Hard sell comes to India’s cars

Hard sell comes to India’s cars

Would you buy a car along with your grocery? Car maker Tata Motors and retail giant Future Group are betting that you would—Tata’s marquee small car, the Nano, has been selling at the latter’s Big Bazaar outlets for just over a month. Sales have been encouragingly brisk, leading the two companies to talk of extending what should have been an unlikely alliance.

To be sure, this might turn out to be just a one-off success story. You don’t normally think of spending a few lakhs at the grocer’s (unless you are Mukesh Ambani), and the ultra-cheap Nano is currently the only car in the Indian market that remotely approaches the value proposition required for off-the-shelf sales. But it is also important to note the changing dynamics of the Indian car buyer. Affordability for vehicles has far outpaced their cost, enabling the man on the street to own not just two, but four wheels. That may not have been possible under the cloying, restrictive economic regime in place until a few decades ago. As sales of the Nano through Big Bazaar (450 since 4 February) show, a car is more of a commodity than it ever has been.

Tata’s move is also indicative of a larger trend. India’s auto market is expected to become the fourth largest in the world by 2015. Foreign carmakers are making a beeline for the country, and new models are appearing faster than ever. The competition keeps prices down, but that is no longer enough to lure buyers. More and more, car makers are being pushed to go the extra mile on marketing and sales. That includes tapping new segments, including women. At Nissan, a separate department with mind-boggling designations is helping to design cars for the Indian woman —traditionally small buyers, but now gaining purchasing power.

All this fleshing out is making the Indian car market fuller and deeper in ways that would have been unimaginable given its earlier socio-economic mores. Once, the enduring irony of the auto industry was that the man who helped manufacture the car never got to own it. Think of that when you see a Nano at a Big Bazaar, or a woman buying it.

Are carmakers doing enough? Tell us at views@livemint.com