Saturday, January 19, 2008

Vroom boom dhoom!

Automobile engineers have been busy at the Tata factories. For the past four years, they have worked towards fulfilling a promise that chairman of the company, Ratan Tata, made to the Indian public – of manufacturing a car that costs only Rs. 1,00,000. This translates to approximately $2500 a unit, making it the world’s cheapest car.

Since its early January 2008 launch, the bite-sized Tata Nano has been making ripples across the world auto arena earning rave reviews at the Detroit Auto Show and of course closer home at the recent Delhi Auto Show, indisputably changing the way India will drive into the future.

Some fear that its affordability will spell a huge increase in vehicles that ply already heavily congested Indian roads. Others are concerned with its emission. Despite repeated assurances that the Nano will pollute no more than the average two-wheeler and that its safety standards are satisfactory, some eyebrows are still being raised skeptically, questioning the claims. And while the skepticism isn’t entirely out of context, let’s take a look at the changes that it already seems to have set rolling.

Taxi drivers in Mumbai and auto drivers in Bangalore are gearing up to trade in the vehicles that they’re using at present for the new Tata Nano. Talks are on to update their licenses and give their profession a facelift by switching to this ingenious mode of transport. Phones are ringing off the hook with customers calling the Tata offices asking about its expected release into the market. Management at Tata is already apprehensive of facing public anger if these no-frill dream machines do not roll out as expected by the end of this year.

What Ratan Tata and his team have done is gone where no other car manufacturer has gone before and thus brought the average Indian closer to a better living. By making a car that breaks all hitherto drafted cost logic, he has given a taxi driver in Mumbai and an auto driver in Bangalore the hope for a brighter future. This is at a time when most corporate houses are looking at maximizing profits by focussing on the moneyed elite in society. However, the idea for the Nano was borne out of Ratan Tata noticing that several multi-member families in India travelled on two-wheelers. So he pondered on the possibility of coming up with an alternative that would make for safer transport at approximately the same cost of a two-wheeler. It was from this stroke of brilliance that the Tata Nano was born and several families across the country are now flashing broad grins at the prospect of owning one soon. Ratan Tata has made their unsaid wish come true.

So while it may be true that our roads will soon see a sharp increase in traffic, that the fight for parking space will possibly worsen or that the star car will be no match for the particularly catastrophic potholes, this initiative is commendable on so many levels. Cornell-educated Ratan Tata bothered to look out the tinted windows of his luxury sedan while halted at a traffic light to notice that the five-member family next to him on a two-wheeler was defying gravity and staying on with a prayer. By dreaming of the Nano, he makes their weekly family outing less dangerous, and thus saves countless number of lives. Despite rising prices, he has succeeded in bringing out a car that costs no more than a lakh. Because in his own words, “A promise is a promise.”

For a man who will go down in automobile history, who has sparked an automobile revolution that the whole world is sitting up and taking notice of and for someone who is being termed the new Henry Ford, only one sentence seems befitting of his brainchild – that most things precious do come in small packages. And in this case, they don’t cost very much either!

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