I love the Indica, I really do. Back in college I tried to get my Dad to buy one, but failed. But today it’s a product that has run its course and is now well past its prime. The Indica ushered Tata into the passenger car segment and paved the way for future passenger vehicles, but now it’s time to let go and move on.
Cyrus Mistry, the former chairman of Tata Sons, recently claimed that Tata Motors suffered due to quality issues and legacy products that eroded the market share and the brand perception. Earlier, he also said that the Nano has always been a loss-making venture and it was only emotional reasons and vested interests that kept the project going.
I don’t know about the Nano; it’s a great platform with potential for many innovative products and variants, with a badge other than ‘Nano’, of course. But he’s dead on about the legacy products hurting the brand perception.
In the past I have often discussed with the folks at Tata Motors the idea of retiring the Indica. The response has always been, “Why? It’s selling and bringing in the numbers.” True, the original Indica outsold even the Vista. I am not privy to the economics of keeping the car alive, but for every Indica sold, Tata has lost out on two or more sales of its new products.
Cars like the Vista and Zest deserved better success. The problem for them has been the brand. Right from 2010, I have played the ‘Word Association’ game to prove my point. You know how it goes: I say a word and you respond with the first word that pops into your head. Cricket – Tendulkar, hungry – food, photocopy – Xerox, and so on. Tata always got ‘Sky’ or ‘Indica’.
And there lies the problem. For most people, the image of Tata Motors is the Indica, and that’s not a very pretty image to hold on to in the present day. All through its 18-year life, the Indica has never been a quality product and it hasn’t created any desirability among private car buyers.
Tata, of course, does realise this, which is why it isn’t on display in showrooms or even actively marketed. But people do buy the Indica and they are usually fleet operators; you do see a lot of them on our roads and sometimes even end up in one, should you hire a taxi.
To the average private car buyer then, this is Tata Motors; it’s not modern, desirable or even relevant and so it never enters their consideration set. All too often when suggesting the Zest, I would be met with the response, “Oh the Tata one? Really? Should I look at it?”
So, it is high time Tata put the Indica to rest and, while they are at it, the Indigo and Sumo Gold too. But there will be a resultant drop in revenue, and what would the taxi market buy? A slew of new models will easily take care of both, and after long Tata has a robust model in the pipeline and that will give them a fighting chance. Mixing the old with the new isn’t really helping and, for Tata, brand strength is an area that desperately needs a boost. It’s time Tata unshackled the burden of the old to emerge fresh, modern and desirable.
Legacy products are fine so long as they’re worth remembering.