Saturday, 29 March 2008

What's in a name?

No prizes for guessing what's been headlining the Indian newspapers this week. It's a done deal: Tata Industries has agreed to buy Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford Motors, and it's fair to say that most Indians are feeling pretty smug.

"This will make the world sit up and take notice", crowed one commentator. Next to this was a picture of a Land Rover Discovery and an article listing the celebrities who have one in their garage: the Beckhams, Charlize Theron and Paris Hilton, to name a few.

And this is where the Tata takeover starts to become a little bit more unpopular: Indian owners. The Mumbai celebrity circuit, home of Bollywood actors, has been a little bit sniffy about the latest Indian invasion. Cars that were previously only available on import may now be available in India.

"I paid heavy import duties for my car and did so gladly, because it gave me exclusivity", the papers quoted one anonymous Bollywood star, who then said that he'd consider returning his car if it became more widely available.

It's unlikely that the Mumbai 'For Sale' pages will start to fill up with ads for his 'n' her XJ8s, but this does illustrate how much of an image problem Tata has. More commonly associated with the mass market (the trucks and compact cars that clog India's roads), it will be interesting to see if the brand can extend into the luxury market.

Yesterday, on a road in rural Assam, I drove past a Tata truck. It had fallen onto one side, wheels spinning and load spilled on the verge. Hopefully this won't be a portent for the takeover, but Mr Tata may need to consider mollifying some of Bollywood to get his Indian customers back onside.

Words and Pictures © Louise Heal 2008

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