When it comes to questionable marketing moves, this one may rank up there with Marie Antoinette’s infamous suggestion that her bread-less citizens should simply eat cake.
In an effort to spur flagging sales of its Nano micro-car, Indian automaker Tata has decided to take a jewel-encrusted version of the $3,000 two-door People’s Car worth $4.6 million — yes, buy just one for the price of 1,533 Nanos — and trot it around a country where a third of the world’s poor live on about 50 cents a day. By way of explanation, Tata chairman Bhaskar Bhatt said, “It’s only meant to travel around to showcase the Indian karigar’s (craftsmen’s) expertise.”
This particular Nano, commonly referred to as the world’s cheapest car, certainly does that. Artisans associated with the company’s chain of GoldPlus jewelry stores lavished the automobile with 194 pounds of hard-crafted 22-karat gold, 33 pounds of silver and 10,000 precious and semi-precious stones. The end result is a blinding chariot out of modern Bollywood, an automotive paean to some of India’s most iconic designs, colors and inherent beauty.
The micro bling machine was fittingly unveiled in a theater in Mumbai, and will go on a six-month tour of towns where Tata has manufacturing plants. The GoldPlus Nano is dazzling to the point of distraction, which is perhaps some of the point. Originally launched in 2008 with a 100,000-customer waiting list, the Nano has been plagued by Ford Pinto-like incidents of spontaneous combustion, the result of which were electrical system and exhaust safety upgrades for 70,000 owners. Sales have flagged markedly since that launch; August saw 1,200 sales, an 88 percent drop from 10,000 in April. Some analysts argue that the reason for the Nano’s sales decline may have less to do with safety issues and more to do with Indian consumers not taking well to the notion of owning the world’s least expensive vehicle.
Although Tata is well-known in its native land, particularly for commercial vehicles, the 66-year-old Mumbai-based company’s Western profile was raised in 2008 with its purchase of Jaguar/Land Rover. And now again, with the GoldPlus Nano — surely a car that no one ever asked for, but one that nonetheless is almost impossible to take your eyes off of, astronomical price aside. King Midas would have approved.