By on August 3, 2011

Tata’s Nano was launched with much fanfare in 2009, as the world’s cheapest car and a symbol of India’s automotive and economic aspirations. But first Tata had problems with its factory, which was to be built on land [allegedly] stolen from local farmers. Then, early last year, the cars started catching fire and refused to stop. Then finance was the issue, and when Tata revamped its finance, advertising and retail presence, it looked like things were beginning to improve. It turns out the bump was short-lived. After hitting 5k monthly sales last December, volume has fallen again dropping to 3,260 units in July (1/8th the volume of its main rival the Maruti Suzuki Alto) according to, which reckons

Startlingly, the most fuel efficient petrol car in the country, which is the most inexpensive too isn’t finding takers in a market troubled by high petrol prices and rising loan interest rates, that is clearly favoring cheaper and more fuel efficient cars… the market isn’t biting and the Nano sales have begun the downward spiral, this time continually.

So, what’s Tata going to fix to get its attempt at “India’s Model T” back off the ground. How about “everything”?

The crew at indiancarsbikes think they know what the Nano’s problem is:

a diesel engined Nano is the need of the day if Tata intends to reverse the Nano’s fortunes

A diesel engine is supposed to arrive by the end of this year, and could get up to 95 MPG (non-EPA)… although likely only with a CVT transmission that is also supposed to debut late this year. And sometime in 2012 a hybrid drivetrain could appear, although again, the Nano is already the most efficient car on the Indian market… it’s unlikely that more efficiency is the missing ingredient. In fact, if I had to guess, I’d say more standard equipment might be the key to improving sales.

But instead of upgrading the Nano’s equipment, a styling change could be coming, courtesy of Tata design boss (and designer of the new-look Jags) Ian Callum. Tata’s boss of Indian operations PM Telang was cagey about Tata receiving styling assistance from the Jaguar team, but  he admits

They (JLR) are part of the Tata family, so some idea exchange will always happen

So, what’s Telang’s solution? Not much.

Nano has a different clientele, people who perhaps never thought they could own a car. That’s why the decision making process is a little more complex as that’s a big step for them. It’s a very unconventional vehicle, so it’s taking some time in the market

Ultimately, it seems that, before radically altering the Nano, Tata will see if other markets take to it with more enthusiasm. Exports have begun to neighboring Sri Lanka and Nepal, and talks are under way with the Indonesian government about production for the South East Asian markets. And Telang says talks are underway with other Asian countries as well as Latin American countries about exports and eventually CKD assembly, telling the WSJ [sub]

Looking at the potential, we can think of importing the car first and later assembling it in those countries. At present we are considering many countries for assembling the Nano, but there is no timeline

Whereas the Model T caught the public’s attention nearly instantly, the Nano faces a lot more competition and very different world. Tata certainly thought that selling a cheap car in fast-growing  developing would be like printing money, but the reality turns out to be much more difficult.

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19 Comments on “Flopping Tata Nano Prompts Talk Of Overseas Production, Styling Changes, Diesel and Hybrid Options...”

  • avatar

    Maybe putting the steering wheel on the correct side would help?

  • avatar

    For sure. Plus a sardine tin type roll-down canvas top, as the 2CV.

  • avatar

    I can’t believe none of the previous commenters worked in the word “bodacious”.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    They can’t sell their low buck $#!+box at home, so they’re going to attempt a cross border Hail Mary: why do I think this still won’t work?

    In a related tangent, which automobiles have enjoyed greater success outside their home market, a sort of “Automotive Killer B” list? I know VW’s Beetle is at or near the top of that one, and I believe FIAT’s 127 also ended up selling more units outside Italy, though it was no slouch in its home market.

    • 0 avatar

      Beetle and 127 lived on for a very long time outside of their home market otherwise they would be so high on that list.

      ps. What do you consider the home market. Where the home of the company is or for which market the car was designed? I ask this because of the Camry.

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        I would call the home market where the parent company’s HQ is located, or where the original model was designed/engineered. As you mentioned, this would definitely make Toyota’s Camry a bigger success outside Japan’s borders, though to be fair, there should be some distinction between the success of a nameplate and its evolving chassis versus total sales for a particular chassis, as evinced by the almost static nature of the Beetle and 127 during their cookie cutter years.

        It has me wondering just how heavily mutated the Nano’s chassis would need to become in order to meet even minimum safety standards in Europe or the Americas: it might not have much in the way of cross compatibility to the original design.

  • avatar

    “the cars started catching fire and refused to stop”

    I wonder how big a role plain ol’ fear is playing in Indians’ decisions not to buy this car. For a vehicle that was supposed to be safer than a motorbike, the Nano had some awfully nasty teething problems.

  • avatar

    Perhaps Tata underestimated the aspirations of the average scooter or motorbike owner in India. It’s possible that they made the Nano too cheap and that potential buyers are holding off to buy what they consider a real car – not that the Maruti/Suzuki Alto is an S Class Mercedes, but it’s a more substantial vehicle than the Nano.

    Flopping Tatas, eh? How about putting some tassels on ’em?

  • avatar

    The problem with the Nano has been that it was designed around a simple marketing concept of a “1-lakh” car. Which obviously it isn’t anymore.

    A “one lakh” car certainly is an impactful product description, especially taken within the perspective of the Indian numerical significance of being a mere 100k rupees.

    But then again, designing a car based on this novel idea means that the car needs to be designed within those abstract constraints. Meaning that instead of building the most best affordable car possible for the Indian market, it became a car that was designed on that marketing concept as a goal post.

    Which may explain much of the quality issues that the Nano has had, and the less than ideal reputation it has built. In comparison, Tata Ace, that has a less catchy ~2 lakh price, has been a massive success. Its sold a half million units in 5 years.

    In many ways it has many familiarities with how the Veyron was conceived; though at completely opposite ends of the spectrum. The Veyron, much like the Nano, was conceived under Piëch with a marketing catchphrase first in mind over engineering considerations; 1001 hp and 400 km/h top speed. While the results of the success differs between cars, both cars have also becoming iconic exactly because of those abstract and extreme marketing milestones.

    • 0 avatar

      I was thinking about the same thing. The Ace was a hit and it’s jitney derivative, the Magic, for carrying passengers has been well received. They’re just as underpowered as the Nano, probably share components with it as well.

  • avatar

    They could always follow Aston Martin’s lead and create a Jaguar version :^). Since it’s derived from a small Tata, the best name would be the A-Type! I wonder if they’ll use silicon filled bumpers to improve the crash rating?

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Nano: “The ultimate suicide machine”

  • avatar

    Great forward visibility!

  • avatar

    Speaking of Indian iron. . .

    Just yesterday I was going through the link provided here at TTAC and while doing so I happened upon the Royal Enfield brand of motorcycles.

    Not to go on too long about bikes on a car blog, for those who may not be familiar with it, the Royal Enfield company holds an almost unique position in today’s high-tech and hyper-speed moto market in that it is a very old original design still made essentially to the same basic mold, with only important improvements in metallurgical, envrionmental, and safety issues necessarily being incorporated.

    (The Russian-manufactured Ural sidecar rig can also claim a similar pedigree, and I suppose that Harley-Davidson could also be included as well, but certainly not to the same degree.)

    The design for this particular model – called the Bullet, and which with just a few minor variations in the line-up of only four or five models is the only one the company has sold since its inception – goes clear back to the 40’s in England, and after the manufacturing rights and tooling and all of that were bought-up and a factory built (originally for WW2 war-time concerns) , it has been produced in the land of Gandhi right up to today.

    Indeed, with the 2011 models, the bikes are now certified for sale in the Golden State, with its much stricter envrionmental requirements.

    (the Cali. bikes include a larger and not-too-bad looking catalyst exhaust and a very ugly black charcoal filter box and all of its plumbing hung right out on the front frame downtube, completely ruining the lines in this area.)

    And the only reason that I am bringing all of this up is that while perusing the specs on the Enfield website I became somewhat intrigued and wanted to take a closer look, and so I punched-in my zipcode and hit the ‘dealer locator’ button for one here in the L.A. area, and, well, what do you know!

    There’s one a scant 4 miles away from me right here in Van Nuys!

    It was a nice day and I had nothing else to do, so I hopped on my velocipede and rolled on over. . .

    Actually, these Enfields are being sold and serviced by a scooter dealer, operating out of a shop in a place somewhat whimsically called NoHo – short for an artsy part of North Hollywood, and nod to the term SoHo, perhaps – and it was really just a kind of enlarged hole-in-the-wall kind of place, like most motorcycle dealers used to be back in the day.

    (The first Kawasaki Mach lll that I ever saw was in a Kawi dealer back in 1969 that was actually being operated out of a tiny lawn mower shop in Granada Hills, Calif. . . my, how things have changed. . . !)

    So I go riding up to this scooter place out on Vineland Blvd, expecting to have to go in and work my way around the salesfolk just to be able to perhaps sit on one of the bikes; but, as I rode up to the place, there was a 2011 C5 Bullet Classic model in the cool metallic green color that caught my eye on the website – and it was sitting right out in the small parking area next to the main building.

    So I parked my bike and walked over to take a look. . .

    Naturally, I didn’t exactly see what I expected to from my exposure to it from the pics, and the color was a bit lighter and less captivating in the steel than online, but in was still pretty impressive just the same.

    Nobody came out to ‘help’ me right away, and so, not knowing what to expect, I gingerly swung a leg over the old relic to try it on for size.

    And right away I was surprised mainly at the kind of bulbous overall shape of the thing.

    This bike is a single cylinder 500cc job, and I am quite familiar with the excellent Yamaha 500 single in its various forms, and I was subconsciously expecting this to be something like that, but this was not the case at all.

    Rather, it seemed to be a curious throwback to the very dawn of modern motorcycle design, and this and a couple of other Enfields have been one of the main modes of motorized transport in India, and there are some very interesting reports and stories concerning them online.

    And even though the bike looked pretty good overall as far as fit and finish and the like, it seemed a bit crude in certain details, with some roughness on some of the switchgear castings, and even a couple of less than perfect frame welds.

    I mention this not to try to desparage it in any way, but this kind of thing would never do for even a cheapy Asian model, and the out-the-door price on this particular bike was around $7,000.

    I once got a pretty nice BSA 441 Victor with no lights but in otherwise very good condition at a garage sale for $40 or so, and since that design was very close to the Enfield, I am familiar with the pleasures and pains of the old-school thumper design philosophy, and this bike is the last stalwart adherent to that way of thinking.

    But in a broader sense, and to tie all of this into the Nano, India seems to be in the same position that Britian was in the early 60’s with the introduction of the original Mini in relation to its cycling industry.

    That revolutionary design – and of course the world-wide storming of the Japanese bikes at around the same time – was the final death-knell to virtually all of the long standing ‘cottage industry’ cycle manufacturers that kept the Brits rolling merrily along back then, and though the situation in India now is much different than it was in Britian then, there is somewhat of a parallel in this sense, and so it is perhaps a bit puzzling as to why the Nano may not be succeeding in the same way.

    Of course, the Mini made it because, it its own way, it was as much fun and nearly as economical and probably as reliable as any commuter bike that was available at the time of its introduction, and it quickly became the ‘in’ thing right away.

    Timing had a lot to do with it too, and the car became a fad beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.

    But the horrid-looking Nano is not engendering the same kind of celbrity, and reading of several of them mysteriously catch fire is not encouraging; and Tata’s plans to export it may see it going the way of the Smart and, increasingly, the Fiat 500, at least here in the US, should they ever attempt it.

  • avatar

    The problem is the Nano is cheap… and aspirational.

    In fact I’d go so far as to call it insulting.

    Indian metallurgy billionaire Tata sr. can go to hell.

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