones in their daily lives – while it highlights the manipulative power of commercial interests to influence peoples actions, it also shows how the technology is making access to the world easier for these people. Again this type of research is only possible with the resources that the business financial model gives and seems unobtainable from non-commercail research .

In a new report from its ConsumerLab, Ericsson maps out the potential of transformation within m-commerce across the region of sub-Saharan Africa.

Based on in-depth, extensive interviews with mobile phone users in Ghana, South Africa, and Tanzania, the report has four key findings: that consumers are constantly looking for new ways to improve their personal budgets; the speed and convenience of m-commerce points to great potential in the market; current behaviors and social structures indicate that the use of mobile payment services will expand; and that consumers need more information about the functionality and security of m-commerce transactions.

Consumers tell Ericsson researchers that they use mobile payment services for person-to-person transfers and purchasing airtime on their mobile subscriptions, and that they like the convenience of accessing money everywhere and at anytime, regardless of service hours. In Tanzania, for example, 38% of subscribers send money person-to-person over the mobile phone.

Another conclusion of the report is that people who use m-commerce keep little separation between private and business accounts.

Experience leads to greater trust, and the report finds that 44% of non-users of m-commerce are very worried about the integrity of their account information in case of theft or loss of their phones.

– Press release
– Media kit

IOU Project Revindicates the Real Madras Weavers

I believe that giving exposure to efforts to include traditional and sustainable jobs and authentic hand made materials in our synthetic and transient world. Cotton is one of the most durable and eco-friendly materials when processed in traditional ways and the women that weave this cloth are in  need of our support. When I was recently in a small market in Kigali, Rwanda amongst all the locally produced foods and spices, I was taken aback that all the “traditional’ fabrics that the women make their clothes from on old treadle sowing machines has all been produced in China by “traditional” processes.

This report by Kate Black on URBANTIMES

In the struggle for independence, Ghandi encouraged people to take to their looms to stop the practice of Indian cotton being sent to Britain for milling and re-sold back to India. This sparked a cottage industry, that today includes over 20 million families who depend on hand loom weaving. They can weave as much as 50 million meters of cloth a day, 250 million meters a week, 1 billion meters of cloth a month. All while using minimal energy and locally grown, natural cotton; making them the world’s most environmentally friendly textile manufacturers.

The IOU Project, the brainchild of designer Kavita Parma, combines this fabric with European tailors to create a modern, hip, easy-to-wear sportswear line that’s traceable, transparent, authentic and unique.

Parma, a designer, entrepreneur and global citizen, born in India but has also lived in the U.K., Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, the U.S. and Spain, wanted to be involved in product development using traditional artisan skills.

“I started IOU out of sheer frustration,” Parma tells us, “with the current fashion system which was a race to the bottom about producing cheaper and faster, where quality and authenticity were the first victims of keeping up with the latest short lived trend in this voracious cycle of consumption we were feeding into.”

Parma wanted to “decommoditize fashion and return the conversation back to value instead of price.”

The IOU project is more than mere fashion, but a social movement meant to promoteresponsible consumption by disrupting and transforming existing supply chains into prosperity chains.

Madras is the perfect fabric to start that chain reaction. “There is over 1 billion or more dollars worth of Madras checks (named as such) sold in the market by major brands and none of it comes from the real madras weavers and most of it is not even made in India,” explains Parma.

To revindicate the Real Madras Weavers, Parma chose a co-operative where over 250,000 families have been weaving the traditional Madras checks, by hand, for  centuries and then layers transparency and traceability, to create an emotional link between consumer and creator.

“The IOU Project was born from the need to empower both the artisan and the consumer,” states Parma.

She then went on to remind us that fashion has always reflected the social issues of the times from the corset-free silhouette of the 20’s flapper dresses to the mini skirt.

And as consumers become more aware of the scarcity of resources and the environmental threats our planet faces, not to mention the social inequalities that exist, we are drawn to “products of not only high quality and long lasting aesthetic but products of lasting value with an authentic story, one that makes them feel good and resonates emotionally with their beliefs.”

The collection of sporty separates for men and women includes unisex scarves, bags and espadrilles.

 

India on Wheels

For many non Indian visitors being driven around in India is like Russian Roulette, but as we all find out it is our preconceptions that are  chalenged and it seems very little damage is done to our bodies – the rate of car sales and the difficulty of providing public infrastructure in some parts of india must make one wonder about the  divide between the public good and business interests – in this article we see the Modernist tendency of focusing on the object a car and its appeal to the individual broadened to include its social significance but little or no consideration of its impact on the urban fabric it inhabits – at this stage design still sees its role in a narrow funnel of proving value to individuals and companies profits from where it derives its own functions and income – we have yet to understand the implications of this consumerist approach applied to the rest of the planets population. A good design article by Harsha Kutare at DESIgn MASALA

The Indian automobile industry is set to become the sixth largest passenger vehicle producer in the world, growing 16-18 percent to sell around three million units in the course of 2011-12. The passenger vehicles sales trend has shown an exponential growth in past few years and it is expected to grow further in coming years.

The Indian market presents several challenges to car manufacturers and dealers. After researching a bit online about the current car scene in India and talking to car owners, I came up with the factors that make the Indian car market stand out from others in the world.’

Harsha goes on to describe the factors he sees as influencing the Indian automobile market naming  Traffic and Road conditions; Way Finding; Huge numbers of first time buyers; Financial factors; Social Influencers; Cultural Significance/Unique features as areas which make the Indian market different from others

Social Influencers: There is lot of social influence from friends, family or relatives when it comes to buying a car. Buyers reach out to their social circle for recommendations regarding car models and dealerships. Some of the online platforms that are influencing people’s buying decision arewww.carwale.comwww.teambhp.comwww.autocarindia.comwww.cardekho.com

Cars make a statement about the owner’s personality hence buyers are very cautious about the cars that they pick. Brands also play a vital part in projecting a brand image for e.g. Honda equals Pride, Mahindra is seen as a rugged brand and Maruti Suzuki equals good value for money whereas Mercedes signifies luxury. Brands carefully pick actors, sportspersons or celebrities as their brand ambassadors as Indian consumers, mainly youth is influenced by testimonials of celebrities.

First cars for most of the buyers are mid range hatchbacks. In most cases the buyer is the first person in the family to own a car. He takes his driving lessons from a driving school and prefers something easy to maneuver within the city with low maintenance costs and a great mileage.