When the Nano, the world’s cheapest car, is launched at the venerable Parsi Gymkhana Grounds in Mumbai by Ratan Tata on Monday, March 23, it will not just be the launch of a car. Instead, it will be the launch of a million possibilities – Indian possibilities; Indian engineering; Indian ingenuity; and finally, a vehicle for Indian aspirations. And in these troubled times, India needs a symbol of hope; a symbol of the possible and one which can show the world that Made In India is no longer about off-shoring or about inexpensive services, but instead, about the capabilities that India has to not just dream out of the ordinary, but also make that dream happen.
There has already been enough noise in the media about the Nano. In fact, in many ways, it has many firsts to its credit and the price is not the only one. From a marketing perspective, it has already gone into the lexicon of India’s people and the fact that Tata called it a ‘people’s car’ is even more suggestive of the transfer of ownership of the brand from a company to its users: the people. How many brands can claim this? And how many brands have ever used this form of positioning? It is rare in times such as these to avoid paid advertising and yet launch a brand that has a lot riding on it. But then again, Nano is one car that needs no definition. It has been embraced as a vehicle of change, but even more critically, as a vehicle of empowerment and it is here that the Tatas have provided that huge leap as it were.
India is in the throes of an election that will possibly throw up a rag-tag alliance; our political leadership has been fraught with social and communal tensions and the meltdown of the economy has not helped either. Add to that the continuing suspense over whether the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament will happen or not (The IPL has now been shifted outside India). It is in these uncertain times, that the Nano represents a certainty that the Indian can touch and feel. The average Indian is still reeling under poverty and lawlessness in many parts and the so-called economic boom has only embraced the very few at the cost of the many. For a lot of these people, the Nano is what will drive them up the value chain of status, and status is an important tool for the enhancement of self-esteem so in many ways.
The Nano will also take care of the self-esteem gap that exists in large parts of India, not to mention the realities of connectivity that have escaped many swathes of India. It is this bridge that the Nano will build. A bridge that will suddenly connect India and Indians much like the low-cost carrier Air Deccan did with civil aviation in India many years ago. But then, the Nano is different. It is a car, which the average Indian equates with ‘badgification’. For a country that for years has gifted motorcycles and scooters as part of marriage trousseaus is today being provided a choice and in India, one can never understate the importance of this social behaviour either.
So, while on the one hand, the Nano represents raw mobility, on the other, it also symbolises social mobility: both of which are critical consumer drivers. For me personally, the Nano will herald a revolution like we haven’t seen before. And this is not a debate about service and profitability; it is indeed not even a story of brands and automobile marketing. It is in a sense the story of a dream that a fellow Indian had and then worked to make it happen despite all the odds, and believe you me, there are many in India. From lobbies at work to competitors trying to browbeat at every step. For many in India, the Nano is indeed a David, which will now wrestle with the Goliaths of the world. And win. Because the people of India will hardly let their heroes fail. Especially, when the promise is not just about a car, but about a dream that has finally been realised.
What is even more telling is that the people’s car will be launched amidst the people. On grounds that otherwise see cricket matches and marriages; it will thus merge with the Indian milieu in a manner like no other and be seen on roads with awe and pride. Both of which India needs so desperately as we begin our march with chains of economic shackling that have been imposed on us by the world. It is at this time, more than any other in our history, that India needs a Nano.
(Suhel Seth is Managing Partner, Counselage.)
Suhel can be reached through email at firstname.lastname@example.org