If there’s one car that could change it all, it is the Nano, the brainchild of the eminent Indian entrepreneur Ratan Tata, which rolls out today. With an ex-factory price tag of one lakh rupees, customers can expect to own a car at around 1.2 lakh rupees. That translates to around $3,000, which means that the Nano is the cheapest car in the world. It’s being billed as the people’s car, the car that can put India on wheels. However, there seems to be a certain group of people who find it unacceptable that the Nano could change the automobile industry in India, and maybe even radically affect the international market. They do not trust the safety aspects of the vehicle, they crib about its lack of comfort, and they doubt if it meets emission norms. And all this even before the car has been released for the general public, and before anybody has test-driven it.
Now I wonder, do you expect a car that costs about twice as much as a bike to come with all the features of a Benz? Hell no, you don’t. If you were to buy a car for such a low price, you’ll know that it’s an economy car. The suspension is bound to be feeble, and you’ll have to make do with less plush seats than what you imagined your fantasy childhood car would have. The air-conditioning is optional, and will be rudimentary. Coming to the evironmental impact the car could have, Tata has stated that it has designed the Nano to meet the Bharat III emission norms, which is not bad at all. You would do the environment more of a favour by using recycled paper than by chastizing the Nano for emissions.
Talking about safety, the Nano has, atleast as its manufacturer puts it, gone through a full frontal crash test. Come on, it will be safer than a motorbike. However, the main danger the Nano poses is not to its consumers, but to the entry level car and the two-wheeler segments. If it hits off with the people, it can ruin the market of the Maruti 800, the car that presently is the cheapest in the country at around 200k. The two-wheeler market will also be affected, as the Nano will be within the reach of a substantial fraction of potential two-wheeler buyers. And I think it is this threat that is the cause of so much speculation about this maverick automobile. This Wired Magazine article gives the only credible drawback I came across: that the Nano would further congest the already crammed metropolises. I agree, but it could also induce a positive effect: better roads, more efficient parking systems, and perhaps also smoother trafic flow by eliminating most two-wheelers.
The Nano has come through a lot of political and economic turmoil, and it has come clean. More than anything, it is a victory for the Industry. As for how it’ll fare, I think we should leave that to the future owners of the people’s car. When I asked my Dad whether he’d like to buy the Nano, he replied with a straightforward “no”. He felt it would be a better deal to buy a car like the refurbished Alto, which is priced higher than the Nano but is far ahead on performance. Likewise, I feel most customers will be aware of what this car offers and what it does not. But if there’s one thing it does offer, it is the realization of a cherished dream of many-a-man who rides a two-wheeler for 20 kms everyday to work: the dream of riding his own car.