Saturday, January 12, 2008

Yay or No, Tata Nano?

Tata Motors has just unleashed a beast of a vehicle. Their new People's Car is bite-size but packs a punch for the roaring Indian economy. While the release of this four-wheeler will clog roadways and gulp gazillions of pint-sized gas jugs, the Nano offers many folks the first car they could never before afford. This thusly presents a double-edged sword. Like much technology that is introduced to the market before the true impact can be gauged, this 1 lakh (100,000 rupees = $2,500) car will make waves.

This car is undoubtedly a safe alternative for millions of Indians who have been riding perilously along on two-wheelers with toddlers hanging off the sides and a stack of plywood strapped to the back rack. It is a rather affordable opportunity to jump into a vehicle that will protect human bodies from the rough and tumble of non-stop congestion on the pavement. Safety for bodies and affordability for pocketbooks are certainly top priorities, but it behooves us to understand the long-term effects of this vehicle.

But, it is first necessary to reiterate how the 1 lakh Nano is a simple machine. It has none of the following: AC, power windows, power steering, keyless entry, radio. It also has only one windshield wiper. We indeed must admire the simplicity of this miniature automobile and the truly impressive aesthetic that it embodies. Semi-Luddite tendencies aside, the low cost of this vehicle and its inherent Nano coolness make it an attractive buy for many people who are in the market for bigger and better ways of living their quotidian existences.

Back to the costs, ecologically and transportationally speaking. This car promotes the consumption of ever more fossil fuels, at a time when Indian corporations need to be investing in public transport infrastructure rather than in these Nano vehicles. Instead of pumping capital into the marketing of Nanos and ensuring their eventual proliferation, money would be infinitely better spent on unclogging roads. This could be achieved, in a dream world, by laying down more railroad tracks, creating workable high-speed bus lanes, and providing incentives for municipalities to charge a congestion tax for car commuters (who cannot really be blamed for avoiding the mayhem of bus/train travel in cities like Mumbai). Yet, this eternally increasing number of drivers mercilessly and exponentially drive us all into transportation hell on a daily basis. In an ideal world, we would not want more cars on the road.

Yet, let's not kid ourselves here. This is India, and there are bohut bohut bucks to be made from this Tata Nano. Hate it or love it, the Nano represents both the best of India's dreams and the worst of its shortcomings. It delivers on the promise for each and every deserving soul to ride around in a Nano car. It also contributes to the quickening disintegration of roadway sanity and well-being. Ratanji, this car has got to be, the symbol of the new Bharat. Shall it be Yay or No to your Tata Nano? Na, no? Ha, ji?

Tata Motors Press Release

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