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Don’t say no-no to the Nano

Last updated on February 7, 2012

Here’s some exciting news: The world’s cheapest car will soon be hitting the roads of India. Tata Motors recently unveiled the Nano, a car that will surely make many middle-class people happy, particularly Hyundai owners, who will now feel like they’re driving luxury cars.

The Nano will come in three models, with the standard one carrying a dealer price of only Rs. 1 lakh (about $2,500), or what Paris Hilton spends on hairspray. As you can imagine, there’s been tons of interest in the Nano, ever since the very first press conference.

Tata spokesman: “We’re pleased to announce that we’re going to be introducing a one-lakh car.”

Reporter: “A one-lakh car? Will it have four wheels?”

Spokesman: “Yes, it will have four wheels — and even a steering wheel.”

Reporter: “What about brakes?”

Spokesman: “Yes, it will have brakes.”

Reporter: “Headlights?”

Spokesman: “Yes, it will have headlights.”

Reporter: “Air-conditioning?”

Spokesman: “It’s a one-lakh car, you idiot!”

The Nano may seem cheap to some Indians, but for others, it’s just the right price, enabling them to switch from two wheels to four, to put a roof over their heads. The car is designed to seat five people, which means it’s perfect for a family of 12. Three-year-old Raju no longer needs to ride on the crossbar — he can move to a far more comfortable spot on great-grandma’s lap.

The Nano is truly a model of Indian ingenuity. As one proud Indian put it, “We are showing the world that no one can beat us when it comes to going cheap.”

China has produced cheap products for decades, and you can bet that as soon as they’re done hosting the Olympics, they’ll be working on their own version of the Nano, probably called the Nona. But it’s going to be tough to reproduce the Nano, a car that costs so little, even the workers at Tata might be able to afford it. So how did the company do it? As senior managers at U.S. auto firms are asking, “How did Tata manage to reduce costs so drastically without outsourcing any of the work?”

Well, that’s a carefully guarded secret, known to only a few top-level managers and their husbands. What’s clear, though, is that Tata’s engineers worked very hard. Just picture a meeting between the engineering director, Ravi, and three engineers, Mukund, Ranga and Laxmi.

Ravi: “So what do you all think? Have you made a decision?”

Mukund: “Yes, it was difficult to reach a consensus, but we finally decided
to order pizza.”

Ravi: “Good choice! I’m tired of having Chinese. What about cost-cutting
ideas? What parts of the car can we eliminate?”

Ranga: “I think we can do without the seats. We can get people to sit cross-legged on the floor, like my grandma does. That would save a lot of money.”

Ravi: “Good thinking. We should definitely consider that. What about you, Laxmi? Any ideas?”

Laxmi: “We can do without the glove compartment. How many Indians wear gloves anyway?”

Ravi: “Brilliant! You’re getting a raise. What about you, Mukund?”

Mukund: “We can do without the rear-view mirror. Nobody looks at the rear anyway.”

Ravi: “You’re right. India is a forward-looking country. Don’t you think so, Laxmi?”

Laxmi: “Yes, sir. I’m looking forward to my raise.”

If you buy a Nano, you will have to occasionally look in the rear. That’s where you’ll find the 35-horsepower engine, powerful enough to allow the Nano to accelerate as fast as some lawn mowers. (It can go from 0 to 6 in one minute flat.)

It doesn’t go as fast as other cars, but on most roads in India, there’s too much congestion to go fast. Just ask the guy in the Mercedes Benz who keeps getting passed by the guy in the bullock cart.

The Nano does have the advantage of being small enough to squeeze through narrow spaces and, if necessary, go under elephants. Unfortunately, as one automobile expert put it, “There just aren’t enough elephants in India to make that a good selling point.”

In fact, on my last visit to India, I didn’t spot a single elephant. I did spot other animals on the roads, of course, but which country doesn’t have its share of aggressive, out-of-control motorcyclists?

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