Ever since the cheapest car in the world was unveiled at the 9th Auto Expo on 10 January last year in New Delhi, the Tata marvel has raised eyebrows all across the planet. Nano or “small” in Gujarati seems to be the next revolution in automobile history after Ford’s Model T and the Volkswagen Beetle. The car is small yet big, cheap yet valuable and is seen as the next big thing that could totally change the direction in which the automobile industry moves, at least in the developing world. It was a brainchild of Ratan Tata himself who was moved by the sights of Indian families of four moving on two wheelers. With the Nano now out, the question arises as to its repercussions will it raise the standard of living for millions of Indians and more across the planet or will it prove to be flash in the pan or even worse, an environmental disaster? Is Ratan Tata the Henry Ford of India or just a businessman desperately seeking to salvage his company?
The Big Nano
Although the car costs Rs. 100,000 only, that does not mean that the car is merely a chassis on wheels. The car has better but pricier models that have features like AC and heater and is big enough for people as tall as nearly 2 m to be comfortably seated. Thus, it has something in it for everyone. The cheap cost makes it accessible to a huge market. Aspiring Indians who have gained wealth from the steady rise of the Indian economy but been somewhat hit by the worldwide financial turmoil have flocked to Nano showrooms. There is little doubt that the Nano will replace polluting second hand vehicles and overburdened two wheelers. The Nano has the same spirit of bringing the luxuries of having a car to as many people as possible, just like Ford did with his Model T exactly a century ago and put thousands of Americans on wheels. Analysts and experts claim that the Nano will usher in a new era in the industry where the mantra will be ‘smaller, lighter, cheaper”.
There is fear that the Nano will increase congestion on the Indian roads and moreover, it will lead to worsening environmental situations in the cities and towns. I believe that this fear is mere speculation and the result of initial reluctance to embrace something as revolutionary as the Nano. First of all, when the US and Europe were rapidly industrialising and their citizens were getting around on fuel guzzling cars, little thought was given to the environmental impacts. Surely, the crisis is more imminent today but then the Nano subscribes to all environmental and emissions standards in India. Why should we as a nation not have the right to put our previously poor and underprivileged on wheels just like the rest of the world?
Furthermore, the Nano also seeks to replace older and more polluting vehicles that are still on the roads because people cannot afford newer ones. If the Nano can be successful in replacing aging two, three and four wheeler vehicles on Indian roads, the situation will be better than it is today. To the experts that cite safety reasons to disparage the Nano, I put forward the question about who is safer on Indian roads – a family crowding on a two wheeler, a family riding in an aged second-hand vehicle or a family riding in the Nano? The answer seems obvious, and I believe that India should rise to the occasion and embrace the Nano as the best solution to its needs.
Tata Motors has also kept in mind the needs of the future and there are speculations that the company will be expanding into the American and European markets with Nano having more facilities. To quell the rising environmental concerns the company has unveiled plans to develop Nanos running on electricity and other alternate fuels. If this is made possible within the coming years, the Nano may actually be able to help the cause of the environment by being the cheapest eco-friendly car rather than put the planet in peril as some experts believe it may. The small Nano definitely has a big punch to it and it lends credence to the saying “Good things come in small packages”.