Column: Don’t say no-no to the Nano

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."Tata_car_48_a_2

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

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

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? 

Cartoon by Mahendra Shah

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through and You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.


  1. What a brilliant idea Melvin! The nano should enable many more Indian families to have a roof over their heads. And if there is a natural disaster, they are mobile too. Now lets wait for the water engine!

  2. Very well written!
    It’s amazing how you can put your finger exactly on the pulse of India when you seem to be so “American” in a lot of ways (and that’s just a statement, not necessarily a loaded one!)
    As an Indian, it was a pleasure to read this column. I think you have to be Indian to appreciate the humour in this one.
    (submitted by email)

  3. It’s a good article on the Nano car. Yes, it is cost-effective, but not “cheap” as in “cheap and dirty”. No it is not a luxury car and can boost the egos of Hyundai drivers. What it will mean to Hyundai as a company, though, needs to be seen. And btw, it has seats, airco, brakes, lights and all such essentials. It has passed safety tests and is the greenest of cars. Before gas-guzzlers in America can count their sins (aka carbon credits), the Nano will have scored tonnes of sustainability points.
    (submitted by email)

  4. Gerard, I’m reminded of the people on motorcycles holding umbrellas over their heads in Chennai.
    Priyanka, glad you liked it. I have an Indian passport, but in many ways, I’m an InZamerican.
    Vinay, good points. The standard model of the Nano (the one costing a lakh) will not have air-conditioning and a side-view mirror on the passenger side, I believe. But the other models will. Most cars come with features you can do without, but are not given the choice. And once you get used to something, such as power windows, it’s hard to go back.

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