In this post we shall cover India’s one of the most ‘iconic’ cars – Tata Nano. Dubbed as the ‘World’s Cheapest Car’; Tata Nano stirred up quite a storm when the model was unveiled at the Ninth Auto Expo in New Delhi in Jan’08. The world media was stunned by the announcement of $2,000 world’s most affordable production car and was being compared to the likes of VW Beetle or even Ford’s Model T. During the unveiling Tata’s head Mr. Ratan Tata said, “The car has 623 cc engine with mileage of over 20 km/litre.” Comparing it to Maruti 800 he said, “It is eight per cent smaller—bumper to bumper—and has 21 per cent larger seating capacity than Maruti 800.” The vehicle was also labelled as “The People’s Car“.
The idea of the world’s cheapest car was conceived by Mr. Ratan Tata on a rainy day after he saw a family of four on a bike. “The fact of unsafe travel was bothering me,” Tata, the erstwhile chairman of the Tata group recalled in an interview in March 2011. “What really motivated me…was constantly seeing Indian families riding on scooters, four or five on a scooter, maybe the child sandwiched between the mother and father…on slippery roads in the dark.”
At the launch of Nano, Mr.Ratan Tata stated “The journey started six years ago when we overtook what looked like just another business… a business to give Indian families an affordable transport means, a small car which was very low in cost. It is to the credit of the team what we have achieved today. Hopefully, we will be able to give young India a car which was not in their reach to make transport safer for them. I am pleased to say that our promise is kept today to provide a car at Rs 1-lakh. The basic car would be at Rs 1-lakh at the factory gate in Pantnagar,” said Tata.
Nano also altered the 34-year-old political history of West Bengal. The company decided to build its plant in Singur in 2006, which was about 50 kilometres from the state’s capital city – Kolkata. Tata Motors planned to invest up to ₹2,000 crore and turn Singur into an auto city. However; widespread protests broke out against the setup of the Tata’s manufacturing facility, leading to the ouster of the communists after over three decades in power. The state also got its first woman chief minister in Mamata Banerjee who had spearheaded the Nano protests. Due to the political turbulence in West Bengal, Tata Motors decided to shifted the Nano’s manufacturing facility to Sanand in Gujarat. It is said that Gujarat’s then chief minister Narendra Modi reportedly approved the project over just an SMS!
Tata Nano was introduced as a BS-III compliant vehicle and came with an all-new 2-cylinder aluminium MPFI 624cc petrol engine mated to a four-speed gearbox and was available in three variants. The 2-cylinder engine delivered 35 PS Power @ 5,250rpm and a torque of 48nm @ 3,000rpm. The top speed of the car was electronically limited to 105kmph. For good reasons. It’s not advisable to drive it at speeds above 80kmph. It also had an ARAI fuel efficiency of 23.6 kmpl, which was the highest for any petrol car in India! With a length of just 3.1 metres, a width of 1.5 metres and a height of 1.6 metres, the Tata Nano had the smallest footprint for a car in India!
We all drool after SUVs with high ground clearance and high seating position for better frontal visibility. The Nano had all of the above. Huge windows for phenomenal all-around visibility, high seating position, and SUV-like 180mm ground clearance.
The three trim levels and their key features available at the launch were:
Tata Nano Standard (BSII* and BSIII*): The standard version, in three colour options, single-tone seats, and fold-down rear seat.
Tata Nano CX (BSII* and BSIII*): In five colour options, with heating and air-conditioning (HVAC), two-tone seats, parcel shelf, booster-assisted brakes, fold-down rear seat with nap rest.
Tata Nano LX (BSIII*): With the features of CX plus complete fabric seats, central locking, front power windows, body-coloured exteriors in three premium colours, fog lamps, electronic trip meter, cup holder in front console, mobile charger point, and rear spoiler. Many of these features are not available on current entry-level small cars in the country.
Tata had initially intended to maintain a production capacity of up to 2,50,000 units, should the need arise. However; unfortunately the Nano nameplate could sell only 2,98,011 units in its entire lifetime!
The initial hype around the car was so much that the sales of Nano’s closest competitor Maruti 800 fell by 20%, immediately following the unveiling of the Nano.
The Tata Nano had drawn over 2.03 lakh fully paid bookings amounting to nearly Rs.2,500 crores, in an encouraging response to the car launched on 23rd March.
The launch response was humongous – The Tata Nano website recorded an unprecedented 3 crore (30 million) hits from the date of launch of the car to the closure of the booking period (25th April 2009), nearly 1 million hits a day. About 14 lakh people walked into Tata Motors’ Showrooms, Croma and Westside stores across the country to catch a glimpse of the car. A total of 6.10 lakh forms were purchased from the booking centres. 70% of the 2.03 lakh bookings received were financed, while 30% of the applicants booked in cash by paying fully. About 4,000 cash bookings were made online through www.tatanano.com, a first for the auto industry in India at that time.
Tata had envisioned huge success for the Nano as India was primarily an entry-level hatch market. Rather India was one of the biggest markets in the world for entry-level hatches!
Tata registered the highest yearly sales of the Nano in 2012 and since then the model struggled to make an impact.
Primary reasons for Nano’s downfall were:
Branding it the ‘World’s Cheapest Car’. “It became termed as a cheapest car by the public and, I am sorry to say, by ourselves, not by me, but the company when it was marketing it. I think that is unfortunate,” Mr. Tata later admitted himself.
Safety Concerns – In 2010, a Nano caught fire in Mumbai and over the next few months, several such incidents were reported. However; the company denied that it was connected to the car’s design or its parts and blamed “foreign electrical equipment” found on top of the exhaust system.
Elongated Initial Waiting Period. The consumers were not ready to wait and with the continuous branding of the marque as a “poor man’s vehicle” turned customers away.
Build Quality. In 2014, Nano was crashed for NCAP by ADAC in Germany. Despite Tata’s claim that it was expecting 4 stars; the Nano actually got Zero stars for lack of adult protection and didn’t even meet basic UN safety requirements.
Irrespective of the journey of Tata’s Nano; it garnered tremendous adoration from the auto experts. Here are some of Nano’s accomplishments.
1. Nano In US’ Autoline After Hours Podcast Thumbnail
There’s a Nano along with other cars in their background placeholder image. They may stop using it if they found out that Tata is not making it anymore.
Tata Nano in Autoline Afterhours Podcast Banner Image
Check out their channel on YouTube at Autoline After Hours
2. Jalopnik’s review calls it ‘an engineering triumph’ and that Bugatti Chiron is an ‘engineering stunt’.
Tata Nano is Better Than Bugatti Chiron
The author’s conclusive remarks were:
“… a true spiritual heir of what the original Volkswagen Beetle, Citroën 2Cv, BMC Mini, and Ford Model T strove to be. I can think of no higher praise than that.”
It’s a level of respect probably no other made-in-India car from an Indian carmaker will every earn.
Tata Nano design showcasing Man-Maximum, Machine-Minimum principle executed to perfection – Jalopnik
The entire review is worth a read. Check it out over here: Jalopnik’s Review of First-Gen Tata Nano
3. Jay Leno has one
And he praises the Nano’s AC claiming that it’s better than his McLaren F1’s. Check out his review of the Tata Nano:
4. Tata Nano Could Become A Future Classic
In an Autocar India blog by Perseus Bandrawalla, the Nano has everything in it to become a future classic and a collectable. We agree with the logic. It’s a car with a sound intention that did its job well but failed. Now all that remains is a victory lap in the end and we have ourselves a story worthy of projecting on the big screen.
Here’s the Autocar blog: Power To The People
Second-Gen 2015 Tata Nano Automatic
In 2015, Tata gave it a thorough update. Here’s all that it got in 2015:
A fancier steering wheel – the one that’s also used in the pre-facelift Tata Nexon
Openable hatch for easier access to the boot and engine for maintenance
Better sound insulation
5-speed AMT automatic, straight from the Tata Tigor
A comprehensive MID with real-time fuel and average efficiency readouts for each of the two trip meters, gear position indicator
Larger fuel tank (24 litres instead of 15 litres)
Improved paint quality
But none of it could save the Nano from its demise. Due to the dwindling sales; Tata Motors decided to pull the plug on the Nano in 2018. There is no denying the fact that Nano was one of India’s most iconic cars, and will always remain in our hearts as the car that made the global automobile behemoths take note of India. If succeeded; it would have made Tata Motors a major automobile player not only in India but across the world too. Hence; even that the Nano is now gone – It is definitely not forgotten and will always be remembered!