Nano – Tata’s and India’s miss!

Tucked in between the noisy and newsy headlines in India in the last week around Love Jihad, Rahul Gandhi’s religion, Ivanka Trump’s costumes in Hyderabad and other inanities, was a poignant news bit about the Nano car. Poignant, because it said that dealers have stopped placing new orders for the car and in the month of October, just a measly number of 57 cars were shipped. And this led to political jibes from Rahul Gandhi that the PM’s pet ‘Make in India’ project just died. He also tweeted that Rs. 33,000 crore of tax payer’s money and that too of Gujaratis’ turned into ash. Coming in the midst of a vitriolic election campaign in Gujarat, one can excuse politicians for spicing up their speeches without looking at the larger picture. The point is taking potshots at Nano’s failure is taking potshots at India. Failure of Nano is not just a failure of Ratan Tata or the Tatas but a blot on India.

Cut to year 2008, when Nano was first launched, it was the biggest story of India Inc. ever. When Ratan Tata initially announced that Tata Motors is working on a Rs. 1 lac (US$2500) car, it was met with excitement and skepticism in equal measure. So, finally when Tata did launch the car with a price tag of Rs. 1 lac, the world did look up and notice. Finally, here was a car which was conceived in India, designed and developed by Indians with indigenous technology and manufactured in India that broke all cost frontiers unimaginable by car manufacturers till then. Overnight, Ratan Tata was the toast of the nation.

Around the 2008-10 time period, whenever I met any foreigner from Japanese to Americans, our conversations invariably touched upon the Nano car and how this was pulled off. And those visiting India always wanted to see a Nano car on the road and take a picture in front of one. Selfies didn’t exist then! The Chairman of a well- known Indian group who drove a Camry, proudly told me that he was the first among to book a Nano in Mumbai and to get delivery as well. At that time, Nano was yet to be seen in big numbers in Mumbai. But on a visit to Colombo in 2011, Nano had already captured the “Budget Taxi” space there. Media was full of interviews of not just Ratan Tata but also of the R&D engineers who had designed the Nano.  Nano’s launch was the culmination of a series of stories in which India Inc. was part of then. It was believed that Nano would be a live case study for C.K. Prahalad’s “Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid” theory!

That was not be and the excitement around Nano soon started tapering. Unfortunate incidents of the Nano going up on flames on the road didn’t help at all. For a product which was expected to expand the car market by 65% or so, the sales was plateauing around 70,000 Units a year for 2-3 years before nose diving to what is a few hundred cars this year. The failure of the Nano car must be one of the most analyzed and discussed case study in B- Schools, I reckon. Most of what I have been reading, attribute its failure to the “positioning” of the car as the world’s cheapest car in the beginning.  The Quality failures adding “fuel to the fire”. Attempts to re-position the car as a “Cool Urban car”,… didn’t help either. I have a different view on the reasons for the failure of the Nano car. But will keep that for another blog.

In business, they say there is no room for emotions and decisions need to be taken based on just commercial considerations. The ousted Chairman of the Tata Group, Cyrus Mistry recently said that during his time it was decided to pull the plug on Nano as it didn’t make commercial sense, after attempts to revive the project failed.  As of now it hasn’t happened. The current Chairman Chandrasekhar has been more considerate, probably towing Ratan Tata’s emotional line. He has said that there is a need to take a more “holistic” view on the Nano project. And I tend to agree.

Nano was not a Tata story. It was and is an India story. Ergo, failure of Nano in a way is an indictment on the capability and potential of Indians. And as somebody said, “Nano was not an Idea. It was an ideology!” Ideas can fail. Ideologies need to linger! The failure of Nano soon opened up to “We told you so” and how can Indians pull it off” jibes. For a 3rd largest economy (GDP-PPP) in the world, India is yet to throw up globally renowned home ground brands. So far, it’s been the soft power brands like Ayurveda, Yoga, IIT and the likes which have been torch bearers for India globally. Let’s keep aside the Software brands like Infosys, Wipro,… aside for the time being. In one of my very early blogs (read here) on different styles of management, I had opined that for the world to recognise, acknowledge and adopt the “Indian style of Management”, we need stories of successful Indian companies and brands. Just like how the world adopted the American way or Japanese style when their companies were successful. And that opens the door for Indian companies, Indian products and we Indians in the global arena. Nano was uniquely positioned to be the 1st homegrown successful Indian product brand. There was an opportunity for India Inc. to have “arrived” in style. Not just that. Success of the Nano would have led to similar pushing of cost and design frontiers by other Indian companies in many other product categories. It would have opened the floodgates for Indian CEOs to apply the “frugal innovation” concept in other products. Hence my fervent hope that Nano should succeed.

So, when it failed as it has now, it has pushed back the India Inc. story by few years till we stumble upon the next Big Idea. In the meantime, Nano I believe, is slated to make a comeback in an electric avatar.  Will this avatar help Nano to claim the position of “the common man’s car” in Indian market that Ratan Tata originally envisioned 9 years ago? The world in no longer watching it with the same excitement of 2008. Away from the arc lights, the original billion dollar opportunity still beckons!

A quote alluded to Ratan Tata says, “I don’t believe in taking right decisions. I take decisions and make them right!” Nano might have been a glaring exception to this. For Ratan Tata’s sake, Nano-II should set the record straight. For India’s sake too.

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Return of the Culture!!!

Pardon me for joining the “Return” bandwagon😉 But hang on! This piece is not on the “Return” which is in news in India these days! This is the time of the Navratri festival which is celebrated all over India with much gusto and gaiety though in different forms. In Mumbai where I live now being a melting pot of cultures it is, we get to see the Garba nights, Durga Pujo pandals of the Bengalis and ofcourse the South Indian way of celebrating Navratri in close quarters.

Before I landed in Mumbai in the early 90’s, I had not heard of Garba or Dandiya Raas,… During those college days, Disco Dandiya nights were popular among the youth who were getting drowned in the Remix wave. In Churchgate – cars with disco lights and blaring music used to be parked in the centre of the roads. Boys and Girls were seen crooning to the songs and rhythm of Garba all night long! I see less of them now. Today there are many Garba festivals almost in all suburbs featuring celebrities and wannabes where people let their hair down during the nine nights and have fun. Specialist singers and folk artists get imported from Gujarat for the same to belt out more traditional and original songs. (Doesn’t mean that there are no songs dripping with Honey Singh’s lewd lines and all that😁

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There are also a few like Phalguni Phatak who have become celebrities by just making people dance to their tunes during Navratri. There are different types of Garba steps and in Mumbai a month before the season, classes spring up to coach people on those! I have been personally witness to the enthusiastic crowd in one of the classes in Mulund a happening suburb for Gujjus!!! Not to forget the crowd in outlets selling traditional wear like Gagras and Cholis! And talking of attire, these days the vogue thing is to follow the Navratri colour codes for the 9 days (even to office) so much so couple of days back which was a Green day – a ladies coach in Mumbai local resembled a cricket stadium in Karachi😁😁

This year, Raj Thackeray’s MNS which has an ongoing axe to grind with the Gujjus in Mumbai – wants to give their own “Marathi” twist to Garba it seems. They see Garba as another conspiracy of the Gujarathi traders to take over Mumbai. So at MNS supported Pandals (yes where there is money there is politics) as per party diktat no Gujju song is to be played and Garba will make way for Bhondla a form of Marathi folk music!!!

My exposure to Bengalis and the Durga Pujo (not Puja) festival was only after I started visiting Kolkatta on work. Bengalis are extremely proud of their culture. As oxymoronic as it may sound they are “passionate liberals” when it comes to their culture. For Bengalis, Durga Pujo is more than a festival which I understood in early years of my career. Once when I called for an important review meeting in the midst of the Pujo festival, I got a call from the wife of one of my team members from Kolkatta to reschedule the dates!!! Politely but firmly she said that her husband will not attend the meeting because its Pujo time in Kolkatta. I realized that Pujo was bigger than Diwali in that part of the world. Amidst the feverish pandal hopping they indulge in, eating, shopping and even match making happen feverishly! I see the Pujo pandals increasing every year in Mumbai as well. I don’t miss visiting atleast one Durga Pujo Pandal every year. I like the one at Hiranandani Gardens, Powai which is elegantly decorated devoid of too many ugly sponsor’ billboards.

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Coming to my own backyard, I have fond memories of Navratri of my growing up days in Trichy. Every year we used to have our vacation to coincide exactly with Navratri after the Quarterly exams. Though it’s a festival which brings the ladies at home to the fore, at home we equally participated. The Kolu (tradition of arranging idols of Gods nicely in steps) at our place was popular among the neighbourhood. Apart from the Kolu steps we used to set up some theme based arrangement every year. Usually my dad threw the ideas and my brother did the execution with me and my sister pitching in with colouring and stuff. Those were not the days of Google or readymade clay, colours, models,.. Most of the stuff like a hill temple or an exhibition ground,.. were painstakingly constructed with waste material and made at home! Our mom was good at making different stuff made of beads which we used extensively in these theme based parks! We used to make some change every day which is what made our place👍

Nine days mean nine varieties of Sundal which is made and distributed to all who come as Prasad. If Bengalis do “Pandal hopping”, we Tamilians do “Sundal hopping”😁😁. Our decision to visit other house Kolus used to depend on the type of Prasad😜. Popular one being Puttu (Jaggery and coconut laced steamed rice flour). And generally houses which had paruppu masiyal (a very sticky paste like stuff made of dal) that day were given the cold shoulder😜😜. Navratri used to be the time those days when mamis feel much empowered sauntering in and out of the house wearing a different Kanjivaram every day and associated finery while mamas sit quietly in a corner reading newspaper😄 without getting much attention. One favourite question of the mamas to their wives was “Enna Innikku collection ellam aacha???😄” In those days of no WhatsApp, invitation to the Kolu needs to be done personally which is the job of us bachas. (Today a WA fwd does the job in a jiffy). As an interesting aside I vividly remember that in our one neighbourhood house in Thillainagar Trichy, during every Navratri there used to be a baby arrival!! This went on for 4 years in a row. Letting one naughty mama to comment – Koluvila dasavatharam bommaigalaa ivaa aathu pasangalaiye koodiya seekiram vechudalam pola irukke😁😁 (Soon we can keep 10 children of this house as Dasavatharam idols in the Kolu looks like)😁😁

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As we grew and we went in different directions in pursuit of careers, the Kolu at home tradition stopped in our place as in many households I knew. But in the last few years I see the “return” of the Kolu tradition with a vengeance. Particularly the NRIs are in the forefront of the revival. From Dunedin to Dublin. I don’t know if the infectious enthusiasm has been fueled by social media. But these days FB posts and WA shares mostly are of pics of the Kolus and Sundal of the day. Another reason for one Mark and his friend Modi to be happy! Women these days assiduously prepare for the event including rehearsing nice Durga songs, scheduling their days (for hosting and visiting others) diligently trying their best to be at most places.

“How to throw a Kolu party???” is a caption of a news item today in today’s Bombay Times (Anything to do with TOI has to end with party I think😜). Well, the tradition of calling ladies for Vetthalai paaku (Haldi kumkum) for Kolu during Navratri has been given a very contemporary twist! The same piece also talks of a “Green Kolu” where instead of idols the steps are replete with plants of different sizes and shapes!!!

Among all the commercialisation that comes along with increased market activity and purchasing power and the lament that we are missing the cultural connect I do sense a “Return” of the people including the youth to their roots and Culture. And Navratri is a shining example of the same. And this “Return” is one we must be proud of unequivocally👍👍👍