The people’s verdict on ‘their’ car is out — 203,000 doughty Indians have put down money to buy the Nano. They face a draw of lots for the first 100,000 deliveries or the prospect of waiting more than a year till Tata Motors’ main Nano plant comes on stream. The consumer response to the Nano is remarkable, although the media frenzy around the world’s cheapest car would make it appear muted. As and when Tata Motors goes through its launch order book, one in five cars rolling out of an assembly line anywhere in India could be a Nano. Ratan Tata can justifiably take pride in bumping up, in the space of a fortnight, the country’s annual car sales by 17 per cent.
Add to that the satisfaction of raising Rs 2,500 crore before any of its buyers has driven the Nano. The Tatas seem to have finely damped demand by asking buyers to pay 70 per cent of the car’s price upfront. The orders are well in line with Tata Motors’ plans to eventually manufacture 400,000 cars at Sanand in Gujarat and Pantnagar in Uttarakhand. That four in five Nano buyers want the souped-up versions also lays to rest the question of profitability that has been dogging the people’s car since it was on the drawing board. Adjusted for inflation from the time Ratan Tata first voiced his plan of making a Rs 100,000 car, the people are comfortable coughing up close to Rs 200,000 apiece.
Tapping into a national dream, the Tatas have marketed the Nano brilliantly. The controversies surrounding its making have added to the buzz. The initial payoff is handsome, but from here on the Nano’s drive will be uphill. The final frontier for the car will be crossed after people get their hands on it. That’s when its engineering and promise of economy will be put to the test. The Nano is pitched at a segment of the Indian market extremely demanding about value for its money. Soon this segment will have greater choice with a slew of carmakers piling on to the small-car bandwagon. The Nano may have changed the rules of the game, but the game will remain a keenly contested one.