Some super-expensive cars, including Ferrari, Rolls-Royce and Bentley are available with custom fitted luggage, done-up in the same color and material which graces the car’s interior.
The Tata Nano — the world’s most inexpensive production car, publicly launched last week in New Delhi, India, at a price of 100,000 rupees — also comes with its own baggage, but not the kind which many car-buyers would want.
Depending on the Indian rupee’s exchange value, 100,000 rupees equals about $2,000 as Nano hits showrooms throughout the Subcontinent.
But what about that baggage?
Tata, Nano and New Delhi have all become poster children for a nameless, uncaring Indian government bureaucracy, corporate arrogance and a seeming willingness by government and industry there to consider their own benefit first, and those of citizens last.
In studying maps of India, it was hard to miss the name “Bhopal.” In 1984, an accident at a Union Carbide subsidiary pesticide plant released tons of toxic gas, exposing over 500,000 people to the poison. The first official immediate death toll was 2,259. A more probable figure is that 8,000 died within two weeks, and it is estimated that an additional 8,000 have since died from gas-related diseases. The Bhopal disaster is frequently cited as the world’s worst industrial disaster, so the Indian people have a recent, tragic history with large corporations.
The Tata plant where Nano was originally scheduled to be built (in West Bengal state) was shut down by protests after local residents protested what they said were illegal land-seizures to increase the factory’s size and capability.
Tata was finally forced to delay the Nano’s debut as the company moved production of the car from West Bengal state. The car is being built in Sanand in the Ahmedabad district of Gujarat state (check the Web for maps showing these locations).
Tata is one of the biggest companies in India, if not the biggest, and its size allows the company to sell Nano, at least initially, for a very small profit or even at a loss. Toyota lost money on every Prius they sold for quite some time; often, it’s better to get a new car or truck into the real world where people can see it, rather than to expect people to rush to showrooms to buy a brand-new, unproven product.
Tata is in good shape financially (they bought both Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford last year). One reason is that the company sells almost all their cars, trucks, earth-moving, farm equipment and other products within India; a home market of over one billion people keeps exports to a minimum.
Reuter’s India reports that, “While the media and public launch (of Nano) was taking place in New Delhi, activists near Kolkata, in West Bengal, where Nano was originally slated to be built, were burning the car in effigy. The Trinamool Congress, a West Bengal opposition group, torched a mockup of the Nano in protest over land rights at the factory location.”
In New Delhi, the Times of India reported “A small group of protesters made a less dramatic showing, but their T-shirt slogans were bold, reading: ‘The ($2,500) car has people’s blood on it.’”
Future plans for Nano?
A European version is planned for sale sometime in the next two to three years, and a U.S. version has been hinted at by the company.
Would Americans buy such a small car, with only 33-horsepower and a top speed of barely 65 miles per hour?
Nano would need big improvements to meet US safety standards. And in this current marketplace, U.S. dealers are having trouble selling even the tiny Smart car, and sales of BMW’s Mini have slowed, too.
Are we ready for the Nano?
Steve Parker has covered the world’s auto industry for over 35 years. He’s a two-time Emmy Award-winner who reported on cars for almost a decade at both KTLA/TV5 and KCBS/TV2. He is a consultant to the NBC-TV show Whipnotic and the show’s companion website, www.Whipnotic.com. He created, writes and moderates the only all-automotive blog on The Huffington Post at www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-parker. Contact Steve through his own automotive issues Web site at www.SteveParker.com.