Mumbai-based auto maker Tata Motors Ltd may be forced to change the name of its yet-to-be-introduced small car Zica, fearing a negative association with the growing Zika epidemic.

A company spokeswoman told Mint the firm is “currently evaluating the situation and will soon take a decision".

A company executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the entire process may be time-consuming as the company will have to get the new brand name registered with the Registrar of Companies (RoC).

“More so, despatches of the cars to dealerships have already begun," this person said.

Another executive from Tata Motors, also requesting not to be named, said a series of meetings have taken place on the issue. “If we decide to change the name, there is no way it’ll be changed in the next few days."

The move comes amid mounting pressure on United Nations World Health Organization to act quickly in the fight against the Zika virus.

Although the mosquito-borne Zika virus’s symptoms are relatively mild, it is believed to be linked to a surge in cases of microcephaly, a devastating condition in which babies are born with an abnormally small head and brain.

The marketing campaign for Zica, including signing Argentine footballer Lionel Messi as its brand ambassador, started two months ago.

Zica, a small car Tata Motors is expected to launch at the Delhi auto show this week, marks the beginning of a new product cycle for Tata Motors. It is the first new car from Tata Motors in five years. Built at the firm’s Sanand plant in Gujarat, it comes with a completely new engine, platform and design.

The product is meant to drive volumes and is an important consideration in the company’s long-term target of achieving 15% market share in the country.

“For any brand, it’s impossible to prepare for something like this. Since the product has still not gone to the market, they should bite the bullet and rebrand it completely," said Santosh Desai, chief executive officer and managing director at Future Brands, an advisory.

“You have to take the view that this could be long term, and with social media presence, something like this could instantly make your brand the butt of all jokes."

In case rebranding isn’t an option, the company could alter the brand into a sub-brand, make it an acronym, or use a witty spin on the original brand name, added Desai.

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