I remember visiting Pakistan last summer after four years, and hoping that the country would have slightly progressed rather than regress. Unfortunately, it was apparently the latter from the moment I landed at the airport. The ride home from the airport was probably an adventure unimagineable by the average kid who is born and raised in the United States. Not only were we caught in traffic because there was a cow crossing the street, but we were randomly dodging scooters with entire families somehow squeezed on. Father driving, mother in the back seat, middle child squeezed between, and baby in mother’s lap – picture that on a one seat automobile in the middle of New York City?!
What triggered such a fond memory was the recent unveiling of the Tata Nano, the $2500 car that Indian automaker Tata Motor’s claims will change the face of not only the Indian car market, but the global auto industry. Also known as the “People’s Car”, designed with a family in mind, has a roomy passenger compartment, and comfortably can fit four passengers. With all the hype on the new automobile comes along many questions, and criticisms, which I will take a stab at.
1. A cheap car does not mean you have the roads and infrastructure to drive it on
2. Fuel is super expensive. Driving costs would outdo the price of the car.
3. The launch of the car will lead to increased pollution, traffic congestions, and fuel prices.
On point 3: Why is TATA Nano being singled out and slapped with these objections? Some would say, more drivers would enjoy the right of getting from Point A to Point B . I do accept the reality that driving conditions would change, for a start, in India. That family of 4 that would make you suddenly brake by appearing in front of you out of nowhere? They would now suddenly appear in front of you out of nowhere in a TATA Nano. Only, given the Nano's limitations, it would not be so sudden anymore. So congratulations, you, driving that more expensive car, will now find more reason to exercise the horn. As an added benefit, you will feel happier that you don't have to worry about that family of 4, riding a scooter with the baby hanging loose by the sari's "dupatta" at the back ,while you drive.
Now, coming to point 2: fuel being super expensive. Would you trade in your more expensive car for the Nano? I hope you make the smart move and dump the Fords, Suzukis and the Hondas of the world, given that high gas prices are only going to get higher. Oil is $100/ barrel and some are betting it will reach $200/ barrel by end of 2008. A couple of lakhs in rupees/ a few grand in dollars saved in upfront car cost will fuel your current lifestyle for a few years.
As for point 1, infrastructure: Look at how crazy traffic is in Bombay. The price of the car is really not going to be the key driver in terms of reaching an equilibrium on the Quantity of cars on Bombay streets I assure you.
If this car makes people put money where their mouth is, and do something about transport- decent public transport/ improved roads/ alternative energy sources/ whatever - then its more than served its purpose of being the "People's car" and I will have to suffice to reliving my memories of flying families on scooters in my head.