NEW DELHI– The explosive spread of Zika virus across the Americas could turn out to be a major speed bump for Tata Motors.
The Indian automaker will this week unveil its latest hatchback — the Zica — a name that calls to mind the mosquito-borne virus that has rocketed to the top of the global public health agenda.
The model’s debut will come at the Auto Expo in New Delhi, but the name has already been publicized and promoted by the company. Tata, the owner of Jaguar Land Rover, has touted the Zica’s stylishness and “peppy driving experience.”
Minari Shah, the head of corporate communications at Tata Motors, said the company was “currently evaluating this situation and will soon take a decision” on whether a name change would be necessary.
The Zika virus, transmitted by the aggressive Aedes aegypti mosquito, has now spread to at least 24 countries. The World Health Organization estimates 3 million to 4 million people across the Americas will be infected with the virus in the next year.
It’s commanding worldwide attention because of an alarming connection between the virus and microcephaly, a neurological disorder that results in babies being born with abnormally small heads.
India, which is home to 1.3 billion people, is particularly susceptible to mosquito-borne illnesses. Dengue fever, a close relative of Zika, remains common in the country.
Shah said that Tata has watched closely over the past few weeks as concerns over the Zika virus have increased. She did not say when the company would take a decision on changing the name.
“Putting a brand name is a fairly long process — from focus groups to making sure there are no conflicting trademarks,” she said.
In the past, automakers have occasionally chosen names for cars that did not translate well across languages and cultures. The most infamous example is Chevrolet’s Nova, because in Spanish, “no-va” means “won’t go.” Despite the name, the car sold relatively well in Latin America.
The atrocities committed in recent years by the Islamic militant group ISIS, meanwhile, have created a headache for companies operating under that name.
In December, the California biotech company Isis Pharmaceuticals changed its name to Ionis Pharmaceuticals after admitting it was struggling with the “negative connotations.”
By Charles Riley