Tata, for Indians, is not just a brand name. It’s a household name that owns the undisputed trust of the country’s more than a billion population. Anything that Tata makes and markets is gobbled up without question. Such is the reputation the conglomerate enjoys in India. So when Ratan Tata, scion of the Tata Dynasty announced a Rs100,000 (Dh5,500) car, you’d expect millions of Indians to flock to Tata showrooms. But they didn’t and the car — the Tata Nano — flopped big time.
There are many reasons attributed to the micro car’s failure. The main one, as acknowledged recently by Ratan Tata himself, was the marketing team’s decision to position it as the “cheapest car in the world.” He thinks the car wouldn’t have been a flop if it were marketed as a safe, all-weather mode of affordable transport aimed solely at encouraging India’s millions of two-wheeler riders to make the transition to four wheels. Well, that could have been one of the main reasons. But it’s also a fact that Tata couldn’t keep its promise of a Rs100,000 car. By the time the car was rolled out after weathering political protests and a change in factory locations, the Nano’s retail price was nearly 50 per cent more than what was promised.
For the Indian buyer, especially those who were looking to upgrade from two-wheelers, a car was an aspirational purchase, and paying Rs150,000 for a ride with a “cheap” toy-car image was not their idea of moving up. That money would have gotten them pre-owned “proper” cars from Hyundai, Ford or Fiat.
And to add to Tata’s woes, some early Nanos infamously caught fire on the roads, thus hastening its failure. Tata is considering repositioning the Nano, but we think it’d be wiser for the brand to pull the plug on the city car and concentrate on better things; like Jaguar and Land Rover maybe.