"In Many Ways, the Marriage Between the Indian Middle Class and the Automobile Culture Has Been Disastrous."

in many ways the marriage between the indian middle class and the automobile culture

The NYT’s opinion page has a provocative piece by Siddhartha Deb today. It explores the role that automobiles play in the class dynamics of a modernizing India. Deb writes

Until the mid-1990s, cars had been mainly available in two models in India: the unglamorous, onion-shaped, sturdy Ambassador and the more aerodynamic Maruti 800. Both were produced by state-run companies (though the latter had a partnership with the Japanese company Suzuki). But when India began to open its markets, a wide range of cars became available, just as rising middle-class incomes and cheap consumer credit made buying such cars feasible.

In many ways, the marriage between the Indian middle class and the automobile culture has been disastrous. Roads remain awful, drivers continue to be erratic, and traffic in cities like Delhi and Bangalore is worse than ever. And yet the car has become deeply enmeshed with upward mobility, while also complicating that mobility. In the India of the Ambassador and the Maruti, the distinction was largely between those who owned cars and those who did not. In the India of Ford, Fiat, Hyundai and Mahindra — where there is even a very cheap indigenous model called the Tata Nano — distinctions are parsed in terms of the model one owns.

Drom the Bollywood producer’s suit-matched Bentley Continental to a struggling middle class couple’s divorce over the wife’s aspirations to a red Mitsubishi Pajero, Deb documents the cars, and other forms of transportation, which help define the emerging class order in India. It’s a brief but intriguing glimpse into the social impact of cars in a rapidly-growing economy, and it illustrates how cars both affect and reflect the fabric of social order. Give the whole thing a read if you’ve got a spare minute.

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  • Arun Arun on Sep 30, 2011

    As an Indian who recently immigrated to the US of A, I wholeheartedly agree with the article. Hell, I am guilty of those very same emotions/ aspirations. My dad has a Maruti Suzuki Alto and boy did I ever want him to 'upgrade' from that car! The association of a owning a car with upward mobility is also the reason why the Nano hasn't as big a success as hoped for. When the lower strata buy a car, they want to show the world that they 'have arrived' and the Nano is NOT the car that can send that message.

  • CJinSD CJinSD on Sep 30, 2011

    “In many ways, the marriage between the [insert place name] middle class and the automobile culture has been disastrous.” This is an NYT article mad lib.

  • Snickel Fritz I just bought a '97 JX 4WD 4AT, and though it's not quite roadworthy yet I am already in awe of it's simplicity and apparent ruggedness. What I am equally in awe of, is the scarcity of not only parts but correct information regarding anything on this platform. I'm going to do my best to get this little donkey back on it's feet, but I wouldn't suggest this as a project vehicle for anyone who doesn't already have several... and a big impressive shop with a full suite of fabrication/machining/welding equipment, and friends with complimentary skillsets, and extra money, and... you get the idea. If you don't, I urge you to read up on the options for replacing anything on these rigs. I didn't read enough before buying, and I have zero of the above suggested prerequisites... so I'm an idiot, don't listen to me. Go buy all of 'em!
  • Bryan Raab Davis I actually did use the P of D trope, but it was only gentle chiding, for I love old British cars of every sort.
  • ScarecrowRepair The 1907 Panic had several causes of increased demand for money:[list][*]The semi-annual shift of money between farms and cities (to buy for planting and selling harvests)[/*][*]Britain and Germany borrowing for their naval arms race[/*][*]San Francisco reconstruction borrowing after the 1906 earthquake and fire[/*][/list]Two things made it worse:[list][*]Idiotic bans on branch banking, which prevented urban, rural, and other state branches from shifting funds to match demands. This same problem made the Great Depression far worse. Canada, which allowed branch banking, had no bank failures; the US had 9000 failures.[/*][*]Idiotic reserve requirements left over from the Civil War which prevented banks from loaning money; they eventually started honoring IOUs illegally and started the recovery.[/*][/list]Been a while since I read up on it, so I may have some of the details wrong. But it was an amazing clusterfart which could have been avoided or at least tamed sooner if states and the feds hadn't been so ham handed.
  • FreedMike Maybe this explains all the “Idiots wrecking exotic cars” YouTube videos.
  • FreedMike Good article! And I salute the author for not using the classic “Lucas - prince of darkness” trope, well earned as it may be. We all know the rap on BL cars, but on the flip side, they’re apparently pretty easy to work on (at least that’s the impression I’ve picked up). On the other hand, check the panel fits on the driver’s and passenger’s doors. Clearly, BL wasn’t much concerned with things like structural integrity when it chopped the roof off a car designed as a coupe.
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