Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Here comes "the people's car"!

Think small. Think very small.

Then think big. Very big - like the burgeoning, Indian, middle-class market big or even bigger: the worldwide market for affordable, practical, attractively designed, fuel-efficient cars.

The star of this week's auto show in New Delhi: Indian car-maker Tata Motors' new, teeny-tiny Nano

Tata Motors Limited, via Reuters

The star of this week's auto show in New Delhi: Indian car-maker Tata Motors' new, teeny-tiny Nano

Enter the Nano, a little car that is only 10.17 feet long, 59 inches wide and 63 inches high "but can comfortably fit four passengers in keeping with its goal of appealing to families." The new automobile, unveiled yesterday at the Auto Expo 2008 trade show in New Delhi by Indian car-maker Tata Motors Limited, features a "two-cylinder, 623cc engine [that] sits at the rear of the vehicle, allowing for a flat, streamlined hood and windshield. The Nano can reach a top speed of 105 [kilometers per hour, or about 65 miles per hour], more than double the average road speed in India." (Financial Times)

The Nano's projected retail price: 100,000 rupees, or about $2554.00, which would make the new automobile the world's least expensive car. Still, "the Nano meets European emission standards, claims 21km a liter [about 13 miles per liter of gas] and meets all safety requirements in India." Its "body is made wholly of sheet metal" and makes use of "neither adhesives nor plastic fittings." Tata Motors chief Ratan Tata, a tall man who was seen sliding out of a Nano on a display platform at the auto show, said of his company's latest creation: "We haven't taken any shortcuts." (FT)

Ratan Tata, the head of Tata Motors, with his company's new creation at the auto show

Saurabh Das/AP

Ratan Tata, the head of Tata Motors, with his company's new creation at the auto show

In India, the Hindustan Times reports: "At the unveiling [of the Nano], the country decided this was the car everyone wanted, as they saw a tall man ease himself out from behind the wheels. Ratan Tata did not hit his head against the roof and his legs cleared the doorway cleanly. If it's big enough for Tata, it's big enough for India. And the world." At the auto show, Tata told reporters: "I hope this is a car that changes the way people travel in rural and semi-rural India." The Hindustan Times notes: "That's where [the] Nano is headed and that's where the car hopes to strike gold." Prospective customers for the car "would be people waiting to trade up from their scooters and motorcycles. For a lot of them, the decision [to do so] was made as soon as they set their eyes on it - as the three Nanos [on display at the auto show] glided across their TV screens."

An editor of Automotive News Europe said of the Nano: "It's a winner. It's a significant step by [Tata Motors] in technology advancement and performance. It would do well in the European and North American markets because of its cute looks and low price. The car stands out due to its classic clean lines." (Economic Times, India)

Environmentalists in India were quick to point out that the Nano's expected popularity could lead to serious problems even as the car may address many Indians' transportation needs. "With more than 1000 vehicles being added to roads in cities like Delhi and Bangalore every day, Sunita Narain of the Center for Science and Environment [in New Delhi] said the car would lead to increases in pollution levels and congestion. 'We are making people car-dependent rather than providing them with a sound and reliable public transport system,' she said, accusing auto manufacturers of manipulating 'weak' regulations on safety and emissions." (Hindustan Times)

Similarly, R.K. Pachauri, the head of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, "blamed the [Indian] government for its flawed automobile policy[,] rather than car manufacturers for introducing a slew of small and big cars. Pachauri said the policy was leading to an increase in personal vehicles on the roads." Pachauri commented: "I would have been happier if Tata Motors [had] introduced a good and a cheap bus for strengthening the public transport system." (Hindustan Times)

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