By on January 10, 2008

tatanano.jpgCarburetors, fuel injection, headlights, satellite radios, ECU, ABS, air conditioning, drive-by-wire— today’s automotive technologies are variations on well-established themes. If “Crazy Henry” Ford resurrected, he’d have little problem driving– or understanding– a modern car. While automakers continue to tweak automotive systems for greater ergonomics, power, fuel economy and reliability; the improvements are evolutionary, not revolutionary. Even alternative powerplants aren’t game changers. But something else is…

To understand the next great leap, consider the camera. Never mind the changeover from film to digital image capture. Clock the fact that the device has morphed from a delicate piece of specialized equipment used by highly-trained professionals to an $8.99 mass market item sold at Walgreen’s. More importantly, drill down to the salient detail: a huge percentage of all cameras sold (even digital) are now disposable.

The car is about to repeat the exact same pattern. The era of the mass market disposable car is nigh. Let’s check the trend…

In 1909, Ford’s entry-level Model T cost $850. In 2008, the Ford Focus’ base price is $13,715. Priced in 1909 dollars, Ford’s entry-level U.S. model would cost $633. That’s a net savings of $217 in 1909 dollars compared to the Model T, or about 26 percent. And that’s without considering the vast improvements in safety, comfort, reliability, performance, etc.

According to the US DOT, there were 87m licensed drivers in 1960. Factoring 74m cars registered, we get a ratio of drivers to cars of 1.17:1. In 2003, 196m drivers owned 231m vehicles, giving a ratio of 0.83:1. As cars became cheaper, through cuts in technology cost or even through financing and leasing schemes, one-car families became two-car families. Two-car families bought a car for every person, parent or child. Then, dad bought a week-end whip. 

The innovation that arrived on the scene as a toy for the elite is firmly established as an “appliance” for the majority (while the elite have moved on to personal jets). While cars still have a ways to go before full commoditization, there’s no question they’re heading in that direction.

Well, if there WAS any doubt, India’s Tata Motors is about to eliminate it. Today’s the day the Indian automaker officially unveils their highly-anticipated “1-lakh car.” The name tells the tale; one lakh equals 100k rupees or roughly $2500. The 1-lakh car will be the world’s cheapest new car, and it’s a short trip from there to the truly disposable car.

How much of a car’s overall expense is due to its mechanical longevity? Remove that requirement and you’re suddenly free to substitute mass produced plastic, wood and other materials for the more expensive metal bits, from engine parts to the body panels. Combine this freedom with the “stripper” mentality (how many disposable cameras have a zoom function?), and your costs, and thus price, sink.

When we get a good look at the 1-lakh car, we’ll see just how much performance, safety and pollution control Tata could provide for $2500. But you can bet the car is not built for the long haul— because price is all. Ironically, even without fundamentally robust mechanicals, the 1-lakh car will probably “last” (i.e. remain in operation) a lot longer than western machines; by necessity, developing countries are endlessly innovative at repairing and recycling consumer goods. But the pattern of commoditization and [relatively] rapid disposability will be set.

Tata Motors anticipates that they’ll sell up to a million 1-lakhs per year. Going by America’s early automotive experience, it’s a highly conservative estimate. Once India’s enormous rural population has access to a fully functioning automobile, it will unleash an economic expansion the world hasn’t seen since, well, America’s early automotive history. And the more prosperous India’s population becomes the more Tata Motors 1-lakh cars they’ll buy.

And just as Henry Ford’s Model T (and its production process) spawned a hundred imitators, competitors for Tata Motors’ 1-lakh car will spring-up throughout the world’s largest democracy. Ford, Suzuki and all the other automakers operating in the Indian subcontinent are already rushing ever-cheaper small cars to market. It’s only a matter of time before the trend spreads to Africa and other so-called developing nations.

There’s only one thing standing in the way of the automobile’s commoditization: government intervention. It scarcely seems credible that a government could oppose its citizens increased mobility and, thus, prosperity, but, for numerous reasons, the Powers That Be have demonized the automobile. Western European thinkers and their like-minded foreign intellectuals see the disposable car as a global apocalypse. 

The truth is that it’s too late to stop the rise of the disposable car. The personal advantages of affordable personal transportation are too great to be denied. There’s too much money to be made fulfilling this desire. All we can do is make sure the disposable cars are properly recycled, as they should be.

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67 Comments on “Welcome to the Future: Tata Motors’ Disposable 1-Lakh Car...”


  • avatar
    quasimondo

    But how do you go about ‘disposing’ of a disposable car? Certainly you can’t just toss it into the nearest dumpster like the disposable camera.

    Or can you?

  • avatar
    Mud

    While they are unleashing the million+ cars, one would wonder what happens with the ancient infrastructure that is unable to support even the current load.

  • avatar
    Nemphre

    What is the advantage of a $3000 junk car over a $3000 good used car? I wonder what it’s like trying to drive that thing in the picture at 75 on the interstate. Check out the tires. I think most anyone would take a mid-90s Civic/Corolla instead.

  • avatar

    In the West, I wonder how well a cheap, disposable car would compete with a used car.

  • avatar

    What is the advantage of a $3000 junk car over a $3000 good used car? Are you assuming that what you can build for $3000 today will be the same as what you will be able build for $3000 in the future?

  • avatar
    Michal

    I have to say this car looks cool. Forget Western snobbery about lacking a 250hp engine and not being able to carry 6″6′ people in comfort. The Nano will be incredibly popular.

    Two things however: The front and side look remarkably like Mitsubishi’s I car. Incredibly similar. The ‘I’ is a budget model that’s revived Mitsubishi’s flagging sales in Japan.

    Secondly, this car will help speed the world towards peak oil and subsequent rapid fuel price inflation. This in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Look to India and China for developing new fuel efficient technologies in the future. They simply will have to, once the general population has tasted motoring freedom.

  • avatar

    A few minor quibbles. I feel the word disposable leads the mind in the wrong direction. What Tata is doing is scaling back the auto, to make it more affordable.

    In Europe, there’s been a strong trend where buyers have sought out scaled down models of known brands on offer in former Eastern European countries. These lack the electronics (how many ways do you really need to adjust your seat? And do you need it to vibrate?) and a number of other features seen as non-essential marketing fluff aimed at westerners.

    My other quibble is with this sentence:
    There’s only one thing standing in the way of the automobile’s commoditization: government intervention.

    Oil, or rather the lack of it, also stands in the way. And remember, it took quite a few years for the western nations to create the infrastructure required to move millions of cars — and they did it with ultracheap oil. Oil is no longer cheap, and is going to become very expensive, fast.
    A barrel of oil contains the energy equivalent of 25.000 hours of manual labor.

    I’d substitute disposable with superaffordable.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    I think the bulk of India’s enormous rural population cant afford $100,000 rupees for a car. Think 800 million living in families with maybe $1 a day total budget. if they ever see money at all.

    I think this car reaches down into the enormous lower middle class who at least have some disposable income.

    I don’t think that we can gather up all $3k used cars in the west and deliver them to India. Not an option. I do think they can make endless numbers of these and build up their economy.

    Its a 40 mph car, engineered for that. Wont go 75. What decade in US had 40 mph mainstream vehicles?

    And where is the fuel supposed to come from?

    At any rate I like it and think its a good thing for the 3rd world.

    Wish it were available stateside, to park beside my A4 in my garage. The Smart is nice but its $12k to start.

  • avatar
    confused1096

    In the West, I wonder how well a cheap, disposable car would compete with a used car.

    Pretty well, I think. Many people on a tight budget would love the security of warranty garaunteed repairs at this price range. Also financing on a new car is easier and at a lower interest rate than used car financing.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    NYT article with the specs – bearings rated for 45mph but will wear down quickly if driven above that speed, belt CVT (frightfully expensive to replace – Subaru Justy, anyone?), hollow wheel axle. Yep, it’s disposable, all right.

  • avatar
    timoted

    This is just another disaster waiting to happen. Your typical scooter would probably total this car when T-boned not to mention killing its occupants. Let’s not even talk about the emissions on this “car”. If this is supposed to be a “entry-level” car you would think they could make it safe and be envrionmentally friendly.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    maybe their next effort will be a little more expensive but a little better? Most companies are striving to not only get sales but to sell at higher prices so when you look at the low end of the market it is wide open for this sort of thing.

    I do agree this is going to raise oil prices. Even if it gets outrageously great mileage, it still burns fuel and takes energy to produce it in the first place. Our current situation is based in a big way on the economic growth in that region these past 10 years and this will accelerate it.

  • avatar
    wludavid

    Too many of you are stuck in Western attitudes when thinking about this car. It’s not designed to compete with a Civic or Corolla or even the Fiat 500. It’s designed to fill a niche between a $1000 scooter and a $5000 car (which are the approx price points in India). It’s safer (and drier) than a scooter for someone who needs to transport his family.

    Furthermore, cars in the West use robust parts that can last 100k miles or more because it’s more economical to use expensive parts during manufacture than it is to pay a mechanic $100/hr to replace those parts. When your mechanic is charging $1/hr, you can afford to use MUCH cheaper parts during manufacture. And someone for whom this is a first car, it doesn’t need 24/7/365 reliability. Sometimes the car won’t work, and they’ll either bike to work, take the bus, or walk or whatever. Westerners are totally dependent on their cars, hence the need for appliance-like reliability.

  • avatar
    Juniper

    It looks like a great little cheap car, and may have a huge market. But I think they have the proverbial cart before the horse. I have not been to India, but have been to many third world countries (not as a tourist, and yes I left the western hotel) The closest was Sri Lanka. Do they have the infrastructure to support that vehicle? Are the roads ready or will they be? Remember the first cars in US and other countries had large wheels and soft high travel suspensions for the same reason of poor roads etc. In a country where reliable electricity is a luxury it will be interesting to see. Regardless, their auto industries are coming and the existing companies better be ready.

  • avatar
    bfg9k

    RF: There’s only one thing standing in the way of the automobile’s commoditization: government intervention.

    That, and a lack of cheap fuel for the mass market commoditized car to run on. The era of cheap dino oil is, simply, coming to an end.

    India has a large potential for biofuel with crops like jatropha, it will be interesting to see if the little gas motor in this will someday be run on something like gas from bio-oil, butanol, or replaced with a plant-oil burning diesel.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    wludavid:

    Something that potentially could happen with Tata is 1st time buyers watch their cars disintegrate at a faster rate than their neighbors’ more expensive competitors’ cars. The competition eventually gets the upper hand despite the cheaper cost of the Tatas. Sound familiar?

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    wludavid absolutely nailed it…

    The best way to think about this vehicle is a ‘modular’ one. When most of the parts wear out, they can be cheaply replaced and the ‘life’ of the vehicle will go on. There have been an awful lot of vehicles like this throughout the course of modern history. Bare bones tractors, VW Beetles, heck even the golf carts and scooters of the past 40+ years are mostly based on the idea that so long as the frame is fine, everything can and should be easily replaced.

    I think this car can and will be a good thing for the world. Chances are that if Toyota’s hybrid technology continues on it’s descent in cost over the next decade, it (along with other adaptations that come along the way) may be what ends up powering this vehicle. Of course the Indians (and Chinese and others) will copy much of what Toyota has done, but when the USA did it throughout most of the 19th century we called it, “Yankee ingenuity”.

    Glad to have the largest democracy in the world, and one of it’s most successful companies, contributing to the automotive landscape. They will own a larger slice of that pie as time goes on. Now if only this Tata could off the durability of the new M&M vehicle that are coming stateside…..

  • avatar
    oldowl

    Maybe Citroen should put the 2CV back into production. Nearly four million of those cartoon-style, animated tin cans were built.

  • avatar
    Orian

    Tata has been around for a while, so I wouldn’t count on this being a total lemon from the start.

    As others stated above it will be relatively cheap to repair and the people buying these will be ok with that. It’s not coming to the US anytime soon, if ever.

  • avatar
    lplimac

    As has been pointed out don’t use American/European standards for a vehicle designed for the Indian market. Also, as to the viability for a new, low price point car opposed to a used car, think about the time you went to a dealer and dreamed of buying a new car but had to settle for a used one because the price was too high, so you settled for a used one. Never underestimate the desire for something new instead of some one else’s cast off, no matter what the product is.

  • avatar

    wludavid is spot on. Have any of you been to Cuba? You’ll find “mint-condition” cars from the 50s there, maintained to working order.

    Go to India. They have motorcycles from the 30s on the roads – and the latest offerings from the major brands. I was going to write that TATA is banking on the enormous network of independent garages keeping the cars on the road — and you’ll have entire cottage industries popping up to make that happen, at less than a dollar/hour, by the way.

    TATA know exactly what they’re doing with this, with the caveat that the energy required to run these cars has to be available, and cheap.

  • avatar
    BuckD

    Having traveled on India’s horrifying roads by bus, I shudder to think how many of these things will be wrapped around the rear axles of TATA trucks.

  • avatar

    @Buck

    As I mention on the first page – here in the west we had access to inexpensive oil, which was used to fuel the machinery that created our road infrastructure. They won’t have that in India …

  • avatar

    I would say we’ve already hit the point of disposable cars in the West. Here in California, if you can’t pass the smog test then your car is junk. The cost to replace and repair electronics and other parts in a ten year old car in order to pass state/country regulations effectively limits the life span. Gone are the days when the illiterate corner shop mechanic could fix any problem using only a monkey wrench and a grease gun. A 10 year old Prius may be worth more in raw scrap materials than it is to own and maintain. Cars like this, designed to be maintained as cheaply as possible, may last much longer than most of the other cars we already buy.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Samir,

    According to today’s Tata press release, this looks a better than a lot like small cars in Europe in sixties & seventies: 33hp, 4 speed manual (not a belt CVT), available AC, bigger interior room than the popular Maruti, Euro IV smog compliance, and according to Tata: “passed full frontal and side crash tests” (whose standards?).

    I also disagree about the focus on disposable; the real disposable cars were the rust buckets built in the early seventies by Detroit.

    This looks like a legitimate (and metal-bodied) car that meets the accepted standards of such in a place like India. Undoubtedly, a lot safer, cleaner, and even roomier than the VW Beetles we drove in the seventies.

  • avatar
    omnivore

    I think johnny ro has it right … comparing the Nano to a $3000 used car is pointless, because there aren’t that many used cars in India, not enough to satisfy demand at that price point, and any sustained push to export $3000 used cars from the US and Europe would drive up the price of those used cars, making them affordable. The only reason we have such a great selection of used cars at the $3000 price point is because demand is relatively low compared to supply. Start increasing demand for them by exporting them to India and prices will rise, because there’s a finite number of them.

  • avatar
    BabyM

    I doubt it will be as “disposable” as a lot of commenters here think. Engineering history is replete with simple, cheap, “disposable” designs that proved surprisingly robust in actual service: the Volkswagen Type 1, the Liberty ship, the Douglas DC-3, to name but a few.

  • avatar
    Wheely

    From a value perspective, there’s certainly something to say for a car that costs less than the typical premium stereo/nav system upgrade on cars today, or the first year’s depreciation for that matter.

    If not for the sheer waste of it, I wouldn’t mind buying a fresh one every year and not even worry about any part wearing out. Proverbial ash tray full? Next one please.

  • avatar
    willbodine

    Where are these newly emerging motorized nations going to find/pay for the oil they’ll need??

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    I think it’s a great idea, at least for India. It wouldn’t fly here because Americans have so much disposable income and have become such an affluent society (not entirely a good thing) that there is little or no market for this type of car. Additionally, the speeds on our roads make a car like this unusable, but in India and many other developing nations 35 or 40 mph is fast and anything above that would be crazy. A car like this would be quite a step up from the 50cc motor scooter that is available-maybe even typical-in India.

    Personally, I miss the old barebones cars with hand crank windows, manually adjusted seats, manual transmission, etc. For me, a lot of the new electronics are nothing that I need or use and amount to an expensive repair waiting to happen. But, I understand that the market for those bare bones vehicles no longer exists in this country.

  • avatar
    storminvormin

    “Tata chose wheel bearings that are strong enough to drive the car up to 45 miles an hour…The car’s top speed is 75 miles an hour.”

    Who’s willing to bet that proper wheel bearings are going to be the no.1 upgrade. I know that they used magnificent cost-cutting measures but can someone tell me what the price difference would be to put a good set of wheel bearings on the car from the start? However, it is possible that many won’t even have to go over 45mph in India.

  • avatar
    allen5h

    Donal :

    In the West, I wonder how well a cheap, disposable car would compete with a used car.

    Not very well. Think YU-GO. (YOU GO there, not me.)
    _____________________________________

    I say this is a “disposable product”, in every sense of the term.

    I am handy with tools and I like to try to fix stuff, even when logic tells me it isn’t worth fooling with.

    Sunlight makes plastic brittle, causing it to split, crack, crumble, etc… Anything fastened to thin gauge metal (sheet metal screws, swaged threaded metal inserts, threaded metal inserts attached with clips) causes the thin metal to crack/split. Machine screwed metal inserts imbedded in plastic causes the plastic to split. Printed circuit boards that are incredibly thin and fragile will eventually crack/split. Plastic snap fit parts will shear off their retaining tabs.

    It makes no difference if the repair labor is all of $1/hr; incredibly cheap things are just not fixable. It would be tantamount to having $1/hr repair labor building an entirely new product from all the individual new parts, sans all special tools and fixtures to assure correct assy, in a reasonable period of time. Not gonna happen.

    The reason that the people in Cuba can keep those old cars running is because you can keep attaching/removing rebuildable heavy metal parts (alternators/starters/carburetors) to the threaded attachment points on those heavy cast iron engine blocks forever.

    In the 1980’s I witnessed GM building cars with incredibly cheap plastic alts/starters/carbs/ and even non-metal timing chain sprockets; those cars would not pass the test of time in Cuba. (How many times can you replace roller bearings housed in a heavy cast iron housing? For ever. How many times can you press in sleeve bearings in a cheap plastic housing? Only once; at the time of manufacturing.)

  • avatar
    dwford

    FYI: those disposable cameras are actually recycled. Once the photo lab takes your film out, they send the empty camera chassis back to be reused as another camera. They just reload it with film and slap a new cardboard wrapper on it.

  • avatar
    BTEFan

    A car like this doesn’t need to do 75mph. Most of the time it will be sitting in traffic. Lets hope that it at least has A/C (with recirculate) in it. India is a hot country. And a functional horn.
    And Indians can keep damn near anything running. We had a 35 year old Padmini Premier as a cab when we were in Bombay. Those old Fiats just keep going and going and going because the shade tree mechanic can fix it as its so simple.

    Lets hope Tata makes it so it can be fixed on the fly.

  • avatar
    shiney

    I think the market for a well executed bare bones vehicle (a small pickup perhaps?) does exist in the USA – and I think it could be done with decent margins. However, the DFSS matrices and market forecasts that MBA trained syphocants in American management substitute for judgment would never allow them to seriously consider anything that is not already succeeding. Remember how conventional wisdom said that an inexpensive 2 seat convertible would never succeed in the US again?….then along comes the Miata. Since no one sells a well executed bare bones vehicle in the US market, it obviously means that one will never sell here. See, the decision matrix says so! The same one that showed that more and more big SUVs would be the best way to move the company into sales success in 2008! Its not US engineering that is the issue, its US management, which removes responsibility and power from individuals (making any ideas that go against internal metrics impossible to explore), treats engineers as interchangeable low level generalists, and rewards neat desks, decision documentation, and meeting attendance over innovation.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    Just wait until these hit the used car market… then they’ll really compete against $3000 used normal cars.

    The safety issue isn’t important, imo. This is a big step up from taking the entire family on a moped!

  • avatar
    Engineer

    Gotta love innovation! This car will spur innovation in all sorts of directions. Those of you concerned about fuel: that’s one of the innovations this car will drive. Hint: Sorry, Mr. Bush, but I don’t expect E85 to be a serious contender. We’ll have to wait and see.

    Is “lakh” pronounced anything like “lekker”? Sajeev? Regardless, this looks like 1 lekker car!

  • avatar
    shiney

    The Yugo was cheap, but it was also poorly made and very unreliable. But when they first came on the US market, there was a lot of demand for them, and it was almost trendy to own one. That changed after six months or so when their utterly crappy construction became evident. The beetle and 2cv may have been simple but they were tough, and they were spectacular long term successes.

  • avatar
    folkdancer

    Great experiment. Watching these cars develope will be great fun. Will they become even cheaper or will they grow in size and complexity? Will someone bring them to the U.S. to use as personnel carriers at large industrial plants? Will a new racing formula be developed for these cars? Will they be used as stationary power plants for rice mills?
    The biggest problem for the U.S. will be that these cars will create 1,000s (maybe millions) of back yard mechanics in India, the type of people we have depended on for a 100 years for our creativity and innovations.

  • avatar
    Chopper man

    Samir Sayed is right on target. The underserved masses who work two minimum wage jobs in America could use just such a vehicle. Cheapskates like me would also climb aboard. There are plenty of places in America where the commute does not exceed 40 MPH. I’ve had just such a commute a good portion of my working life (who can go 70 MPH when the traffic is bumper to bumper, do the Outer Loop during the commute as see what I mean). Getting the car to run on alcohol as an alternative fuel could also remove its dependence on oil. Using sugar cane to produce alcohol would greatly add efficiency to the current corn sourced fuel.

    In America the market for a cheap disposable car has never been attempted. GM flirted with this concept with the Vega, but then chickened out as American conventional wisdom runs counter to the disposable car concept (read how many posters to this article are expressing their disbelief). But get the car to last for 6 years or 60,000 miles and price it at $3000 and you could finance just about anyone, so your potential market would be huge.

    The corporation that makes this happen will be perceived as brilliant, as this car/concept is a game changer a rule breaker.

    Making a simple, easy to maintain, people’s car that costs little to buy and operate could well be the future of the automotive industry. You need to see the vision – and huge expensive gas guzzling SUVs and trucks are not the answer as today dealers lots are overflowing with these vehicles. Cover that same dealer’s lot in the middle of LA with a quantity of new $3000 cars and the lot would be empty in a day. This is the future I see for the company that embraces this vision.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    “In 1909, Ford’s entry-level Model T cost $850. In 2008, the Ford Focus’ base price is $13,715. Priced in 1909 dollars, Ford’s entry-level U.S. model would cost $633. That’s a net savings of $217 in 1909 dollars compared to the Model T, or about 26 percent. And that’s without considering the vast improvements in safety, comfort, reliability, performance, etc.”

    That was interesting. Thank you.

  • avatar
    Redbarchetta

    Sure area a lot of nay sayers going on about this car. Are you afraid of a developing nation actually providing a little prosperity for it’s people. They live with so little of the things we take for granted here, a cheap little car is easily deserved. I have a feeling this car will be a great success along the lines of the Model-T, especially when 2nd and 3rd versions hit the market there. No reason to think Tata is going to churn out garbage, they have been in business for a while and are pretty well respected there. From looking at the NYT breakdown it looks like a simplistic scooter like car with a roll cage. I bet the car is a lot safer than the Chinese junk.

    They should have sourced a little air cooled motorcycle motor and tranny unit though from like Honda or Yamaha. If they can sell a little 250cc bike here for $2300 they could have come to decent pricepoint with the powerplant that could be used in the car.

  • avatar
    Luther

    I think the Bajaj is a better deal…If your last name is Rockefeller.

  • avatar

    Do not argue on the premise that 1 Lakh or $2,500 USD is the lower limit of a car’s price. As I have tried to point out, prices of technology decline over time, to the point where they are almost immaterial. Do you think an $8,99 disposable camera puts a dent in anyone’s budget these days?

    When a car costs $1,000, which may admittedly not happen in our lifetime (or it might… DVD players costing $2,000 now cost $79,99 at Wal-Mart), tell me it won’t be disposable. The constraint for replacement intervals will not be reliability, it will be price. No one keeps mature technologies to the end of useful life today (except maybe Paul Niedermeyer!) – not TV’s, not DVD players (upgrade to Blu-Ray plz…), not cameras and already not cars.

  • avatar
    IronEagle

    I think this is so neat.

  • avatar
    IronEagle

    shiney

    I’d like to subscribe to your newsletter.

    I have a friend at work with an early 90’s Nissan Hardbody single cab. Style your new bare bones truck along those lines and you’d have a hit.

  • avatar
    shiney

    Thanks Ironeagle

    and nice reference! glad you were..intrigued.

    The 90s Nilsson Hardbody is exactly the sort of thing I was thinking of. Creatively designed and assembled in order to drive down costs.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    I’m glad to see there are like minded people on this board regarding the bare bones car/truck idea. Another engineer here at work was looking for a bare bones Nissan/Toyota truck just recently. He ended up with a relatively minimalistic ’95 Tacoma. My wife has fond memories of the beater Datsun pick-up she drove as a teenager that was handed down from one older brother to another until it finally reached her, the baby, as a very well used vehicle. I also think that there should be a market for a midsized truck that gets good gas mileage for business use. With proper gearing, a 125 hp, 200 ft-lb torque, engine can haul plenty; just design it with a proper frame and suspension. Who knows, maybe higher and higher gas prices will drive a market for these types of vehicles.

    I sometimes wonder if hot roddin’ and the advent of the muscle car wasn’t a bad thing for the American car industry. It seems that the race for more and more hp has dominated car manufacturing and advertissing in this country for as long as I can remember, and maybe that’s where it started, money being plowed into development of hp instead of comfort, safety, and efficiency.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    Great story, great string.

    Chopper man is on track. Many others too. It is maybe a paradigm shift like model T, VW type 1, austin 7, deux chevaux. Good for them.

    I have read cuban mechanics cutting chevy piston rings out of cast iron plumbing pipes, by hand for their bel airs. Rebuilding spark plugs. Seen photos of small one man shop furnaces where Indian bike folks make new replacement 2 stroke cylinder castings for 1970 Japanese designs still running around and considered hi performance. They build brand new antique vehicles, with antique licenses -royal enfield bullet. Yes talented third world does what 1st world cant even imagine for no money. This happens in corporate offices too there. Not low end tinkering, I mean they surpass what we are used to. Read how their top people interview on the site below. Compares favorably with what I am used to for US mgt.

    They will bid against us for the raw materials and fuels. Their currency is in ascent, ours in decline phase. They are ramping up fast and our companies are building there and closing here. Do the math. Get a job in health care or a pensioned one in government…

    If TATA which is not a quirky small shop, went insane and decided to acquire Ford, GM and Chrysler for some reason, they could do it. Look at their market cap. Well, their market cap would tank on news they were crazy to buy big 2.8 so maybe not.

    http://www.tata.com/0_about_us/index.htm

    Finally I go on record that I will gladly pay $10k for a brand new 2cv if it had galvanized body and were street legal in USA. Drive wide open all the time. Try that in a C6.

    My only quibble with what I see on the Nano is the tires look pretty small for bad road surfaces including dirt, mud and muddy puddles. I expected 13″ or 14″ skinny, looks like 8 or 10″.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Samir, spot on about my proclivities. And I don’t fully disagree with your argument about the trend toward disposability. In reality, all cars are disposable, and always have been; when the cost of repairs outweigh the residual value, cars are junked. But the average age of vehicles on the road has been steadily growing over the years, as durability has improved substantially, even in cheap cars.

    My point is this: if the Nano were sold here, at close to this price point, it would be disposed relatively sooner, given repair costs. But I’m not sure that folks are willing to accept the trade-offs (I might). On the other hand, in India and other developing markets, this won’t be seen as a “disposable” car, for the reasons elaborated in the comments above (cheap labor to repair it).

    You might be right about an eventual $1k car, but I’m a bit more doubtful. High tech items have very little actual material cost; the costs to build are in the technology itself. But cars have quite a bit of raw materials (steel, aluminum, plastic, rubber, etc.) that all have become more expensive lately, and have a lot of embedded energy in them (to extract and produce them). I don’t readily see a scenario where these materials can become cheap enough to allow a $1k car. If anything, they’re getting even more expensive.

    I buy appliances for my rentals. The prices for them bottomed out about 5-10 years ago, and are starting to be more expensive (inflation adjusted) due to higher steel and energy costs. The same might be true for the Nano. It might just be an all-time low.

  • avatar

    You might be right about an eventual $1k car, but I’m a bit more doubtful. High tech items have very little actual material cost; the costs to build are in the technology itself.

    Hey, you may be right (…but it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for…). I’ll be the first to admit the crux of my argument relies on a pretty big “IF”. That said, if Chevrolet produced a 1957 Bel-Air today, with the same materials it used in 1957, how much do you think it would cost? I’m pretty sure the rice in prices of steel since 1957 are the reason why your dashboard is made of plastic now. In other words, it’s happened before that rising prices in raw materials have failed to prevent a decline in the price of technology. People just got innovative. Why should that stop now?

  • avatar
    Redbarchetta

    Exactly why is steel so expensive, lack of smelting operations or something. Iron and coal are so abundant on this planet. I think we will see more innovation in the making and mining of the materials in the future and then see a dramatic drop in price. Sure I know China and India are gobbling up lots of steel but we live on a damn iron rock, over a million years worth at current consumption. We will probably see a switch in the future with the price of plastics going up because of oil and steel taking over its demand again, especially when we start producing more renewable electricity, less reliant on fossil fuels.

    I wish there was a bare bones affordable truck also. With a nice diesel 4 or 5 cylinder and a 5 speed. I would buy a dependable one in a second if it existed in the current market of gargantuan trucks.

  • avatar

    This “Car” would be fine for India or any warm weather area, but sure not for any part of Canada as we are the second coldest Country after Russia in the World, probably okay for most of the United Kingdom too! Can you imagine sitting in this vehicle in a Snow storm?

  • avatar
    oldowl

    The rise of globalized dealing in scrap–both legal and illegal–is reported in the January 14 issue of The New Yorker. The price of scrap steel has more than tripled since 2001; the price of scrap copper was up to four dollars a pound in 2006. This growing market affects what might be described as a recyclable car, which is not too far down the line from a disposable car.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    Just think, with all the money you save, you have plenty left over for spoiler, bodykit and dubs.
    http://i183.photobucket.com/albums/x204/dolo54/peoples_car.jpg

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Gentle Ted,

    Why not; with its rear engine, it would have great traction, just like the VW Beetle. Perfect for snowy parking lot hooning.

  • avatar
    Queensmet

    Samir,
    Steel costs less today in real dollars than it did in 1957. IPs have plastic and foam because plastic is much more moldable and lighter than steel and will crush under the force of your skull. Steel on the other hand is not as moldable, is heavier and will crush you skull on impact.

    If you want to go back to a steel IP go right ahead, but don’t complain when the cup holder rusts when you spill your coffee/coke/water.
    Oh yeah the 1957 Belair did not have a cup holder

  • avatar
    allen5h

    A car like this doesn’t need to do 75mph.

    Even if it could do this (downhill) the incredibly small wheels would be doing many, many RPMs and the incredibly cheap wheel bearings would overheat/fry by the time you get to the bottom of the hill. One 75 MPH downhill run could cost you 25% (or more) of the entire lifespan of your incredibly cheap wheel bearings.

  • avatar

    Great article. If the developing world is forced to choose the lesser of various evils, this is probably it.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    Why can’t we have a version of this car with a 60 hp, 70 ft-lb torque, 3 cylinder engine, 14″ wheels, and bearings that can handle a max speed of 75 mph (keep the manual steering, power steering is way overrated)? How much more could those upgrades cost? I mean really, is a set of proper bearings realy that expensive? I don’t see why these types of upgrades would raise the price of the car to more than $4,000. Add AC and stereo to the premium version for an additional $699. I actually think this car is pretty cute and with proper modifications would make a great commuter car or grocery getter, much better than the outrageously priced “Smart” car and certainly better than the little electric cars the City Parking Enforcement use. If GM is so forward thinking, why aren’t they providing Americans with some enhanced Tatas?

  • avatar
    jthorner

    With the price of fuel and new regulations I think we may see a revolution in small sized cars for the US market. Everything from cheap and cheerful to exquisite and luxurious. The Mini, Fit and Versa may just be the harbingers of a whole new wave of vehicles.

    Now if only the trucks from the prior wave don’t monster truck bulldoze them all down.

    Fourty years ago nobody would have imagined that smoking a cigarette would be considered a social taboo and/or illegal in so many settings in the USA. Ten years from now it may well be the same for commuting to work in a Suburban or F150.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    First, there are some issues that needs to be corrected.

    1. the 2500$ asking price is the absolute bare-bone minimum. Extras and upgrades will cost. Therefore, most people will pay a larger sum. It’s all about PR.

    2. Mr Tata is in it for the long run. He basically subsidises the car for the indian market, while the westerners will pay more. He can overcharge the car two to three times in Europe, and still have the cheapest car for sale.

    3. According to the Budd-System building principle, maximum output per factory is limited to 250 000 cars. Tata will build those cars on 100% output. It is a huge difference according to the principle between, say 70% and 100% output, as building costs are basically the same. Most car manufacturers are dependent on what the market can take, and if the market stipulates a lesser share than maximum output, they will take heavy losses. That’s why manufacturers over-produce, and sell the extra capacity at heavy discounts, e.g. fleet sales and fire sales. As the potential market for the Tata is up in the millions, Tata will sell every car they make. And fast.

    4. it speaks of great hypocrisy when westerners talk about “what about oil?” and “What about pollution?” Gas-guzzling SUV:s is a far greater problem for the global environment than getting a couple of million indians a set of wheels.

    5. 2500$ new bad car, or 2500$ used good car? Well, in India there is a market for used cars at that price, the problem is that there isn’t any to buy. In the US, there is more or less a car for every holder of a driving license. According to the US Bureau of Transit Statistics for 2004 there are 243,023,485 registered passenger vehicles in the US. That’s a lot of cars. A whole lot. It goes without saying that India does not have that kind of used car market available.

    The situation is not unlike that in Europe after WWII, when the market was screaming for cars and there was nothing to buy, because most used cars was simply used up, and most new cars were exported to create hard cash in trade balance.

    Therefore the Tata is an excellent solution for the indian market. And perhaps it will be for the rest of the world as well. If the technology allows it, someone will do. And it seems that Mr Tata saw a window of opportunity he simply could not resist.

  • avatar
    50merc

    Tata knows what it’s doing. The Nano has the potential to make history as another famed “People’s Car.” (Which is what Tata calls it. Again we see capitalism, not socialism, brings good things to the masses.) The key will be fixability. Either Tata must provide replacement parts at economical prices or the design must allow third parties to meet the need.

    Like many commenters, I’d love to have a Tata-like vehicle in the US. Or have the opportunity to buy something like the old Falcon pickup or original Datsun truck. But regulatory barriers (safety, emission, and others) force vehicles to be more complicated and expensive. If the Nano can meet US standards, it really will be a breakthrough.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    The Nano won’t be anywhere near American ‘standards’. It’s purely a car for the developing world which is perfectly fine. Oh, and merc I lost your email. Can you resend it?

    The automotive division of Tata is turning out to be a pretty amazing entity. Then again. It also has the financial benefit of it’s sister companies and I’m sure the governments (India is riddled with them) are working with Tata in a way similar to how the squeak wheels of American government got much of the Detroit grease in days of yore.

    Perhaps five to ten years from now we may see a Tata with electric power. Perhaps it will be sooner. I sense even Toyota will be very interested in a lot of the innovations that will come from the development and assembly of the Nano.

    Looks like the Indians are making a name for themselves even before they enter the North American market. Good deal!

  • avatar
    Revhed

    In 1909, Ford’s entry-level Model T cost $850. In 2008, the Ford Focus’ base price is $13,715. Priced in 1909 dollars, Ford’s entry-level U.S. model would cost $633.

    The $850 figure was at the start of Model T production when they were at their most expensive and produced in relatively small volume (although still cheap compared to other cars of the day) – By the 1920’s the T’s purchase price had fallen to $300, or around $3,400 in 2006 dollars.

    [source Wikipedia]

  • avatar
    casper00

    People might as well go to their nieghbor goodwill store and pick up a power wheel from the toys section…..if you’re luck you’ll find a 4×4 jeep…..all these crazy car concepts cars are a joke.

  • avatar
    garllo

    I can’t imagine being on the interstate and looking in the rear view mirror only to notice that it was filled with Peterbuilt grille! I tend to think that the passengers will be disposable also. Maybe they will give you one of these if you buy a new Chevy (ala Hugo)??


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