The Tata Nano

by Gorlog on January 16, 2008 · 6 comments

in Uncategorized

Nano TataIf you were offered a car for $2500 would you take it? What if it were brand new? What about if it got 50 MPG?

check out the Tata Nano….

alphamonkey sez: I’m torn over this, as the ecological and infrastructure (there’s a reason motorcycles are popular on the streets of India, folks) consequences don’t seem to be balanced out by the gains of having a more mobile populace. It’s certainly a cool idea, but one I’d almost rather not see come to fruition. As an aside, can you imagine trying to sell this car to Americans?

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  • Gorlog

    In actuality am really concerned about what the car will do to the environment overall for the following reasons:

    1-By reducing the costs of car ownership worldwide it has the potential to expand use of fossil fuels.

    2-Even if it is more efficient then some 2-wheeled transports, by upping congestion (you can put a lot more motorcycles on the road then cars) it can still result in increased use of fuels by causing less efficient traffic patterns.

    3-The model Tata is using to cut costs is to put suppliers and assemblers in the same place. This could save on fuel used for parts delivery. However, they placed the plants in a primarily agriculture area displacing green areas as opposed to building in existing industrial areas.

    4-Tata had (but may have abandoned) a plan to send parts that could be glued together to shade tree mechanics in Africa to assemble the cars there and avoid big car dealers. There were a lot of concerns that the glues used can be very harmful if released into the environment.

    On the flip side, the car is very efficient for a car, and is much safer then a motorcycle or scooter. The plan to market it to Africa by creating mini dealers is exactly the sort of approach that has been shown to lift people out of poverty.

    Interestingly several of the big automakers are talking about taking Tata on. Fiat was going back and forth with Tata about a joint venture (not sure what happened), and Ford is talking about releasing a super-cheap car in India to make up for lost US revenues.

    On a side note they pledged to introduce non-petrol based cars with a diesel one do out soon.

  • Anne Onimus

    So…am I boiling this down properly? “Cars for me but none for thee?”

  • .alphamonkey.

    As a matter of fact, that’s about as far from properly as I can imagine. This isn’t a question of ‘Oh, those nutty Indians! They don’t need cars!’ but rather a concern that one of the most populous regions on Earth might not be the ideal place to raise even more demand on fossil fuel and non-renewable sources, even if the car has a limited benefit for the individual. I’d have the same reaction were this being posited as a solution for transport in NYC (though it’d be for naught as I can’t see a car like that succeeding in the US).

    My thought is primarily one of the question whether this is a good idea in the long-term vs. the short term economic boost that might arise if the idea takes off. As Gorlog pointed out, is the congestion and safety of the major city streets going to be improved or hampered by this? Even at 50mpg, the car would still add demand on the fossil fuel market.

    Wouldn’t it be far smarter to update and overhaul mass transit systems (which I’m a big fan of in the US metropolitan areas as well) than than to increase the load on a fairly taxed system?

    I just can’t look at the idea and not see long-term drawbacks and consequences that (to me) outweigh the short-term benefit.

  • win

    alphamonkey, thanks for your critique. One problem with this debate – whether we should have a car like this – is that it confuses government solutions (mass transit systems) with free-enterprise solutions. Government solutions in India take years to implement, and often don’t work. Efficient mass-transit is within the realm of possibility in the five metros (Delhi, Kolkata, Bombay, Chennai and Bangalore), if the government were to get off it’s ass (within the next 10 years), but it is a pipe dream for the hundreds of smaller towns and cities. Government(s) in India don’t move. Private enterprises do. Of course there could be public-private partnerships that encourage private funding mass-transit, but there is a “public” involved, and in India things that involve the government are non-starters. The only reason India is moving forward (has been in the past fifteen years or so) is because the government was forced to unleash some of the power of private enterprise – by the IMF in 1990, as a condition for rescuing the Indian state from bankcruptcy.

    We can of course sit here and have an ivory-tower debate about what is better for the globe, but it is (a) pointless (as a lower-middle class Indian, I would ignore the debate and buy the car to safeguard my children from the daily hazards they face on my scooter) and (b) misdirected (it confuses public and private solutions to the environmental problem).

  • .alphamonkey.

    I’ll admit to ignorance regarding the state of public vs. private enterprise in India, but you brought up something that jumped out at me: Wouldn’t this car’s price tag place it more squarely in the realm of availability for those already existing in those metros moreso than those in the smaller towns and lesser cities? $2500 sounds cheap to my American ears, but that’s some 97,700.00 INR, which seems substantial when reports indicate that some 70% of Indians live on something roundabouts 20 rupees a day.

    I’m not by default anti-business solution (though it seems that in the US we’re so far removed from the base corruption that poisons so many government operations that we forget just how awful it can be), but I’ll admit to being more than a little distrustful of an automatic ‘business solution = good / government = bad’ mindset, if for no other reason than a government is a hell of a lot more accountable than a corporation in my experience. That said, you do raise some very valid points regarding how a situation wherein the government is incapable of functioning requires an outside agent to step in. Though to that point I’d say: With conditions as they are, wouldn’t a privately run mass-transit system (either regional or national) be a monster money maker for whomever ran that company?

    And looking at the car’s specs, I’m not sure the family scooter is that far below in safety standards.

    You’re quite right on your bit about the pointlessness of this debate from this side of things, but I have to take exception with the notion that a discussion of this kind is somehow detrimental, as it’s exactly these kinds of discussions that get minds thinking of alternatives to traditional solutions.

  • win

    You’re right, Alpha Monkey. It is discussions such as these that get people thinking about alternatives. There are Indians thinking about alternatives, even Indians in Government, and there are also Americans in India helping out. (Most Americans I’ve known or known about prefer to help in more direct ways, though – education, leprosy, etc.)

    The government has installed an excellent Metro in Delhi, which is widely used. The Delhi (state) government to a large extent works; it is held accountable by the people. The problem isn’t as much in the metros (although Bangalore does have a huge problem), it’s in the smaller towns. There are hundreds of small towns in India, where a metro train system just isn’t in the works right now. And state governments (of these smaller towns) are often non functional.

    Of course, ideas can and do move things. (No sarcasm.)

    The people who live on 20 rupees a day live in the villages, often in rural villages, usually not in the big cities or even the smaller towns, where cost of living is ridiculously cheap. These guys wouldn’t get our car, and they wouldn’t have access to any kind of metro. A construction worker (with no special skills; bottom rung) in booming Delhi would make at least Rs. 100/day. Not a lot, but remember, in India this guy can get a meal at a roadside restaurant for Rs. 6 or 7. Of course he would be sending a lot of the Rs. 100 home to his family who are making Rs. 20 a day in the village.

    Any way. The guys buying the car are in the small towns, where there is no metro or local train system. They need the car, because it is safer than their scooters. Of course there is also the prestige angle – which is the same for those of us here who buy SUVs – which muddies the debate. And to an extent, the debate here is the same – I buy an SUV because it is heavier and so safer in the snow, because it protects my kids in a head-on collision (who cares about the other guys’ kids). But … but … I have ridden in a scooter (or something similar to one), with two other teenagers and three backpacks. I am an out-and-out liberal. I would not want my wife and two kids on one.

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