Decoding Design With Dilip Chhabria

Pune houses the headquarters of DC Design, the abode to Dilip Chhabria, fondly known as DC, the king of customized cars.

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By Punita Sabharwal Originally published Dec 2, 2016

Entrepreneur India

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Pune houses the headquarters of DC Design, the abode to Dilip Chhabria, fondly known as DC, the king of customized cars. As you enter Sanghavi Compound, DC's workshop, you see work in progress with designers and engineers attending buses and cars. You are awed by the design, detailing and professionalism. But, that's not all. DC bowled us with his most marveled creation, Avanti, India's first sports car.

The moment I entered Dilip Chhabria's cabin, he asks "Why me? There are others doing great work in design." To me he is an entrepreneur in every sense of the word, as he saw an opportunity, where none existed where art meets entrepreneurship. After re-designing the most popular cars under the sun, DC decided to do something different.

He went on to manufacture India's first sports car, Avanti. Chahbria's office space is messy, with papers and tools not exactly in its place, sketches and prototypes pinned up on the wall; but, there is creativity in that chaos. The space gives an impression of someone living, eating and drinking design. His door is always open to designers, where they come to show their work. Among all this paraphernalia, Chhabria sits with a focused mind to work on his new project, customizing bikes.

DC spoke passionately about his entrepreneul journey. When he went out to look for a job as a car designer, his profile was immediately rejected as no one ever heard of something so bizarre. Instead of wasting much of his time, DC started working on his own. Soon, the man himself became an authority, giving a new meaning to car designing in India and abroad.

Do what you love, love what you do!

Had it not been his passion, he would not have gone after it. He was determined to create something beautiful and claim a name for his creation, which drove him further. "Everything starts with an obsessive passion, I can claim that you can succeed and make your own road if you are obsessively passionate, but just passion is not good enough," says DC.

From the beginning, DC was very passionate about cars and he went on to study Transportation Design from the College of Design in Pasadena, California, to follow his dream. "I came from an affluent family, so there was no question of my settling down in USA. I went for my course in early 80s, as I really wanted to know more about designing and such courses were not offered in India," adds DC. "I got selected and even started working for General Motors, which lasted
for less than a year. I was restless. I wanted to design cars, which I could not have done while working for someone else," adds DC.

Speaking about his early days, he reveals, wherever he would find a place, a wall, or even a napkin in restaurants, he would start drawing. DC shares, "I had some college friends who were well off. They would consult me, whenever they wanted to customize their cars; they were the first people to recognize my talent.

I started getting a lot of requests from my friends in college and I realized that I am not only passionate about it but I had the sense of practically exhibiting it too. It boosted my confidence. When I came back from the US, I connected the dots and realized that I was good at it." Not accepting the status quo, DC was least interested in joining his father's electronic manufacturing business in Mumbai. However, his father gave him the space to do whatever he wanted.

Upon his return, DC started designing automotive accessories for Fiat and Ambassador. Since there were no contemporary accessories available for them, it became a huge hit. Starting from accessories, the first remodeled car by DC was his very own Gypsy. And, wherever he would go, people would leave their cards on the car asking him to contact them.

He further went on to sell the same car at a 400 per cent profit. For next two three cars he did the same. "At that time, I realized that I created a niche market for myself. I could sense a business opportunity. I realized, as human beings we expect change in all aspects, whether it is food, clothes or style and if I could deliver that change in the automobile sector, where people would come and buy cars because of sheer status symbol or sheer passion for it, I can be successful," admits DC.

The earlier, the better

DC has worked on both sides of the business B2B and B2C. From Indian manufacturers, Mahindra, to international ones, Aston Martin, have all been his clients in institutional space. In B2C, superstars like Shah Rukh Khan and various other celebrities and politicians; he has worked for them all.

On serving these two simultaneously, he says, "I had to be by the book for B2B market and street smart and enthusiastic for B2C. You have to balance creativity if it has to be viable." Talking about his customers, besides the rich and famous, DC remembers a navy officer waited for nine years to buy a car as he wanted his first car to be DC's. That's just one of the instances of what value the brand has built over the years.

There have been several high moments in the journey of DC. On how he achieved all that DC says, "Since I am the owner and also the creative guy, there is no committee. Decisions are mine and we get going because it is a very flat organization, which helped us to create this kind of output in 23 years. When people go on our website, they think we have used images to make it look jazzy but that is not true. We have created every car we have showcased on our website. People can't believe that such cars are actually made in India." Creating a global market for himself, DC proved that designer cars can be manufactured here too.

Design philosophy

He says, "Design is a science that delivers change. What was right yesterday might not be true for tomorrow, so design is something created for tomorrow." "In 1983, we wanted to create a market of our own. In 1993, we finally achieved it but I was equally restless and set my next target to compete with Italian giants in this space. Then in 2002, Aston Martin project came up and we went with the
flow. So that was one of the high point. After this, who's who of the industry started approaching us. The other high point was when we started manufacturing our own car, Avanti, in 2015," adds DC.

Remembering how Aston Martin approached DC, he shares, "We had displayed a car at the Geneva Motor Show for the first time in 2002, they were very surprised and in doubt too because we were an Indian company. Moreover, it was cheaper and manufacturing was faster as we work 70-80 hours a week.

Aston Martin had never done a concept car before; they approached us because of the affordability factor. It was basically a small company that made them dream of concept cars, however, they still checked on the quality since we were manufacturing the cars in India. "From customizing cars for others, he turned a manufacturer himself with his ultimate creation: Avanti. DC's whole team worked on the entire project for two years.

Talking about the accolade he received for Avanti, he says, "We have sold 100 Avantis so far. We have to deliver a 1,000 more." Delivering the car at an affordable rate compared to international variants, DC has many stories to share about people who never thought of buying a sports car but became his client. With 700 people working, DC has redesigned more than 700 cars. Next on the anvil is another sports car, exclusively for the overseas market. When asked if we are getting another Avanti in India, he says, "In India, I will bring it later as we still want to continue with the Avanti craze."

DC's children are equally passionate about the business. His son, Bonita, looks after the Delhi unit and his daughter, Minica, looks after the Mumbai business. They both look after the business and marketing side of the company. The designer doesn't want to relax at this point. DC's next aim now is to write a book on design and innovation.

(This article was first published in the November issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)

Punita Sabharwal

Deputy Editor, Entrepreneur India Magazine

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