Mumbai: The launch of the world’s cheapest car on Monday was anything but small.
Spread over 4 hours at two locations—the iconic Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel and the 125-year-old Parsi Gymkhana—the launch was attended by at least 2,000 people, among them car dealers, parts suppliers, journalists and Tata group executives who gathered under heavy security cover.
Big splash: Chairman Ratan Tata with the newly launched Nano at the Parsi Gymkhana in Mumbai, where he announced that the car would be priced at Rs1 lakh ex-factory.
The launch may have cost at least Rs2 crore, said an organizer who declined to be named.
On the way to the hotel, ravaged by a terrorist attack in November, a foreign television crew took stock shots of the traffic jam at Flora Fountain, one of Mumbai’s busiest roundabouts. An Australian journalist commented that the Nano would either be “an automotive messiah or a coming plague”.
R.A. Mashelkar, former chief of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, said the Rs1 lakh Tata Nano was an example of “Gandhian engineering or giving more and more to the people from very little”.
It wasn’t clear whether it was congestion or Gandhian engineering that was topmost in the mind of Ratan Tata as he walked into the elegant environs of the newly renovated Crystal Room at the Taj Mahal hotel. A veteran Mumbai journalist remarked that it was the largest press conference he had seen in this city.
Also See Small Car, Long Journey (Graphic)
Maybe some memory of that harrowing November attack remained with Tata, who seemed sombre and in a deeply reflective mood at times. He refused an offer of tea or coffee, preferring a glass of water instead as he prepared to answer questions.
“Undoubtedly, every new car and scooter will add to the congestion,” he said when asked about the traffic snarls Tata Motors Ltd’s Nano would potentially add to the already stressed roads of India’s cities.
Unfazed by questions ranging from the average wage of labourers at its factory in Pantnagar, Uttarakhand—which required a mid-conference huddle among the executives—to what message he had for Trinamool Congress party leader Mamata Banerjee, who drove the Nano project out of West Bengal, Tata answered all queries with wit and élan. “For Mamata, my only statement would be good afternoon,” he said.
“We really don’t want customers to wait for the car,” Tata said. “As my friend Luca de Montezumolo (Fiat SpA chairman) said in Paris, waiting to buy a car is like waiting for a pretty woman. If you wait too long, she might get old and fat.” Tata is on the board of Fiat.
Reminded about the time when he accused competitors of throwing a spanner in the works, holding them responsible for the Nano factory shifting to Gujarat, Tata said: “All I have to say is that they (the names of the competitors) will be announced at an appropriate time.”
He is certainly entering newer areas in marketing, where competition hasn’t entered before.
One such instance is merchandising options—a trend previously seen only in marques such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Now, one can buy a Nano watch or a cap or a T-shirt, months before they can actually buy a car.
Yet another aspect—more reminiscent of the pre-liberalization era—is sale of application forms for Rs300 and referrences to consumers as applicants, something unimaginable today, especially during the present slowdown, when car makers are fighting to sell their products.
It’s not only Tata’s customers who might have to suffer long queues.
At the venue of the second press conference at the Parsi Gymkhana, where the car’s prices were announced, mediapersons and parts suppliers to the car had to wait in long queues as the scene resembled more a 20-over cricket match than a car launch.
“This is the first time I have come half-way across the world and (am) standing in a queue to see this car… It is a long way to come,” said Tristan Pfurr, managing director of German robotic equipment seller EDAG GmbH and Co. KGaA, who waited in the queue for 25 minutes. He sells mainly to Volkswagen AG and Daimler AG.
Graphics by Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint
Photographs by Ramesh Pathania and Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint, Jayanta Shaw / Reuters and Ajit Solanki / AP