Small Car, Giant Leap

image Ratan Tata really pulled it off. Half a decade back, he had said that he wanted to give India a small car that would be within reach of the millions of Indians who have to make do with two-wheelers, and last week in the Auto Expo, he delivered on his promise. And in what style — the whole world sits up an takes notice! The media’s been abuzz with the grand success that Tata has pulled off, to the dismay of all nay-sayers who believed that the car who found a thousand and one ways to make fun of the whole concept.

Even after the car came out, people have been debating why we need to clog our roads further, how RK Pachauri’s heart would miss a beat, and Sunita Narain would get a shiver down her spine, and Chidambaram due to the oil import bill. While I agree that such a cheap car is such a disruptive thing that the whole way we think about roads, infrastructure, and gas imports needs a rehash. (This really came out of a discussion on the Blogaloreans mailing list:) I would say that in the midst of all the praise and criticism, we miss a few important points.

Firstly, the car is not made just for the cities. The whole problem of parking and traffic vanishes as soon as you move outside the city’s center. The upshot for the rest of the country is far too high to just write off the car. Personally to me, preventing less privileged people from having the luxury of cars when the more affluent income groups easily swift around is a rather elitist point of view. To quote form WorldChanging:

Which leads us to the inescapable fact that a Tata Nano in Chennai is, from the biosphere’s perspective, similar to a Toyota Corolla in Vancouver.

Even within the cities, the traffic argument fails to pass muster when you consider that traffic and other problems would occur anyway — Nano or no nano — and all the new car has done is to accelerate the process. We would have to come up with more innovative means of handling the growing traffic on our roads anyway (taxing vehicles in the Central Business District like in London is one idea) and improve the mass transport system (like in Kolkata and Delhi). The government and the Municipal Corporations need to be more proactive both in legislation and regulation.

I am personally of the view that a car should be used as a means of last mile connectivity and local transport, and I like the concept of driving to the nearest Metro station, park your car there and go to work using the Metro. IMHO, this is the model that can scale in the long run. Obviously, another important use of a car is the drive through the highway, where the safety of a car is far more reassuring than a bike or a scooter.

Autos and cabs would be another thing that would benefit greatly from this development, and if we think about what causes the most madness on the roads (autorickshaws, bikes and the like) we would be better having single-sized four wheel vehicles, which have no option but to stick to the lane discipline.

image There are other fallouts as well, the chest thumping we can now do in a major manufacturing conference is only one of these. The world is sitting up and taking notice of India’s design and engineering prowess, and I am sure the outsourcing companies have already started giving higher revenue projections. The Tata car has almost become a barometer in some circles, and its making its competitors re-think their strategy. It’s already got them new enemies — Bajaj was so worried that he announced his own car! And the ramifications are not limited to the automobile segment alone! The new car revolution might just take the country by a storm just like the mobile revolution, and change our fundamental assumptions about a host of things.

All said and done, to me the biggest advantage of this new development is that Indians will have another thing to boast about — when they promised and delivered. It will add a new spring to their step, and inshallah, help our country forward over the coming years.


About kpowerinfinity
I *♥* technology, business, conversations, experiences, books, music, theater, coffee and people. I am an entrepreneur in the city of Bangalore - my company, Capillary, provides customer engagement programs and marketing services to retailers around the world.

14 Responses to Small Car, Giant Leap

  1. Xylene says:

    I agree completely! especially the quote from worldchanging site.

  2. gops says:

    Well said! I fully agree.

  3. puresunshine says:

    Ratan Tata is in a class of his own. He can do the impossible. I especially love reading stories of the “new” small cars that are about to enter the circuit—from India and abroad. But yes, sadly, traffic is a problem. Especially in small towns because here the roads are terrible. And the traffic system is so bad that the people take hours to reach places. Forget a metro rail facility here. And most of the buyers will be from small towns. That way, lots need to be done there!

  4. @xylene, gops: Thanks.

    @puresunshine: The roads might not be world standard, but even in the B cities, they are there, and cars would be much safer in those bad roads than bikes and scooters. One problem in smaller cities is that traffic is just crazy, much more than Bangalore or Calcutta, and its better to be in a car.

    Even in smaller cities, its only the city center that has traffic, which is pretty much expected. As you get away from the city center, things improve quite quickly.

  5. puresunshine says:

    hmmm. well ya maybe. But at least a bike can try to find a way through. Anyway, if you”re planning a country outing, a big nice SUV would anyday be the pick!

  6. @puresunshine: A bike can find its way around, but then, in a lot of cases, that is what is precisely dangerous. In our bid to find our way around, we do irreparable damage to the traffic around us.

    An SUV would be excellent, but we are talking of a different price point. I don’t know of any SUVs at that price point. Maybe, M&M needs to make a few announcements :) [with Renault/Nissan of course]

  7. Amyth says:

    Proud moment really.

    Actually, I like the car-metro model as well… it is very very convenient.. and yeah although I never looked at it from a futuristic point of view, it is possibility..! :)

    It has definitely made India Proud! ..

  8. @amit: Yes, wonder what Jaguar and Land Rover are thinking now!

  9. rowindows says:

    He should try to sell this cars at the Philippines because this will make the masses afford a family car. about P100000, close to the price of a motorcycle in the Philippines.

  10. @rowindows: When I meet Ratan Tata, I will let him know ;-)

  11. cmc6614 says:

    I think the new car is a wonderful thing. I wouldn’t mind owning one myself, but I am sure my government would find a way to prevent me from driving it on our roads. It is my understanding that not only does it achieve fantastic mileage, but it burns cleanly also. Is this correct? Until I can have one for myself I will have to make do with “rigging” my vehicle to get good mileage. Thank goodness there are several products that make this possible.

  12. shuz says:

    i was not so sure abt this until the display. now i guess it is probably one of those things i would buy(when i have money). given the traffic n auto fare, this is a good buy. for tht kinda money, its way too good.
    like someone said, Ratanji has a class of his own.

    see ya

  13. @cmc6614: Yes, I think it is compatible with Bharat III and can be made compatible with Euro IV. I am not sure why the government will prevent it from hitting the roads.

    @shuz: Yes, we’ll know more when it comes out, but I do think that it has potential to change the way people think about cars.

  14. mani says:

    hai is this tec avaliable in india if so who will be doing there so one for bangalore doing it

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