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The Tata Nano: The People's Car

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Students identify promotion, price, place, segment, targeting, and positioning for marketing "the world’s cheapest car." This case is effective for MBA, undergraduate, and executive learners studying market segmentation, pricing, cannibalization risk, pricing, and break-even sales in the face of different price and cost scenarios. Has Tata chosen the right marketing strategy? Does the Nano represent an evolution or a revolution in automobile marketing?
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surprise. But new owner Tata Motors was in fact the sixth-largest commercial vehicle
manufacturer in the world and was among India’s largest automobile companies. In 2004, Tata
Motors became the first Indian manufacturing company to be listed on the New York Stock
Exchange.
Tata Engineering and Locomotive Co. Ltd, a train manufacturer, was established in 1945.
In 1954, the company launched its first automobile; between 1954 and 1969, it collaborated with
Daimler-Benz to produce commercial vehicles known as Tata Mercedes-Benz trucks, later
produced independently as Tata trucks. By the 1990s, Tata had entered the passenger-vehicle
market with India’s first sport utility vehicles, called the Tata Sierra. In 1998, it hit the jackpot
with the Tata Indica—a name derived from “India’s Car,” an apt moniker given that the car had
become the most popular vehicle in the country’s economy car segment. Tata launched the
Indigo in 2002. In 2005, Tata launched India’s first indigenously developed mini truck, called
the Tata Ace.
In 2004, Tata Motors acquired the Daewoo Commercial Vehicle Co. Ltd., Korea’s
second-largest truck manufacturer. In 2005, it acquired a 21% stake in Hispano Carrocera SA, a
Spanish bus manufacturer.
The company had manufacturing plants in the Indian cities of Jamshedpur, Pune, and
Lucknow, and assembly operations in Malaysia, Kenya, Bangladesh, Spain, Ukraine, Russia, and
Senegal. Globally, the company served the European, African, Asian, Middle Eastern, and
Australian markets.
As the Nano’s expected launch date neared, Tata Motors was experiencing a downturn in
its stock price—from USD18.60 per share in September 2007 to USD9.53 in September 2008, a
drop of almost 50%.
India’s Automobile Industry
The automobile industry in India benefited significantly from liberalization in the 1990s
when the government eased regulations on foreign trade and restrictions on private companies.
International companies took advantage of India’s affordable yet highly trained engineers,
establishing manufacturing operations throughout the country. In 2005, experts predicted that
India would become the world’s third-largest economy by 2020.
In 2005–06, India was among the largest and fastest-growing car markets in the world.
The passenger car market was growing by almost 25% per year, and passenger-vehicle exports
were growing by 12.7% annually. India’s exports, which went mainly to Asia and Africa, were
growing at a rate approaching 30% annually and had already reached 850,000 units in 2005–06,
compared with 600,000 units in 2004–05.
2
Some years saw as much as 65% growth in exports.
2
“Indian Auto Companies to be Showcased at SAE Congress,” Business Line Financial Review, April 1, 2006.
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There were six major players in India’s passenger-vehicle segment (Table 2).
Table 2. Major players in India’s passenger-vehicle market, percentage of market share, number
of dealers, and sales per dealer, 2008.
Passenger Vehicles
Percentage
of Market Share
Number
of Dealers
Sales (Units)
per Dealer
Maruti Udyog 52.2
580 1,275
Hyundai Motors India Ltd. 19.2
225 800
Tata Motors 16.6
200 1,000
Honda Siel Cars India Ltd. 4.4
NA NA
Ford India Pvt. Ltd. 1.9
125 225
GM NA
100 600
NA = Not available
Note: Dealer comparison numbers are approximate.
Data sources: http://Automobileindia.com (accessed August 10, 2008) and Emkay Research.
Cars were sold via dealer networks, and sales volume depended both on the extent of the
network and the sales per dealer (Table 2). According to a J.D. Power and Associates study of
the Asia Pacific market, Tata’s dealer margins across the various models ranged from 4% to
10%. Another study, by A.T. Kearney, estimated the profit margin of ultra-low-cost cars at 2% to
3%—about USD75 for the USD 2,500 Tata Nano.
1
Dealers received further discounts if they
paid cash up front to Tata—amounting to about 1% of the full dealer cost. Although Tata Motors
did not disclose its contribution margins, the case writers’ estimate is about 15%.
Used cars
In the months leading up to the Nano’s highly touted launch, used car sales in India had
fallen considerably. The price of a used Maruti 800—arguably the Nano’s closest competitor—
fell 30%, Autoblog reported. “Indian car buyers apparently are not dumb,” the article stated.
“Why buy a new or used car today when you can wait until the end of the year and get a new
Tata Nano for much less?”
2
Two- and three-wheelers
In 2007, India’s two-wheeler market was the second-largest globally, with almost eight
million in total units sold (Figure 1). By 2011, two-wheeler production was forecast to approach
18 million units. A typical motorbike cost about INR37,000 (one-third the cost of a Nano).
1
Stephan Mayer and Ruediger Plaines, “Mega Market for Ultra-Low-Cost Cars: Focusing on Customers in
Developing Markets,” A.T. Kearney, Inc., 2008.
2
John Neff, “Tata Nano Tanking Used Car Market in India,” February 8, 2008, http://www.autoblog.com/
2008/02/08/tata-nano-tanking-used-car-market-in-india/ (accessed April 6, 2009).
-5- UVA-M-0768
Manufacturers included Bajaj Auto, Hero Honda, TVS Motor, Yamaha Motor, and Kinetic.
Table 3 shows the types of vehicles in this class and their fuel efficiency, cost, and top speed.
Table 3. Types of two-wheelers available in India.
3
Vehicle
Gas mileage
(km/liter) Cost (INR) Market Speed (kph)
Moped, mokick, or
step-thru
55–70 15,000–40,000
Teens, the elderly,
and city riders
40–45
Scooterette/mini 55 20,000–25,000 City riders, students 65
Scooter 40–60 25,000–50,000
Popular with women,
city riders; longer
rides possible
70 and up
Motorcycle Up to 70 35,000–75,000
Primarily a style
choice; more popular
with men
80 and up
Enfields Diesel Bullet
(India’s only diesel
two-wheeler)
66 65,000
Seekers of “India’s
Harley-Davidson”
80 and up
Source: Created by case writer.
Bajaj Auto also dominated the market for passenger-carrying three-wheelers, commonly
called “auto rickshaws.” Often used for transporting small cargo loads, these vehicles had earlier
faced competition from the Tata Ace, as well as from Piaggio’s Ape Truk, a four-wheeled cargo
carrier. Just months before the Nano’s launch, rickshaw drivers had begun filing petitions
through their union requesting that they be allowed to drive the Nano under their existing three-
wheeler permits.
Even if Nano manages to convert 10% of the two-wheeler market of about seven
million, it will have almost 50% share of the car market [Figure 1]. Nano may
lead to a 20% reduction in prices of two-wheelers and a 35% decline in prices of
secondhand cars, according to industry chamber ASSOCHAM.
4
Aman Verma, a Hero Honda showroom manager in East Delhi, expected two-wheeler
sales to remain strong. “Nano may give a lot of people a chance to own a car,” Verma said. “But
more than fixed price, it’s the variable cost of maintenance, fuel, and spare parts, where the two-
wheeler sector has an edge.”
“A car is much more suitable, safer, and a comfortable option than a two-wheeler, but in
a cost-conscious nation like India, there will always be a place for a two-wheeler,” said another
two-wheeler dealer. “There will not be a large-scale migration to the Nano. Both the bike and the
entry-level car segment would have its own niche customers in future.”
3
1 kilometer = 0.62 miles; 1 liter = 0.26 gallons; kph = kilometers per hour.
4
“Is the Two-Wheeler Segment Dreading the Nano Effect?” http://nanocar.wordpress.com/2008/01/15/is-the-
two-wheeler-segment-dreading-the-nano-effect/ (accessed April 6, 2009).
-6- UVA-M-0768
The Tata Nano
Nano is expected to change the automobile market in India. It would cater to a
typical middle-income Indian family of four who wants to avoid rain, wind, and
dust … It’s freedom for four.
—Dilip Chenoy, Society of India Automobile Manufacturers
What must you forgo for USD2,500? Air-conditioning. Power steering. Power windows.
A tachometer. Dual windshield wipers. But the cost savings in creating a USD2,500 car did not
result only from such omissions. Rather, Tata sought the bulk of its cost savings in a streamlined
modular design in which many components served more than one function. Perhaps most
notably, the car’s component parts could be built at separate facilities and shipped for local
manufacture. Even village garages could assemble it, creating a unique distribution channel for
rural areas. In that way, the Nano was a kit car, said Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata:
A bunch of entrepreneurs could establish an assembly operation, and Tata Motors
would train their people, would oversee their quality assurance, and they would
become satellite assembly operations for us. So we would create entrepreneurs
across the country that would produce the car. We would produce the mass items
and ship it to them as kits. That is my idea of dispersing wealth. The service
person would be like an insurance agent who would be trained, have a cell phone
and scooter, and would be assigned to a set of customers.
5
At the start of the launch, Tata expected that its new 1,500-crore plant at Singur in West
Bengal would handle the bulk of the manufacturing; but construction was put on hold after
significant protest from area farmers whose land the government had appropriated for the project
without compensation. In response, Tata elected to shift production to another facility, and to
reduce its initial run from 40,000 to 10,000 cars per month during the first few months of
production.
6
Between 2003, when development began, and mid-2008, the cost of raw materials to
assemble the Nano had risen from 13% to 23% of retail selling price, compared with a 7% cost
for the average U.S. automobile.
7
Even before this cost spike, however, the company had
planned to use reverse auctions to lower parts costs. It set a rejection rate of less than 100 parts
per million and expected to reduce warranty costs tenfold. (Note: Automobile margins were
typically 10% to 15% on spare parts for dealers and 20% to 25% for Tata Motors; for normal
servicing, the dealer margin was about 4% to 10%).
5
John Hagel and John Seely Brown, “Learning from Tata’s Nano,” BusinessWeek, February 27, 2008,
http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/feb2008/id20080227_377233.htm (accessed April 6, 2009).
6
Irwin Greenstein, “Steer Clear of Tata Motors,” September 8, 2008, http://seekingalpha.com/article/94424-
steer-clear-of-tata-motors (accessed April 6, 2009).
7
Nelson Ireson, “Rising Costs Could Eat Tata Nano’s Profits,” Motor Authority, August 5, 2008.
-7- UVA-M-0768
In all, 90% of the Nano’s components were outsourced, and about 75% were single-
sourced. Tata engaged 100 subcontractors, signing them to long-term volume contracts rather
than annual contracts. Half these vendors were to be co-located in a manufacturing park adjacent
to Tata’s Singur plant—occupying a portion of the 950-acre property the government had made
available to the cooperative enterprise.
Critics questioned whether the low price meant the vehicle was of low quality. But one
Tata vendor credited the company with designing from scratch, saying it precluded “dumbing
down” the engineering: “There are so many legacy costs built into a design, and trying to
engineer those out is difficult. It’s better to start with a clean sheet of paper and engineer low
costs in.”
8
Tata’s original plan was to produce 350,000 Nanos the first year; it had plans to set up
three additional plants to achieve its goal of selling one million units annually.
Competitive Response
“Small cars have always been popular in India, even when oil prices were low,” said
automobile industry analyst Ashvin Chotai.
9
Indeed, previous low-cost, high-efficiency car
launches had met with success: The Indian government had collaborated with Japanese auto
giant Suzuki Motor Corporation to release the mini Maruti 800 in the 1980s; in 2008, at the time
of the Nano’s release, the Maruti 800 retailed at USD5,000. Hyundai and Suzuki each
manufactured up to one million subcompact cars in India in 2007, and they had plans to expand.
Renault, Nissan, and Bajaj Auto were already exploring whether a USD3,000 automobile was
possible.
But Maruti was in no rush to reach lower than its Maruti 800 at USD5,000. “Our thinking
is that a consumer who is looking to buy a Maruti 800 or Maruti Alto will never settle for the
Tata car because of the difference in value propositions that the respective cars offer,” said
Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. Managing Director Shinzo Nakanishi. “In any case, the impact of the
car will be felt more in the two-wheeler segment, and every Tata 1 lakh owner will be a potential
buyer of our cars.”
10
“India is a growing economy and so people will buy cars,” said Krish Krishnan, who
managed a green investment firm called Green Ventures. “It is a good thing that they will
perhaps be buying a smaller car which is complying with more stringent norms rather than a
much larger car or a two-wheeler that follows less stringent norms.”
11
8
Timmons.
9
Rina Chandran, “Tata Motors’s $2,500 Car to Put India on Global Autos Map,” Hindustan Times, January 11,
2008.
10
“We Can’t Make a 1 Lakh Car: Maruti,” Express News Service, January 10, 2008,
http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/We-cant-make-a-1lakh-car-Maruti/259919/ (accessed April 6, 2009).
10
“We Can’t Make a 1 Lakh Car: Maruti,” Express News Service, January 10, 2008,
http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/We-cant-make-a-1lakh-car-Maruti/259919/ (accessed April 6, 2009).
11
Chandran.
-8- UVA-M-0768
Tata Dealer Response
In spring 2008, Tata dealers expressed excitement about the Nano, saying many
customers had already inquired about it. One dealer characterized the market as middle-class
families and college students. “Almost 50% of college-going students go for a bike,” he said,
“which costs around a minimum of 40,000 to 50,000 rupees, and they don’t worry to shell out
50,000 more if they are getting a more comfortable, safe, and spacious journey. Families would
no doubt feel the same way.” Although two-wheelers offered twice as many miles to the gallon,
“safety and comfort are the key words that Tata Nano assures, which is the driving force for the
success of this car.”
Another dealer cited the car’s attractive design as a selling point: “The car has great looks
and is cute, which is very much appealing to middle-class families and students.” Still, he
conceded that price was the Nano’s chief appeal. “Pricing the car that low is the biggest plus
point, and I don’t think any [other] car company in the world can perform such a feat of low cost
and efficient use of labor and raw materials.”
In response to criticism that that Tata’s overall sales-satisfaction index ranked the
company below the industry average,
12
Tata dealers mentioned that they were going to increase
the number of service stations and outlets in few months and concentrate on this aspect keenly.
The Nano would also be a viable alternative to a used car, some dealers said. “As it is,”
said a Karol Bagh dealer of used Marutis, “there are no buyers for the 95–96 model. They sell for
just [INR]25,000 and [are] mostly picked up by scrap dealers.” “Nano could surely put a dent in
the secondhand car market for even newer models,” said another dealer.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Would India’s growing middle class see the Nano as the optimal transportation solution?
According to a research report by the Credit Rating and Information Services of India Ltd., the
Nano could expand the number of households that could afford a car by 65%. “The on-road price
for a Nano is expected to be in the region of [INR]1.3 lakh. This brings down the cost of
ownership of an entry-level car in India by 30%, making a new car affordable to families with
income level of [INR]2 lakh,” the report stated.
13
As the Tata Nano began to hit the streets, so did newspaper articles and editorials
decrying the “people’s car” as an environmental “nightmare.” “When you lower the price that
drastically, how will you be able to meet safety and emissions standards?” asked Anumita Roy
12
J.D. Power Asia Pacific 2007 Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) Study, J.D. Power and Associates.
13
Arunawa Biswas, “Is the Two Wheeler Segment Dreading the (El)-Nano effect?” Economic Times, January
10, 2008.
-9- UVA-M-0768
Choudhury of the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi. “It’s just not sustainable,
whether from an environmental point of view or in terms of congestion.”
14
In the New York Times, author Thomas Friedman pleaded with India to address public
transportation issues rather than replicating U.S. traffic and pollution woes:
If [India] applied itself to green mass-transit solutions for countries with
exploding middle classes, it would be a gift for itself and the world. To do that it
must leapfrog … It will also be an India that gives us cheap answers to big
problems—rather than cheap copies of our worst habits.
Still, customers flocked to Tata dealerships, eager to see the latest model. “I would
definitely consider buying the Nano as the cost of the car fits my pocket,” said one consumer, an
IT professional with a multinational corporation in Gurgaon who travels every day in a Bajaj
Pulsar. “And above all it gives good mileage.”
14
Reuters, “What’s Good and Not So Good About the Tata Nano,” January 8, 2008,
http://www.financialexpress.com/news/Whats-good-ansd-notsogood-about-Tatas-1-lakh-car/259077/ (accessed
April 6, 2009).
... The striking difference between the development phase model and market entry model is the approximately 25 percent hike in the price from INR 100000 to INR 125000 (Tata Motors, March 2009). Increase in raw material costs largely contributed to this rise (Aschmoneit, & Janevska, 2013;Farris, Lemley & Venkatesan 2009;Noronha 2008). As the estimated monthly income of the target group is between INR 3750 -INR 15000 (US$ 75 -US$ 300) (Shukla, 2010) i.e. significantly lesser than the amount of INR 25000, the price conscious middle-class family had to financially reconsider the offering. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
The role of values and changing values in innovation is not yet well understood. The case of the Tata Nano allows elaborating upon the potentials and risks of values-based innovation through a longitudinal analysis of three stages process: 1) Development guided by the top management vision of safe and affordable mobility for Indian “scooter families”, 2) market entry suffering from a mismatch between customer values, value proposition and marketing measures, and 3) market penetration based on repositioning the product as a smart, modern city car for young achievers. Reconstructing the case helps us to further differentiate the values-based innovation framework, and to understand the impact of diverse stakeholder values on product innovation success. Lessons learned emphasize the need to actively manage stakeholder values, and to make every business model component fit not only to one another, but also to stakeholder values and to the purpose of the whole endeavour.
... His dream was realised through the manufacture of the world's cheapest car, also called the "1-lac" car as it costs only 100 000 Indian rupees (1 lac), the equivalent of roughly 2,500 US$. The product was not simply a business model innovation that created a completely new market, but was also a technological marvel in that it was the world's most fuel-efficient car (22 km per litre) in which all non-essential functions had been removed (Farris, Lemley & Venkatesan, 2009). Tata Nano was the most keenly awaited and talked about car of 2008 and had all the characteristics of a disruptive innovation. ...
Article
Full-text available
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: widow-orphan; mso-layout-grid-align: none;"> The research aims to identify key success criteria for innovations by enterprises targeting the bottom of the pyramid. Innovation, social entrepreneurship and the bottom of the economic pyramid are defined in the light of academic literature and their varied criteria are explored. The two different academic opinions on fortune or opportunity existing in the BOP markets are also contrasted. The research philosophy is based on realism and the research methodology selected is inductive. The data have been collected through secondary sources using case study strategy to present four cases of innovations by social or corporate enterprises at the BOP. The case studies have been chosen from a variable range in terms of BOP countries, social enterprises and multinational companies, for-profit or not-for-profit organisations, and product or business model innovations. Success criteria identified from case studies in the light of academic literature include going beyond selling to the poor, considering BOP groups as producers and BOP engagement. A conceptual framework has been developed from identified criteria and further recommendations for empirically testing the framework to turn it into a model have been provided. </p
It's just not sustainable, whether from an environmental point of view or in terms of congestion
  • Choudhury Of
  • Centre
  • Science
  • Environment In New
  • Delhi
Choudhury of the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi. " It's just not sustainable, whether from an environmental point of view or in terms of congestion. " 14
What's Good and Not So Good About the Tata Nano
  • Reuters
Reuters, "What's Good and Not So Good About the Tata Nano," January 8, 2008, http://www.financialexpress.com/news/Whats-good-ansd-notsogood-about-Tatas-1-lakh-car/259077/ (accessed April 6, 2009).
500 Car to Put India on Global Autos Map Hindustan TimesWe Can't Make a 1 Lakh Car: Maruti Express News Service http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/We-cant-make-a-1lakh-car-Maruti 13 "We Can't Make a 1 Lakh Car: Maruti," Express News Service
  • Rina Chandran
Rina Chandran, "Tata Motors's $2,500 Car to Put India on Global Autos Map," Hindustan Times, January 11, 2008. 13 "We Can't Make a 1 Lakh Car: Maruti," Express News Service, January 10, 2008, http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/We-cant-make-a-1lakh-car-Maruti/259919/ (accessed April 6, 2009). 13 "We Can't Make a 1 Lakh Car: Maruti," Express News Service, January 10, 2008, http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/We-cant-make-a-1lakh-car-Maruti/259919/ (accessed April 6, 2009).