Tata Nano – good or bad?

March 22, 2009 — 30 Comments

There is quite a debate going on around IDEO at the moment about the merits of the Tata Nano. On the one hand some are concerned about the increased emissions and congestion a conversion to cars will cause in India and other poorer economies. Others worry that it sets off yet another round of unsustainable consumption. On the flip-side there is a case to made that modern cars create fewer emissions than old motorbikes and auto-rickshaws. There is also speculation that Tata intends the Nano to be assembled locally by dealers and rural entrepreneurs. This would be an interesting new business model.

Either way the Nano appears to be quite an achievement from a cost perspective coming in at around $2000 when it goes on sale in Mumbai on Monday. The question is whether the Nano will ultimately help or harm the economies and livehoods of those that purchase it?

Tim Brown

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30 comments on “Tata Nano – good or bad?

  1. Short term, I’m sure it will help those who buy one. Long term, my guess is most of them will end up in land fills within 10 years. In the end Tata is the only one who “wins.”

  2. Coming from the city where the Nano was designed, developed and will be manufactured in small parts, I tend to view it negatively.

    Sure, it’ll bring mobility to the masses, but at great environmental cost. In increasing crowded and polluted urban centres, the Nano is going to make traffic condtions far worse than they already are.

    Secondly, despite the hype, Tata has never had a good reputation in India as a maker of cars, they are renowned as truck and bus makers. So whether the car will have the design quality required for success remains to be seen.This inspite of their attempts in the car market for the last 20 odd years.

    Interestingly, Tata anticipates bookings for upto 2 million cars. I’d debate this given knowledge of consumer buying behaviour in India, people will wait to see how it performs and whether it lives up to the hype before buying. tata’s first passenger car, the Indica went through several such teething troubles and the initial production runs had dismal quality.

    On the other hand, its surely a design achievement to design a car that can be built so cheap.

  3. In spite of the environmental concerns….I still think the Nano will be a good one…if we make some sound decisions….how about removing all autos (the monsters which run on adulterated kereosene) and replace with the Nanos.

    I do not have anything against the Bajajs….nor do I work for the Tatas….the bottomline….

    Have stringent norms for the emmissions from such low cost cars(‘cos of the numbers that will pile up on the roads)…..REPLACE ALL AUTOS WITH NANOS.

  4. By “auto” Sekhar means a three wheeled autorickshaw; which was a revolutionary design too; the ‘was’ is important

    With the bulk of them running 150 cc 2-stroke engines; that were easily run on kerosene which is cheaper than petrol (gasoline) since its subsidized by the government. (although its illegal to run autorickshaws on kerosene)

    Kerosene of course when burnt in a two-stroke engine creates huge amounts of particulate matter and other nasties.

  5. I don’t see any immediate negative impact after the launch. Tata currently have manufacturing capacity of 25K cars per year which is much much less then the predicted demand. Initial booking will be more or less distributed across urban as well as sub urban regions. But eventually as the production capacity grows, what problems have been mentioned in the original post are bound to occur.

    Apart from replacing the “autos” by Nano, India can also look towards carbon credits for drivers. This will help to control the situation up to certain extent unless the infrastructure is further developed.

    Some control measures need to be taken immediately as other players are also planning to launch the low cost car. Maruti may also redesign 800 and bring it in the same segment.

    Small cars is the future of India. Tatas, would be competitors and government needs to do proper planning before its too late.

  6. I’m eager to see if this or a similar design will hit the US anytime soon. Seems like a great alternative for our market. Current fuel-efficient vehicles are costly here. Something like this would be great for the urban areas especially. Does anyone know top speed for these?

  7. I think due to many auto regulations in the United States the Nano wouldn’t be able to make it into the US market without many changes to it.

    I like the Idea of the Nano. Essentially, the world is going to need to come to a break point with automobiles and emissions. Increasing the number of cars on the road will increase the time it takes to get to this breaking point. Sadly, the environment pays to get their. Same idea with Oil, always a breaking point, we’ve just missed it for the time being.

  8. This is an interesting example of the developing world gaining access to what used to be perceived as luxury. With this car, people who had to just watch others owning a desirable object now have the choice. And most likely, they will be eager to own to at least have a taste before considering repercussions that are not immediately personal.

    Under these circumstances the challenge is, how can maturity of consumption be accomplished in a society that did not have a chance to consume at first place?

  9. I don’t know how many of you have driven or spent much time in India – but I would imagine the Nano on the road is going to have substantial concerns – namely, being hit by any of the big TATA trucks or busses that hurtle wildly along every road in India with drivers not knowing the road rules if in fact there are any road rules.
    Falling into potholes that have no bottom.
    Hitting or being sat on by passing cows.
    The rickshaws are small, 3 wheeled, agile and driven by rickshaw drivers that are familiar with the insanity of indian roads – seems that a population that are unfamiliar with driving is going to present…..hmmmmm…potential for disaster.
    http://www.newser.com/archive-technology-news/1P2-3948472/indias-truckers-fail-in-road-safety.html I rest my case.

  10. Going to the root of how TATA affects “the economies and livehoods of those that purchase it” they don’t look pretty: http://www.bhopal.net/tata_rapsheet.html

  11. It’s an interesting debate whether the Nano will bring the benefit of more efficient emissions or the detriment of traffic/accidents/unsustainable consumption. But that debate is about the merits to society as a whole, whereas Nano customers are likely to overlook societal concerns for the exciting personal opportunity to own their first car. The aspiring middle class is playing catch up, and doesn’t yet have the personal experience to reflect on whether cars are really worth it.

  12. The US is the ultimate comparison when it comes to technological innovation in automobiles. we got this way by destroying the earth with our very own industrial revolution. unless we are going to build everything; factories, cars, energy plants, etc, for every country in order to obtain the wanted environmental impact, nobody has any right to say how another countries development should progress.

    this is great for india. more people moving relatively cheap. if we are really worried about the environment we would stop charging and start doing, for free. so put out or shut up. GO TATA! CONGRATS TO ALL WHO CAN DRIVE NOW!!

    as far as driving abilities. driving is NOT A NATURAL ACTION. when cars were popularized in the US no one knew how to drive either. not to sure about the capabilities of the infrastructure relative to the amount of cars on US roads, but im sure the death rates or whatever other concerns there are, were the same.

    this is going to fail, or thrive. we shall see.

    GO TATA CONGRATS TO ALL WHO CAN DRIVE NOW! DRIVE TO GET FRESH WATER, FRESH FOOD, DECENT JOBS!!!

  13. I think the test will be if in a few years time we see these Nano’s all beaten up and innovatively kept on the road, as we currently see with the plethora of transport vehicles on India’s road today. Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean everyone will rush out and buy one, there are many battered old cheap vehicles in India, yet the cost is still prohibitive for the majority. The real test will be if it is cheap to run, and cheap to fix, plus if you can cram as many people in with other items as currently seen with the bajaj scooters. Most importantly will be the safety, if the horn is not load enough we will probably see many squashed nano sardine cans. Thinking ahead, if the nano’s could be converted to more efficient electric engines as and when the technology becomes available, then the nano could be a real transport asset.

  14. This looks like an “after market dream” product. Considering the known useage and the likely commercial use of the car the long term market potential can only be judged on the cost of ownership. Too early to say whether the car is low cost buy and major ownership cost.
    People the world over want motorized transportation. Focusing our emotions on reducing car production is not going to achieve anything. Focusing our energies and resources on motorized transport with little pollution.
    Bill

  15. Regarding safety concerns with the Nano… currently, on the same roads as all those big trucks, thousands/millions of people commute by bicycle, scooter, motorcycle, animal, and walking. I think an enclosed vehicle is a step forward in safety.
    I don’t think we will see too many beaten up Nanos. New cars are well taken care of in India. Heck some people don’t even take the plastic off the seats! But anyway, if this does turn out to be someone’s much needed first car, I think that will be incentive for them to take care of such a precious purchase.

  16. Human ingenuity is the key to the success of any transport vehicle that will disrupt the market especially in India. Therefore the vehicle needs to lend it self to these traits that are present in people, who will innovate and reuse products creating experiences that the designers could never have imagined. I think this Nano is too car like and isn’t really pushing any new boundaries in transport design aside from keeping certain stakeholders happy, and fulfilling the aspiration of the masses to own a car and show independence and status at what we think is an affordable price.
    Imagine if this vehicle was a proper platform, similar to the platforms that are used in the CE sector, I think of mobile phones or the macbook range. If Tata could spin out different versions that would cater for some of the real needs apart from just getting people from A to B in a nice looking shell. One could imagine Nano’s network using simple radio technolgies or existing mobile phones, generating power for entire villages when the grid goes down, or filtering water as it traveled, it could be converted into mobile market stalls or self charged street light at night. Whilst most of these ideas are not forward thinking enough to provoke proper creative thought and purpose, I think the next generation of cars needs to start getting properly innovative. If this was my first car experience I am not sure I would really understand what all the fuss was about, and just get a ride in a nice old Amassador cab instead.

  17. The $2000 car is just a gimmick. The AC version is $3000 which is 50% higher. Its still a very low priced car. So was the Maruti when it was launched !! Apart from concerns relating environment and congestion etc, my real concern is that this low priced car is subsidised by the tax payer – to what extent is not known – but significant amounts.
    Why should I as a tax payer allow the state governments to provide subsidised land, power, VAT etc etc when all the car is going to do is add to global warming problem.

  18. About the environmental concerns…

    Nano is a cheap car with a small engine in it. On the other hand big names in car industry make their “green” cars to be sold only in their developed countries. They are still producing and selling millions of high carbon emission cars abroad especially to the 3rd world. On the other hand, the most desirable objects in a regular wired magazine issue are still cars with big engines. “Greener” thing is mostly a marketing strategy.

    I do love cars personally, but the car should become an historical transportation (and desire) object as soon as possible.

  19. As with everything we create, there is always the good and the bad. In this case, I think the 2 biggest positives are:
    1) A move towards safety for the family that uses a scooter or motorcycle. I have seen many families travel on a two-wheeler in India and the safety, especially of the children is a cause for concern.
    2) Inspire a lot of people as they may be able to acquire something that would have once seemed almost impossible at their income levels. Hope is a big thing when you are struggling in a developing nation.

    I am not discounting any of the negatives – environmental, congestion etc. However, new challenges will spark innovation. Hopefully the pace of road development and the quality of roads will improve. Maybe some entrepreneur will come up with an aftermarket eco-friendly engine.

  20. brilliant topic, Tim.

    being an engineer from Bombay w/ a passion for DT (design-thinking) & EE (energy-efficiency), here’s my analogy — adding the Nano (to the streets of cities like Bombay) is like pouring tiny granules of silicon (sand) into a jar of abused marbles ;^(

    nevertheless, like most (if not all) *corporate* decisions, there’s the inevitable GBU (good-bad-ugly) phenomenon ;^)

    + good
    common wo/man like so …
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jpais/333906766/in/set-72157594267234370/
    … will now b able to commute in some ‘comfort’.

    + bad
    here’s a glimpse into that ‘jar-o-marbles’ …
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUlp5EHf8po
    … to put things in perspective.

    + ugly
    earth hour (today) …
    http://www.worldwildlife.org/sites/earthhour/index.html
    … must evolve to earth-day/week/month, or perhaps a 24/7 (lifestyle/thinking) change.

    ofcourse, that (change) isn’t really ugly, but the vast majority of those clinging onto energy-wasting devices, will certainly think so — but hey …
    just ‘coz we’re super-liberal, doesn’t meant we can’t *conserve* — turn ‘em OFF, & go greEEen !

    too bad i missed your session @ SXSW — maybe nxt time …

    cheerz!

  21. Nano will have less of an impact on the environment than imagined by most people. The reason is that even those who own cars at present do not (and cannot) use it regularly like we do in the west, due to poor traffic infrastructure, and high cost of fuel. Most large industries provide free bus transport to their employees and many I know who own cars use them for occasional visits to friends or relatives, or a day trip out on weekends. We cannot draw parallels between our own use of cars in the west for every little errand everyday and the context of private cars in India.
    Having said that, we have no right to pass judgements based on environmental concerns on their desire to own cars while continuing to vandalise the environment with gas guzzling cars in our countries.

  22. Like first introduction to motorcycles, it would be hard to alter skin over metal. owning a car for leisure or purpose used, will make a difference in the long term.

  23. Currently, Nano is the poor (eastern) mans small car. As time goes by and the east catches up with the west, the Nano will improve and the big western cars will shrink. In some state of equilibrium everyone (east and west) will be in Nano (or Nano like) car.
    I hear that Nano hybrids can run on CNG (compressed Natural gas) or pure fuel cell technology so huge sales of this car might not cause much pollution.
    Nano is a right step in the right direction to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor.
    My congratulations to Ratan Tata and the Tata group for making this happen.

  24. I think cars aren’t the problem, the energy conversion actually is. If nano was an electric car for instance, where would the infrastructure be to support electric cars? Where would the energy be generated? If it was a gas car (using autogas) where would that come from and how would that energy be converted (efficiency, emissions etc). So, yes, Tata is a great model for accessibility to technology, but it is still built upon an existing (harmful) infrastructure. I think it’ll be good for the economy there but quite bad for the ecology.

  25. To add some background and perspective on Tata and the Nano read the March 28 edition of the The Economist magazine.

  26. The Tata Nano is an amazing car. Unfortunately it was marketed as a cheap alternative and as a small car. This car is more spacious then most others and more amazing to drive then any Maruti I’ve ever owned. I love my Tata Nano and I wish Tata Motors all the best!

  27. Amazing car I have driven it but font and rear end design is bad .It should have a lingerand a higher front than an egg shaped.Reat should have a opening for luggage space and more chissled look and both front and rear lamp design needs a change for more masculine than a eye shaped .
    Its far safer than suzuki alto or an omni which has been selling numbers inspite of unsafe box design

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