Four years ago, Tata Sons chairman Ratan Tata unveiled the idea of an all-weather people’s car at Rs 1 lakh. On Thursday, he had to defend his dream project exactly at the same place."We have wasted an early opportunity," he told the media over a breakfast meeting in Taj Mansingh. "I don’t think we were adequately ready with an ad campaign or dealer network to serve the Nano. We never really got our act together for the first 100,000 Nanos. But the question is whether you consider 100,000 cars a flop."
No car in India has seen more hype than the Nano. On January 10, 2008, when Tata unveiled the 624-cc car, it drove onto the front pages of all newspapers worldwide for its $2,500 price tag.
Conversely, no car project has received as much scrutiny and violence. In August 2008, it had to drive across India to Sanand in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, following Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee’s agitation against its plant in Singur in West Bengal.
The move cost the company Rs 1,500 crore. It's not just the Nano. Corruption is the other issue staring at the Rs 440,000-crore group. “We were one of the victims of corruption,” he said.
Tata, 74, who will retire in December and leave the reins of the group to Cyrus Mistry, said referring to the ongoing 2G scam: “We will come out clean. It is a little difficult to say what you lose and what you gain through corruption.”
Coming back to his pet project, Tata said the biggest challenge the Nano is facing is its 'cheap' tag. “Whatever stigma is attached to the Nano, we will undo it,” Tata said. “The basic concept is robust. This is not a 'poor man's car'. We have upgraded on the basis of market feedback. I believe we will see a resurrection of this product as we move forward.”
He said, “We will introduce variants to move up the value chain.” A “Nano-like” product for the European market, for instance. “People there not only want an inexpensive car, but they also want it with all the bells and whistles.” But on a diesel variant, Tata Motors director Ravi Kant said, “At least not for a year. We're working on it.”