Multinational Companies Court Lower-Income Consumers

In this photo made Oct. 14, 2009, a General Electric (GE) microwave is shown at Best Buy in Mountain View, Calif. The sale of GE's appliance division, announced Monday, Sept. 8, 2014, is the latest in a long string of moves by the company to shift its focus away from consumers and toward the manufacturing of giant, complex industrial machines such as aircraft engines, locomotives, gas-fired turbines and medical imaging equipment. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)
In this photo made Oct. 14, 2009, a General Electric (GE) microwave is shown at Best Buy in Mountain View, Calif. The sale of GE's appliance division, announced Monday, Sept. 8, 2014, is the latest in a long string of moves by the company to shift its focus away from consumers and toward the manufacturing of giant, complex industrial machines such as aircraft engines, locomotives, gas-fired turbines and medical imaging equipment. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)
In this photo made Oct. 14, 2009, a General Electric (GE) microwave is shown at Best Buy in Mountain View, Calif. The sale of GE’s appliance division, announced Monday, Sept. 8, 2014, is the latest in a long string of moves by the company to shift its focus away from consumers and toward the manufacturing of giant, complex industrial machines such as aircraft engines, locomotives, gas-fired turbines and medical imaging equipment. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

BANGALORE, India (New York Times) — When General Electric engineers here wanted to develop a more affordable baby warmer for India’s small, private hospitals, they initially replaced the fat, rubberized wheels standard on high-end models with smaller metal ones. They figured it was a quick, easy way to cut costs.

But the wheels failed the field test. They caught on the uneven floors in rural health centers, toppling baby and mattress to the floor. Luckily, the baby was a doll.

“You can’t take a product and simply strip it down and replace expensive parts with cheaper ones,” said Vikram Damodaran, director of health care innovations at Wipro GE Healthcare, which is based here. “It has to come from the ground up, with a lot of input from the people who might actually use it.”

That is Lesson No. 1 in developing products for consumers who live on pennies a day in places like India.

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