Click here to read original article
Faced with a poor safety rating and dismal sales among the targeted rural population, India’s Tata is changing the image of the Nano and nudging up its price.
Poor Tata Nano: dealt zero safety stars last week by the global Ncap for performing miserably in German crash tests, the world’s cheapest car also recorded a shockingly low sales figure of 554 units in December.
It had started so well. India’s answer to Ford’s Model T was set to be a revolutionary, affordable vehicle for the masses as well as a paragon of frugal engineering. At its launch in 2009, Indians were so eager to get their hands on one that 200,000 orders were put through before the first Nano had even rolled off the production line.
I was so inspired by the pioneering spirit of the car, I invested in my own LX model and took it on a 10,000km drive around India in 2010. Contrary to the expectations of most people I met along the way, I lived to tell the tale.
People were dubious. Was the car even meant for driving on highways? How would it handle on rural roads? And, in the wake of a spate of spontaneous combustions around the time of my trip, wasn’t I concerned about the prospect of a Nano fireball?
Vehicle safety in India has to be a huge issue. In a country where you often have to vie with livestock for road space, improvise lane directions, or suddenly swerve to avoid being swallowed alive by a gaping pothole, you need to know that your chariot will keep you intact.
So it was with concern that I watched the Ncap’s morose multi-angle footage of crash test dummies lethally head-butting the dashboard while the Nano crumpled pathetically around their legs.
Tata and other Indian car manufacturers such as Suzuki-Maruti, Ford and Hyundai, whose low-end vehicles performed badly in last week’s tests, have to rethink safety in the light of their new dismal ratings. For the Nano, this should coincide with a whole set of other changes Tata is making to save the brand.
For one, the company is no longer referring to the Nano as the world’s cheapest car. That moniker has not served it well, making the car sound flimsy and unreliable instead of no-frills and accessible. Thinking cheap is out and celebrating awesomeness – the Nano’s new catchphrase – is in. The new awesomeness image is meant to appeal to middle-class urban youth, who have always made up the Nano’s main fan base, a fact that Tata ignored following the car’s launch. Instead, it chose to focus on delivering its product to first-time buyers in rural areas, perhaps because Tata thought the potential market there had more scope. That decision doomed the Nano to fail.
Why? Because it turns out that people in a lower income bracket have the same sense of self-preservation as their counterparts further up the economic ladder, as well as similar image issues. And, due to lack of funds, they’re cautious, sensible buyers who’d rather not be fobbed off with a poor man’s car, or trade their family’s safety for a low pricetag.
India’s “people’s car” needs to get closer to its people if it’s to live up to the legend of the Model T or the Beetle, which sold 15m and 21.5m units respectively during the years of their manufacture.
In the meantime, Tata is chiseling the Nano’s image and nudging the price up with every change. January saw the launch of the revamped, slightly dearer Nano Twist. New features like power-steering and a digital music system should thrill the kids, but I imagine they’d be more pleased with the intervention of an airbag in the event of a high-speed collision. Just an idea.