The Nano surprised the world at large when it was unveiled at the Auto Expo in Delhi by Ratan Tata in 2008. It is a matter of national pride that Tata Motors pulled off what the world — including some of the world’s largest automakers — thought was almost impossible.
It surprised most, including me, when the car was unveiled to the press for a preview drive a year ago with its chic styling, interior space and grown up road manners. But it’s been no easy task for Tata Motors. From developing the car ground-up and ensuring that they try and meet their target price of Rs 1 lakh, to moving their manufacturing base at the very last moment, they did face a lot of odds.
As of February 2010, Tata has delivered 25,640 Nanos out of the initial allotment of one lakh cars from their Pantnagar facility. Their new unit in Sanand will begin commercial production from April and that should help them deliver the Nanos to eager customers.
The Nano has what it takes to do what the VW Beetle, Citroen 2CV, Mini and the Fiat 500 did for their respective countries — cheap, reliable mobility for the masses. All these cars were simple in design and execution and stood the test of time to become 20th century’s motoring icons. Good design isn’t just about looking good and trendy, but being functional and establishing a timelessness — which the Nano does really well. But the question in my mind, which I wanted to put to rest, was how would it handle an all-India trip in 14 days. So, I purchased a Nano (at a slight premium from a dealer) and drove the car around India.
We were attempting a 7,000 km journey in something which ran on 12 -inch wheels and had a two-cylinder 624cc heart. We really didn’t know what to expect (after all those initial reports of a couple of cars catching fire), but after the first 500 km we knew this car would make the trip without breaking into a rattle. However, we did get rear-ended halfway through the trip and found that getting spares isn’t easy, since not all dealers are equipped with the parts. This cost us over 10 days, but we did complete the journey.
The Nano never fails to pull a crowd. They all wanted to know how the car is to drive, its mileage, and comfort. Well, I can tell you that after spending 14 days driving around the country, the Nano is small in size, but it’s no baby. It checks all the boxes on ride, handling, space and efficiency. Yes, the engine noise could be a tad less intrusive and they could have worked a little better on some of the plastic quality, but you have to remember this car was built with that magic price in mind.
Will it revolutionise our roads? Well, they are planning a diesel variant, an electric and a hybrid. They are also looking at global markets in a big way. Anxious customers are waiting for their cars and even after a year after the launch, the interest survives. Those who haven’t been allotted, are buying Nanos in the used car market, where the cars that have been just driven out of the showroom, are selling at a premium. All Tata needs to do is get production going at Sanand and get a campaign running that dispels myths that the masses have about the car in order to maintain interest and get a clear head-start before the competition arrives — which truth be told, isn’t too far away.
Kartik Ganesh is editor, CarWale and has driven the Nano over 10,000 km.