By on September 27, 2009

Nano no no? (courtesy pratyaylahiri.files.wordpress.com)

Why is a soon-to-be success story gathering dust at TATA dealers across India? Much like the initial growing pains of the Ford Model T, the $2000 Nano currently lies on waiting lists. Given the lopsided supply/demand and construction conflagrations with the government, I reckon enterprising Indians are flipping the Nanos living in parking lot limbo for profit. Still, my precious few moments sitting in somebody’s dusty Nano left me impressed. Not because it was a perfect machine: I saw automotive history in the making.

Rarely in America is a car designed around a vision: witness the overweight performance icons clawing for yesteryear’s glory, car based trucks and globally designed, badge engineered atrocities. Not with the TATA Nano: behold the homegrown hero.

The Nano is born from an undying need for affordable transportation in a country with a growing but repressed middle class. This group needs a family vehicle superior to tube frame rickshaws and 150cc motorcycles carrying four or more people. Yes, really: I saw a family of four riding a motorcycle through the congested, fast paced, life threatening streets of Bangalore. Make no mistake: a car at this price and size is the automotive embodiment of “If You Build It, They Will Come.”

It’s all about the lakhs; the Nano is designed around a price befitting the Indian working class. One look around the beast shows the good, bad and ugly of the situation.

Exterior fit and finish is respectable, until you spot the unfinished rear hatchback seams, hurriedly painted over. That stylish rear hatch is glued shut, so cargo is only accessible from the rear seat. And the list of price-conscious ideas doesn’t stop: three-lug wheels, single arm wiper blade and an adorable looking center exit exhaust.

But the expansive glasswork and exotic-ish side air extractors look more expensive than the asking price, making the VW Beetle references more believable. Even the brand honest taillights, aping the larger Indica sedan, might foreshadow an Indian styling hallmark for generations. So TATA got the branding thing down right, at no extra charge.

The Nano’s stoic interior is a successful implementation of common sense engineering. The interior polymers wouldn’t blush next to a Dodge Caliber, aside from the buffet of plastic flash casting on the dashboard’s nether regions and wavy A-pillar trim fashioned by a sharabi in a dark, dank corner of a sweatshop.  With cloth-trimmed and painted metal doors, an ergonomic center stack, rubber flooring and Corolla-like seating for five Americans (i.e., eight Indians), the Nano’s ambiance is acceptable by American work vehicle standards.

Options like power front windows and air conditioning might prove popular, but the center mount gauges and cubby-intensive dashboard make the Nano ready for an owner’s personal modifications: religious figurines and stickers (that Hindus, Muslims and Christians frequently install) need apply to the Altar of Nano.

But design on a budget has downsides: the driver seat’s footprint barely covers the engine’s oddly-placed battery, the engine’s under the rear bench (i.e., the heated seat comes standard) and the front cargo hold is hastily crammed with stuff: spare tire, gas filler and braking components. Anything larger than a bag of Basmati won’t fit. Even worse, opening the hood lets debris slide down the HVAC’s unprotected intake tube.  Conversely, four wheels with a roof beats two, with none.

But in India, size is a concern: the closer to motorcycle dimensions, the better. [NB: Nano means “small” in Gujarati.]

First, the doors take up the vast majority of the sheet metal, indicative of a design maximizing passenger space with a tiny footprint. There’s the 624cc, two-cylinder, all aluminum engine. It’s small by Indian car standards—the Maruti/Suzuki 800cc sedan comes next—but it’s a small-block Chevy relative to a Honda scooter. Which makes interstate travel possible, without resorting to filthy, crowded and unsafe buses.

Speaking of not dying, standard seatbelts (that nobody will use) and 7″ drum brakes keep the Nano’s occupants from turning into commercial-truck chapati: the stoppers are much larger than any scooter. Hell, the Nano’s brakes overshadow a rickshaw’s wheels. And with the modest increase in size, Indian traffic gets a little safer with a level playing field for all participants. Airbags be damned, TATA makes the safest vehicle at this price point.

To the naysayers: imagine America if there was no Model T.  Jaded Americans might scoff, but sovereign nations are just that. And middle-class Indians shall no longer soak in their own sweat, reeking of exhaust on their commute to the office. Witness the American dream, garam masala style: the Nano’s chances of stateside success rival that of a Slumdog becoming a Millionaire. This car makes an Aveo seem like an Accord; it has no business on 90% of American roads. Still, this is the right car and the right time. The Indian people shall now overcome.

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69 Comments on “The Truth about the TATA Nano...”


  • avatar
    Autosavant

    I am a big supporter of the Nano, because I realize what it has replaced, the unsafe at any speed motorbikes, noisy and polluting and not much more fuel efficient than the Nano at speed, and carrying an extended family precariously, like a bunch of grapes, holding on to the bike. This circus act is bad enough in an empty parking lot, but far worse in congested Indian highways.

    I also support the NAno because a lot of intelligent thought went to its design, it is not a cheapo stripped version of some POS Kia or Fiat, but a brand new purpose-made design.

    But I am strongly against Tata’s buying that POS JAg and Land Rover, these losers have been bleeding billions every year for decades and are just not capable of MAKING A BUCK, which is what this is all about!

  • avatar
    new caledonia

    Exactly right, Sajeev. Compared to US-spec cars, the Nano is an amusement-park ride, but for what I understand are typical Indian financial and road conditions, it’s perfect, and a darn sight safer than a rickshaw or motorcycle. It’s the next Model T.

  • avatar

    Thanks for providing these impressions, Sajeev. But how about a full road test? Any potential for hoonage?

    I need to see what I can do to get some owners involved in our Car Reliability Survey. Given the historical relevance of this car, I’d love to have some reliability stats for it.

    [url=http://www.truedelta.com/reliability.php]Car reliability research[/url]

  • avatar
    ZekeToronto

    The Nano is a terrific effort and I suspect they’ll sell millions of them.

  • avatar
    Autosavant

    Eventually, they will sell many more, but their production plans are quite modest for the first few years.

    There is room for improvement if they would replace the engine with a more fuel efficient one, even a small diesel, that would make it approach 100 MPG (!), but that would probably add to the cost.

  • avatar
    jnik

    Thank you, Sajeev, for the insight. For too long I thought of the Nano in American terms (IIHS crash tests, value vs. a used Civic) But for the Indian consumer, it’s perfect!

    A well written article.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    The Model T analogy is apt enough, but really, the Nano is a reincarnated Citroen 2CV. It’s what got the French off their bicycles and motorcycles, with about the same degree of amenities.

  • avatar
    Autosavant

    Paul,

    good point about the 2CV.

    The Nano, if production ramps up to make it a corolla or VW Bug like volume, will also greatly improve Indian Econ growth, imagine all these other industries related to the production and operation of autos.

  • avatar

    Hard to argue with good logic, no matter how funny the nano looks. I can’t help thinking though that India, with >11 times the US’ population density, would have been better off developing a really good public transit system and really good land use planning, and that driving is going to be like in bangkok.

  • avatar

    To the naysayers: imagine America if there was no Model T.

    Indeed. That is the core of it right there. I hope TATA sells a billion of them.

    –chuck

  • avatar
    Rix

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see many of the innovations copied by other automakers. Particularly glueing the body together. I imagine that reduces the cost of capital equipment dramatically. No welds, just epoxy.

    I think the Nano will sell by the millions. I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes the best selling car in the world.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Great Car! It avoids the conceit of developed countries that thinks that an inexpensive car developed for the US or Europe or Japan can serve the needs of the average family in the developing world. Imagine how long it would have taken us if some wealthier country decided that what we needed was a small Rolls Royce. The USA in 1908 needed the T. Germany and France in 1946 needed the Beetle and the 2CV. India now needs the Nano.

  • avatar

    Great article! Great comments!

    This car really fits into the traditions of Ford T, Fiat Topolino, Citroen 2CV, Renault 4CV, Fiat 500, Volkswagen Beetle, etc.

    It’s not “individual transport” vs. “public transport”, but a chance for individuals to overcome those inevitable shortcomings of public transport, especially in a country where it was (is?) not uncommon to get a train ticket only by bribery.

    Given the sheer size of India they simply cannot rely solely on public transport systems (how well-designed they ever may be).

  • avatar
    dwford

    It’s a grown up version of the Cozy Coupe!

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    What is the suspension system like in these? I figure they will need to be a lot like the 2CV’s for the exact same reasons.

    I understand that there’s a ton of political ill will brewing between the State, Unions and TATA. Do you think that that will be overcome to actually allow the Nano to be a success?

  • avatar
    Rix

    Were this to be imported into North America, it would require side impact beams, advanced emissions equipment,5 mph bumpers, antilock brakes and airbags, plus a bigger engine to haul around the extra equipment (and reach highway speed).

    It would look and cost like a 4-door Smart car.

    Plus, they might have to widen it a bit to seat five fat Americans.

    Question: Are side mirrors optional?

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    I’d still prefer a Hindustan Ambassador.

  • avatar

    I look at the Nano as brilliant piece of engineering. I have lived by this creed ever since entering Engineering School ( a very , VERY, long time ago; Hint: we used sliderules):

    Any engineer can design a waterpump for a Rolls Royce. Only a brilliant engineer can design a waterpump for a Chevrolet.

    Yah, I know. That was then. So replace ‘Chevrolet’ with Tata Nano”.

  • avatar
    MikeInCanada

    Does anyone know why they did not go with a small diesel (more expensive to produce, maybe) or even better – a CNG engine, just like the three wheelers in Delhi.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    I didn’t know that Nano actually meant anything in any Indian dialect, I always assumed the Nano name came from the nano- prefix used in terms like nanotechnology.

    This seems like a great car for the Indian people, and I hope it makes a lot of money for Tata motors. At the end of the day I don’t really care about the Nano as I’ll never drive one, but if Tata makes a boatload on it they can infuse enough money into Land Rover and Jaguar to help them return to their former glory, and that is worth thinking about.

  • avatar
    thirty-three

    A car like this doesn’t need much cargo space – you can tie things to the roof.

    You don’t need mirrors in India. Just paint “awaaz do” on the back (make noise) so that other drivers know what to do when they pass.

  • avatar
    dgduris

    Somewhere, Stan Mott is smiling! :)

  • avatar
    zaitcev

    Last I checked the sales figures confirmed that Indians saw a better value in Maruti than in Nano, even though Nano was cheaper. Moreover, most Nano buyers were buying the more expensive model with AC. This seems to put a dent into Sajeev’s argument. He even knows and names explicitly the Nano’s chief rival. Maybe it’s changing though.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    The car, built from imported raw materials (steel and aluminium) and run on imported oil (or CNG) will not help economic expansion in India.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    the nano will come with a diesel and cng/propane/lpg option soon

    and the SMART also has 3 lugs… no biggie

    the Nano just wouldn’t work in Western countries as regulations would kill it

    but still… i wouldn’t mind one as a curio

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Well, said, Sajeev. I look forward to the Nano’s success.

    The Detroit 3 could learn a little by incorporating some of the Nano spirit into their economy products.

  • avatar
    twotone

    If the Nano supply meets the middle-class demand, India will soon consume all of OPEC’s output.

    Twotone

  • avatar
    John Horner

    I’m not so sure that Nano is going to be the monster success projected in this piece. It may, in fact, have gone too far with the cheapness for even India’s market. Also, perhaps this is a 19th century answer to a 21st century problem.

  • avatar
    niky

    MikeInCanada :
    September 27th, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    Does anyone know why they did not go with a small diesel (more expensive to produce, maybe) or even better – a CNG engine, just like the three wheelers in Delhi.

    Diesel engines, at the base level, are still more expensive to make than gasoline engines of the same size, and require more emissions equipment to meet even India’s emissions standards.

    That’s why you launch with the gasoline model, because that will be your bread and butter model.

    PeteMoran :
    September 27th, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    The car, built from imported raw materials (steel and aluminium) and run on imported oil (or CNG) will not help economic expansion in India.

    It’s cheaper. That’s all that matters. China has to import oil, and that’s not hampering expansion.

    Of course, whether or not the Nano will be a big success is questionable, at this point… it’s still more expensive than a locally-produced motorcycle, and workers who commute on bikes relish the ability to weave through traffic and ignore traffic rules, common sense and their own sense of self-preservation. A Nano trucklet would be welcome, but still of limited market scope.

    The success of the Model T was not that it was a passenger car… but that it could be a passenger car, a cargo truck, a working truck, etcetera… the Nano, in its current form, lacks that modularity.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    China has to import oil, and that’s not hampering expansion.

    Unproductive personal spending on imported energy is highly negative for growth. The Chinese won’t allow it, nor does the Indian government like it. The US government has woken up to it finally, but (some of) the people think waste is their birth-right.

    Chinese officials I have met understand very clearly the risk increasing car ownership poses to productivity and energy use despite Bertel’s assurances. India is the same.

    As a hypothetical, if you have a population spending 100% of their income on domestic consumption. Then say, 5% of that consumption is now spent on imported energy you either need a 6% wages increase or 6% productivity improvement to maintain the standard of living. Won’t happen.

    This, not to mention the populace already complaining about spending priorities. Rather than roads, many in rural India appear to want working hospitals, clean water and schools.

    (Obviously, a highly simplistic overview).

  • avatar

    Thank you all for reading, thinking and commenting. Here are some follow up thoughts.

    ————————–
    Michael Karesh : Thanks for providing these impressions, Sajeev. But how about a full road test? Any potential for hoonage?

    Since it’s rear engined, you can expect fun from a worn set of tires and a whole lot of throttle in first gear. Too bad I couldn’t find a Nano outside of a TATA dealer when I was in India. Production is that limited right now.

    ————————–
    Paul Niedermeyer : The Model T analogy is apt enough, but really, the Nano is a reincarnated Citroen 2CV. It’s what got the French off their bicycles and motorcycles, with about the same degree of amenities.

    Great point, Paul. No doubt, France and India’s taste in transportation have interesting parallels that America and the Model T don’t quite match.

    ————————–
    David Holzman : I can’t help thinking though that India, with >11 times the US’ population density, would have been better off developing a really good public transit system and really good land use planning, and that driving is going to be like in bangkok.

    Nice idea, in theory. Considering the amount of corruption in Indian government, that’ll never happen. I heard (not so jokingly) that roads built in some municipalities require a 30% kickback to the local politician in charge, hence why roads are terrible just about everywhere in India. No, it’s the will of the people (and their vehicles) that will force the government to improve their public transportation infrastructure.

    ————————–
    dwford : It’s a grown up version of the Cozy Coupe!

    Maybe you’ll get the chance to visit India (if you haven’t already) because you really nailed it with that comment. You need to see one in person.

    ————————–
    Dimwit : What is the suspension system like in these? I figure they will need to be a lot like the 2CV’s for the exact same reasons. I understand that there’s a ton of political ill will brewing between the State, Unions and TATA. Do you think that that will be overcome to actually allow the Nano to be a success?

    The Nano has a 4-whl independent suspension, per Wikipedia. Expect suspension tuning on the plush side, given the quality of roads in America. 2CV and Model T all over again.

    Regarding the political ill will, it’s nothing that bags of bribe money can’t fix. Money and the right connections make everything right, especially in India.

    ————————–
    Rix : Question: Are side mirrors optional?

    I am pretty sure the “LX” trimmed Nano has them. Those two letters are like the Taurus LX trim levels of yesteryear. And I expect there will be more Nano “GL” and “L” models sold over the flagship “LX”, continuing with the Ford-speak analogy.

    ————————–
    thirty-three : You don’t need mirrors in India. Just paint “awaaz do” on the back (make noise) so that other drivers know what to do when they pass.

    Hopefully mirrors do replace horns: it’s too noisy in every major Indian city. Even the locals are threatening to make “No Horn” ordinances. And they damn well better.

    ————————–
    zaitcev : Last I checked the sales figures confirmed that Indians saw a better value in Maruti than in Nano, even though Nano was cheaper. Moreover, most Nano buyers were buying the more expensive model with AC. This seems to put a dent into Sajeev’s argument. He even knows and names explicitly the Nano’s chief rival. Maybe it’s changing though.

    It isn’t changing…yet. Production is constricted by problems outside of the assembly line, but once the government and the local population change their tune (i.e. get paid lots of money) I expect the Maruti 800 to go the way of the Hindustan Contessa.

    ————————–
    John Horner : I’m not so sure that Nano is going to be the monster success projected in this piece. It may, in fact, have gone too far with the cheapness for even India’s market. Also, perhaps this is a 19th century answer to a 21st century problem.

    I’m not tracking with you, John. The Venn diagram for Indian car and motorcycle buyers now has an overlapping circle named “Nano”. It sets a new price floor for Indian cars, and people with motorbikes I’ve talked to dream of owning a Nano. Not a scientific analysis, but you tell me how many of the blizzard of bikers wants their family in a Nano when the Monsoons hit. Or the heatwaves in Bombay. Or the brutal cold of the Hills in the North.

    There is no way they can make a car too cheap, there are far too many (with all due respect) “poor” people on motorcycles ready for an upgrade, without looking for a used, beat up Amby or Maruti 800.

    ————————–
    PeteMoran : Unproductive personal spending on imported energy is highly negative for growth. The Chinese won’t allow it, nor does the Indian government like it.

    I don’t know about that, at least in the short term. I think the Chinese might go for a Steel for Basmati trade agreement.

  • avatar
    Autosavant

    Dynamic88 :
    September 27th, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    I’d still prefer a Hindustan Ambassador.

    You can’t possibly be serious.

    PeteMoran :
    September 28th, 2009 at 2:00 am

    The scary thing about your posts is that all that econ nonsense is not a joke, but you seriously believe it. I cannot even START to educate you, and I doubt anybody else can or cares to. I do not even know where to start with your protectionist Lou Dobbs nonsense that somehow we need to produce everything locally for econ growth. This is as econ illiterate as saying 1+1=3.

    All; Think of the tremendous growth CHINA experienced when it grew its auto industry and auto sales (this year they are greater than the USA’s, and soon they will be much greater!), regardless if some stupid part or raw material had to be imported to CHina (and CHona imporets MOUNTAINS of raw materials and minerals!!!)

  • avatar
    Juniper

    The Nano will definitely change things in India. However, I still can’t get over the tiny wheels.
    All the cars this has been compared to have relatively large diameter wheels, which makes sense for bad roads. If India’s roads are as bad as described how will these small wheels fare in the long run? Am I missing something?

  • avatar
    Kristjan Ambroz

    There is another possibility how the Nano will not be as large a success as envisaged. If (and that is an if) Gordon Murray’s T25 actually gets sold to a serious car manufacturer soon and actually starts being produced within a couple of years, it might take much of the wind out of the Nano’s sails – it will be massively more sophisticated, fun, safe and clean, and while it will be more expensive as well, it will have all of the first world as a prime market, too.

    On top of that several domestic competitors are close to finishing their own, only insignificantly more expensive Nano competitors, Bajaj being one of them, for instance.

  • avatar
    Autosavant

    “Michael Karesh :
    September 27th, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Thanks for providing these impressions, Sajeev. But how about a full road test?”

    Let’s not be silly here! The Nano will NOT be driven on OUR highways, but under the daily INDIAN TRAFFIC conditions. WHich have NOTHING to do with the road tests as done by Car and Driver. In India, most of the time the Nano will be stuck in heavy traffic and in the best case will be moving at 30-40 MPH. WHo cares about road tests, brakes etc at such tiny speeds?

    PS the NAno does not look funny at all, it looks like “Son of Prius”, and even the 2nd gen prius does not look half bad if you see it up close.

    It is a very efficient design, but again, it was NOT designed for any of you in the OECD nations.

  • avatar
    Autosavant

    “Juniper :
    September 28th, 2009 at 8:18 am

    The Nano will definitely change things in India. However, I still can’t get over the tiny wheels.
    All the cars this has been compared to have relatively large diameter wheels, which makes sense for bad roads. If India’s roads are as bad as described how will these small wheels fare in the long run? Am I missing something?”

    Probably the speed, it will CRAWL most of the time. And the indian roads are not half bad in the cities, we probably have more potholes in Detroit, but it is the TRAFFIC and the speed that makes them intolerable for most Westerners.

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    Rix: Question: Are side mirrors optional?

    India drives on the left, so there may be one on the other side of the car in the photo.

    As far as I know, even to this day the U.S. doesn’t require outside mirrors (or “wing mirrors,” in some countries) on both sides. However, most are equipped with them.

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    Rix: Question: Are side mirrors optional?

    India drives on the left, so there may be one on the other side of the car in the photo.

    As far as I know, even to this day the U.S. doesn’t require outside mirrors (or “wing mirrors,” in some countries) on both sides. However, most are equipped with them.

  • avatar
    Lemmy-powered

    Will a Hayabusa motor fit in this car?

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ Autosavant

    somehow we need to produce everything locally for econ growth

    Re-read what I wrote. I was referring to personal income and how it is spent. Clearly the concept is slightly too difficult.

    I accept your apology and will try to explain again.

    For ANY country, personal income spent on imported energy is a direct loss to that economy, even worse when the discretionary spend would have been on otherwise locally productive value-added goods or services.

    Think about your own weekly budget; if the amount of money you spend on fuel goes up (price rise, inefficient car), that directly effects the available income you have for other spending.

    Now think of an Indian/Chinese citizen who has never before “needed” a car, but now they are paying to run one. Money is leaving their budget down a tailpipe and straight out of the country.

    Even in the USA it’s a problem.

    Until people told them that they “needed” cars, the Indians and Chinese were highly mobile and very productive on their own. Somehow they believe the nonsense that the personal car and associated industry brings wealth. Bull$hit.

    Think of the tremendous growth CHINA experienced when it grew its auto industry

    WTF? Automotive industries are a tiny fraction of the overall Chinese economy. They’re not doing so for local reasons; they’re getting ready to export every single one (if they can).

  • avatar
    Autosavant

    Moran:

    obviously I need to avoid reading any future posts by you, as you indeed have no clue, and replace a serious response by insults.

  • avatar

    Kristjan Ambroz : There is another possibility how the Nano will not be as large a success as envisaged. If (and that is an if) Gordon Murray’s T25 actually gets sold to a serious car manufacturer soon…

    That thing can only be a niche car in India because:

    1. Its not a Sedan, so its more like a rickshaw, and it will probably cost WAY more. Plus, you sit way too close to your (taxi, or private hire) driver, not exactly something you want in India. I love my people, but we don’t like being close to the “help” and so many Indians aren’t good with personal hygiene…and we all know it.

    2. If it isn’t Made In India, there’s a 60% (or more?) importation tax. And its right at 100% for used cars.

    FAIL.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ Autosavant

    replace a serious response by insults

    It’s alright – I already forgave you.

    Keep me on your Enemies List, I look forward to it.

  • avatar
    Autosavant

    Now, if I can get back to the excellent topic of this discussion, which was the Tata Nano and how it will greatly help the Indian Econ grow far more than it is currently growing. One does not need an Econs degree, only common sense, to imagine the thousands of service garages, labor-intensive outfits, that will be needed, to service the millions of these cars that will eventually be sold.

    PS the cost of raw materials is a PITTANCE compared to other costs in most economies.

    Do some very simple math: Even at $150 a barrel, a ton of oil costs PEANUTS, $1,000 or so(7 barrels to a ton) compared to a ton of any finished product. A ton of cars (ie, a subcompact) goes for $15,000, and a ton of digital cameras, at $200 a piece, and 8 ounces weight, even a short ton is 2,000 lbs, or 4,000 cameras, or $800,000!!!

    As for CHina, it exports very FEW of the cars it makes, most are consumed locally, plus it imports a TON of luxury euro cars, and Japanese cars as well. And it has two trillion $ surplus, while the US has a TON OF DEBT.

  • avatar
    dolorean23

    What fun! Thanks Sajeev, after driving the uber wide Hummer through many third world countries, I have to say the Nano is an extremely good idea. A couple things:
    1. What is the gas mileage for this little tyke? I would assume that highway mileage is not really as important for the Nano as city driving. I also assume it maxs out around 60 mph.
    2. What’s the pollution output? Obviously better than a puttering, non-restrictive motorbike, but still I didn’t see you mention a catalytic converter here.
    3. Will there be a Ute version? i.e., a Bongo type for the farmer?

    As for the economic argument, you are both right. Yes, money is flowing out with imported fuel and materials. However, money flows back in when you export the Nano to Sri Lanka, Vietnam, East Africa, etc. Also many businesses will open to service, maintain, and upgrade the Nano just like we’ve done with the VW bug.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    “Rarely in America is a car designed around a vision: witness the overweight performance icons clawing for yesteryear’s glory, car based trucks and globally designed, badge engineered atrocities. Not with the TATA Nano: behold the homegrown hero.”

    Well written and worthy of consideration by every suit in GM, Fiat/Chrysler and Ford.

  • avatar
    bryanska

    “One does not need an Econs degree, only common sense”

    Um… once you have advanced knowledge of a subject, the people with “common sense” are hilarious.

    Not that I am trying to flame either side of the argument between autoavant and pete moran. I don’t know enough to take a side. But yeah, the experts are experts.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Do some very simple math: Even at $150 a barrel, a ton of oil costs PEANUTS, $1,000 or so(7 barrels to a ton) compared to a ton of any finished product. A ton of cars (ie, a subcompact) goes for $15,000, and a ton of digital cameras, at $200 a piece, and 8 ounces weight, even a short ton is 2,000 lbs, or 4,000 cameras, or $800,000!!!

    That false comparison is so absurdly wrong that it would be worth ignoring had the same poster hadn’t made the claim that “one does not need an Econs degree, only common sense” in the same post.

    (And please, no need to regale us with more your ALL-CAPS OUTBURSTS. All-caps are the equivalent of shouting, and if you can’t make your points without yelling, then you should consider whether they were worth making in the first place.)

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Irvine

    I’ve seen responses suggesting that the Nano is a ‘no-go’ in the US because it does not meet safety standards. I wonder if it could find a place where folk currently use golf carts. i.e. Old folks estates, resorts, even golf courses. I have been soaked by a tropical downpour while sitting in a golf cart in the past.

  • avatar

    Spike_in_Irvine : I have been soaked by a tropical downpour while sitting in a golf cart in the past.

    That’s a good idea. The Nano is ideal for college/industrial/corporate campuses, too.

  • avatar
    Juniper

    some good additional info
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tata_nano

  • avatar
    msquare

    In terms of production methods and material procurement, the Nano is a breakthrough.

    In terms of a car, anything but.

    Previous people’s cars were major engineering milestones. None were fast, but all could boast something that made them cutting-edge performers to the extent that rich and not-so-rich saw their virtues and owned them.

    Model T. Model A. VW Beetle. Citroen 2CV. Mini.

    The 2CV was designed 70 years ago, has been out of production for almost 20 years and I’ll bet it will still ride and handle better than a Nano. So will a Renault 4.

    The thing that bothers me about the Nano is that it is not a very useful car. It can’t carry anything other than passengers. The rear engine all but renders a hatchback impossible and compromises the handling I’m sure. A 50-year-old Mini will run rings around it.

    Tata would have been better served with a front engine/front drive hatchback layout which would have freed up far more passenger and cargo space.

    Basically, take a Renault 4 and modernize it. But their engineers might be just as put off by the Not Invented Here syndrome as anyone else.

  • avatar

    Sajeev,

    Thanks Sajeev, for giving us a window on a very different culture in very different circumstances, and the car that may sweep their nation.

    It is a terribly funny looking car, but I think it’s still a far better piece of styling than the Dodge Caliber. It is very cute. The automotive equivalent of a toddler, with the tiny wheels and big body, the analogy being the big head and relatively small body of the toddler. If Mr. Rogers still had his neighborhood, you could easily see these things running around there.

  • avatar
    wsn

    PeteMoran :
    September 28th, 2009 at 2:00 am

    Unproductive personal spending on imported energy is highly negative for growth. The Chinese won’t allow it, nor does the Indian government like it. The US government has woken up to it finally, but (some of) the people think waste is their birth-right.
    ———————————-

    The ultimate “waste” of resources is “baby production.”

    China’s one child (if you have no money nor power) policy is the ultimate counter measure to the resource problem.

    But then, there is the debate whether “waste” is a birth-right.

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    @BuzzDog:
    As far as I know, even to this day the U.S. doesn’t require outside mirrors

    Incorrect. U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 111 requires an outside mirror on the driver’s side of all vehicles, and an outside mirror on the passenger side of most vehicles. Start reading at S5.2.

  • avatar
    Lokkii

    Until people told them that they “needed” cars, the Indians and Chinese were highly mobile and very productive on their own. Somehow they believe the nonsense that the personal car and associated industry brings wealth. Bull$hit

    Very smug in your ivory tower/Prius, Mr. Moran.

    Have you ever lived the life of having to carry everything you buy on a motorcycle? I have, and in a country with (one of the if not the best) public transportation system in the world, and in the city with the best of that system in that country. It’s hard work and unpleasant carrying all of your shopping home in the rainy season. Further, since you can’t carry very much, you do it every day. Now add herding a couple of little kids along with you into that rainy-day equation. If you want to tell me how wonderful the trains are, don’t forget a couple of things: 1) You have to walk to and from the station, and the poorer you are, the farther your home is from the station. 2) The train is always very crowded. You and your little kids are going to stand up all the way while carrying your packages.

    No, you don’t need a car. However, if you can afford one, you’re going to have one and I don’t want you stopping people “because you know what’s best for them and the environment”.

    I get so weary of you intellectuals telling people what they don’t need. I used to live in Williamsburg Virginia, and one of my friends used to always complain about how the city should stop all new construction….but not till after he’d built HIS new house.

    Now tell me again how you know that the people of India are happier walking in the rain, or riding 4 to a motorbike.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    Giving people cheap and affordable means to transport themselves in relative safety to wherever they want to go is one of the ultimate freedoms that an individual can have in the modern world, and if the Nano gets India more mobile then it’s done it’s job.
    And to those people who say it won’t succeed in the western market? I’m sure it won’t in North America where small cars are looked upon with disdain, but a European approved version is already in the offing. However the extra safety features/materials means it looks like it’ll cost at least double what the basic version costs. This is still very cheap, and if reliability proves to be good then I’m sure it’ll sell well all around the globe (bar North America!)

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ Lokkii

    How very sophomoric of you.

    You say they should have cars, but that does not mean it’s ultimately useful for the Indian economy (or China).

    I’m sure Indians and Chinese need protection from the weather and their kids enough to “need” a car. Clearly they can’t cope now. Wow.

    They’re being told there’s no other way to do it and that building/buying cars will bring wealth! Well done Western car interests. Perpetrate that failed “suburbia” model on more densely populated countries. Brilliant.

    I worked in the Uttar Pradesh area for 9 months in 2005 on a contract and I saw people; walking to school, walking to shops and using the train/bus to visit family. They seemed pretty happy to me. Not a word about “needing” a car. They share them on occasions to carry loads around. It works. They have other priorities, I assure you.

    @ Sinistermisterman

    Giving people cheap and affordable means to transport themselves in relative safety to wherever they want to go is one of the ultimate freedoms that an individual can have in the modern world.

    I don’t disagree, but people need to ask at what cost? A car is not an island; there are other decisions that have to be made to make a car based transport system “work”. It has implications for OTHER people (within their own borders). One person’s “freedom” is another person’s servitude.

  • avatar
    smallnsporty

    @Niedermeyer
    The Model T analogy is apt enough, but really, the Nano is a reincarnated Citroen 2CV. It’s what got the French off their bicycles and motorcycles, with about the same degree of amenities.

    I thought the same thing! And now for a video. Hopefully Tata’s ingenuity will improve the Jaguar and Land Rover brands as well.

  • avatar
    smallnsporty

    @Niedermeyer
    The Model T analogy is apt enough, but really, the Nano is a reincarnated Citroen 2CV. It’s what got the French off their bicycles and motorcycles, with about the same degree of amenities.

    I thought the same thing! And now for a video.

  • avatar

    PeteMoran : I don’t disagree, but people need to ask at what cost?

    And because the Nano’s target market is anything but wealthy, they use the car when they need to. Gas isn’t cheap in India, and I don’t see the Nano destroying Indian culture or their environment. The environment (air quality in urban areas) is already destroyed by unregulated diesel truck emissions. And probably a thousand other unregulated things that US Citizens take for granted.

    With all due respect, your question is more like armchair quarterbacking. If you’ve only lived in Uttar Pradesh, you are sadly mistaken about the transportation needs of the rest of the country.

    That’s like an Indian person telling you that he’s been to Montana and therefore understands the needs of NYC residents. No dice.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    “but people need to ask at what cost? A car is not an island; there are other decisions that have to be made to make a car based transport system “work”. It has implications for OTHER people (within their own borders). One person’s “freedom” is another person’s servitude.”

    That may be, but the world is imperfect and always has been. Mankind has lived with it since the start of recorded civilisation.
    Giving some people the aspirations and ability to own a car is one helluva step up from thinking it is something they’ll never be able to do. Besides what is the alternative?
    “India and the developing world can’t have cars because it may impoverish some people and also cause extra global pollution.”
    What do you think living in a western democracy does to millions of people around the globe every day?

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ Sajeev Mehta

    Firstly, I bow to your wider knowledge on India. I saw lots of the country passing through mostly. Big cities too. Not once did the people I met say their priority includes the private car.

    Secondly, I was responding to the breathtakingly patronising suggestion that the Indian people (or Chinese people) “need” cars because they can’t cope with the rain or getting their kids around.

    Thirdly, I do expect there is some genuine “need” in places, and Tata will do very well with that car. Better it be made locally too, no argument there. I saw Indian people sharing a Hilux/Tacoma to do things they needed – a far better solution.

    Fourth, the Indian and Chinese people are being told they “need” cars in true Western marketing style. They’re being told it brings economic success and wealth for all. That claim is bogus, dangerous, nonsense.

    Fifth, Indian and Chinese energy officials I have dealt with are extremely concerned to avoid wholesale importation of oil energy. A growing, but low disposable income economy will not benefit from personal spending on energy that gives no value-add. (Burn it out the tail-pipe).

    Six, I don’t prescribe to the “I have the oil in the West, you can’t have it” crap. In fact, just the opposite. I say, stop wasting so much of the stuff in the West.

    (What is an Armchair Quarterback?)

  • avatar

    PeteMoran : Secondly, I was responding to the breathtakingly patronising suggestion that the Indian people (or Chinese people) “need” cars because they can’t cope with the rain or getting their kids around.

    Though unintended, this statement paints/pigeonholes you as a bossy Westerner who thinks “we” can have it all and they cannot. Because that’s exactly what you are implying: we aren’t talking about Explorers for all, just a 600cc car with a roof and big brakes, instead of a 150cc bike.

    Indians in large metropolitan areas deserve a higher standard of living, that’s all there is to it.

    —————–
    Thirdly, I do expect there is some genuine “need” in places, and Tata will do very well with that car. Better it be made locally too, no argument there. I saw Indian people sharing a Hilux/Tacoma to do things they needed – a far better solution.

    And I’ve almost never seen a Hilux/Tacoma in the parts of India I’ve visited: major metropolitan cities like Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, etc and the highways connecting them to smaller, nearby towns. In fact, the Nano would be far better than those trucks, as it sips less fuel and can still do 80% of the Toyota’s tasks.

    —————–
    Fourth, the Indian and Chinese people are being told they “need” cars in true Western marketing style. They’re being told it brings economic success and wealth for all. That claim is bogus, dangerous, nonsense.

    Except India’s social/infrastructure/personal progress since privatization (in the mid 1990s?) is almost irrefutable proof of that. Granted the coffers of Mr. TATA are the largest beneficiary, but maybe he’ll pull a Rockefeller in his autumn years and do the right thing with his acres of money and amazing resources.

    But still, a rising tide lifts all boats: being a servant to a rich Indian person may suck, but odds are they’ll put your kid in good school to ensure you stay loyal to them. I think if you look at the BIG PICTURE here, you will draw a similar conclusion to the TATA Nano.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ Sajeev Mehta

    paints/pigeonholes you as a bossy Westerner who thinks “we” can have it all and they cannot.

    What?!?! Lokkii suggested that Indian’s can’t cope, therefore they “need” cars. I responded to that. Patronising.

    Indians in large metropolitan areas deserve a higher standard of living, that’s all there is to it.

    Sure, no problem. Excellent. Nothing I have said would suggest otherwise. Doing it via the “car” path (like the USA), for India and China will be ruinous.

    There is nothing like the oil energy they require. It’s a fact. No magic is going to help that. We’re all going to suffer the consequences.

    Besides that, the Indian people I have met don’t talk about private cars; they talk about electricity, water, schools/education, health, food security, shelter improvements, cricket. Where should those rate on the “standard of living”???

    And I’ve almost never seen a Hilux/Tacoma

    Eh? Hilux copies made by Tata in fact. I was tempted to say “ute” and Truck has a different meaning in both India and the USA. Hilux/Tacoma was the easiest way to say it. They were everywhere, Willys Jeeps and Tata trucks too.

    Except India’s social/infrastructure/personal progress since privatization (in the mid 1990s?) is almost irrefutable proof of that.

    None of it driven by taking money from private disposable income, burning it down a tailpipe, for zero value-add. That was my point to start with.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ Sajeev Mehta

    Reference for you (I have many others to bore you with);

    Automobile Dependency and Economic Development

    “…. automobile dependency reduces economic development and competitiveness by increasing transportation costs, particularly since such expenditures tend to divert large amounts of capital from more economically productive uses.”

    “Although automobile use often increases with wealth, there is little evidence that automobile dependency causes economic development. Economic growth rates tend to be highest before a region becomes automobile dependent, after which growth rates usually decline. Automobile dependency can be considered a luxury consumer good which does not itself increase productivity or economic development.”

  • avatar

    Pete, come on now, you really can’t be serious. This reference material is full of inapplicable theory and discussion of rational changes for highly industrialized nations. Its relevance to India, its repressed middle class and the Nano is pretty much non-existent.

    The divide between Rich and Poor(ish) in India is drastic enough to make most of these ideas impossible to sell/implement to the government. (Some Indians may beg to differ with that point, but hey, that’s just my opinion.)

    There’s an Indian counterpoint to most of their subjects, the best example is their “Increase road and parking expenditures” section. The Indian government never provided a decent transportation infrastructure for citizens. The roads are terrible. Train (not the first class stuff we enjoyed as American visitors) and bus travel is filthy. Police and traffic control is non-existent. So many people have drivers because they cannot park their car anywhere.

    Its been like this for decades, and the only thing that will change it is the Nano: the way to grab the government’s ear (see my previous 30% kickback statement) and FORCE them to provide better services for their citizens. And force the Indian upper class to pay more taxes too…but that’s only a guess.

    They also mentioned increased traffic congestion: perhaps you haven’t seen the swarm of bikes clogging roadways, cutting people off, and cutting to the front of cars at a red light to get ahead. I counter that the Nano will reduce congestion because you cannot drive it like a motorcycle.

  • avatar

    PeteMoran : What?!?! Lokkii suggested that Indian’s can’t cope, therefore they “need” cars. I responded to that. Patronising.

    Whoops, looks like I misread that and screwed the pooch. Sorry about that.

    None of it driven by taking money from private disposable income, burning it down a tailpipe, for zero value-add. That was my point to start with.

    Zero value add? Prove it.

    Sure, no problem. Excellent. Nothing I have said would suggest otherwise. Doing it via the “car” path (like the USA), for India and China will be ruinous.

    For some reason you don’t think Middle Class Indians deserve a roof over their head and four wheels with brakes for a modest bump up in price and down in fuel economy. That amazes me, because it is such an significant increase in their standard of living.

    What really shocks me is someone who has visited India (even UP) wouldn’t see the upside to a citizen having a tiny car instead of a bike.

    Besides that, the Indian people I have met don’t talk about private cars; they talk about electricity, water, schools/education, health, food security, shelter improvements, cricket. Where should those rate on the “standard of living”???

    I agree with you 100%, though when Indians talk to me they almost naturally get excited about cars. That’s thanks to TTAC…but your points are right, too bad it goes beyond the scope of my Middle Class moving up to better/safer transportation. Fact is, they don’t have what we do.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ Sajeev Mehta

    This reference material is full of inapplicable theory and discussion of rational changes for highly industrialized nations.

    Actually it compares the productivity of developed and developing nations/cities. Oh well.

    Zero value add? Prove it.

    Well, it’s a bit more complex than a simple blog, but it’s in that paper.

    For some reason you don’t think Middle Class Indians deserve a roof over their head and four wheels with brakes for a modest bump up in price and down in fuel economy.

    Where have I said that? I simply tried to point out that having more cars diverts private disposable income (especially imported energy) away from economic expansion.

    I also wanted to counter the argument that having a car based economy somehow delivers wealth. It’s a nonsense myth perpetrated by Western interests mostly, especially in China.

    What really shocks me is someone who has visited India (even UP) wouldn’t see the upside to a citizen having a tiny car instead of a bike.

    Because of the above, but yes, you’re right. The Nano is preferrable, but it won’t bring wealth in-and-of-itself.

    Also, it seems incredibly patronising (and oh so Western) to me to say “Oh, that motorbike/bicycle must be terrible, why don’t you buy a car instead?”


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