The Little Nano That Shouldn't?

India Nano Launch

“Nano” was the greeting from the beloved TV alien Mork from planet Ork. It’s also the name of the $2,050 car just introduced into the market by Tata Motors of India – a vehicle said to make the concept of owning a car less alien to the poor people on our own planet. Guess the poor are expected to drive as they eat with a premium on fast and cheap and a disregard for health and safety.

According to the Times of India, the Chairman of Tata Group, Ratan Tata, is hoping his Nano will be heralded as the “People’s Car”. But let’s evaluate if it has what the people really need. The Nano 623cc comes with a 33HP petrol engine but the company promises a diesel alternative will follow soon.

I think it’s pretty clear the people need to get off of the fuel habit all together. The Times says critics have been skeptical about the car meeting emission norms, but Tato insists it passes the test in India as well as meeting the stringent Euro 4 norms.

Still, doesn’t it make more sense for India to follow the carbon footsteps of Israel and embrace the electric car? Israel will offer tax incentives to people who buy Shai Agassi’s vision of utilizing a vehicle much like the cell phone, consumers receiving the car and subsidized hardware and paying a monthly fee for expected mileage. This is more of a progressive direction – one the planet can better afford.

Safety of the Nano also has been questioned. It lacks air bags and antilock brakes (apparently the people don’t need safety) and air conditioning, a radio and power steering are extra options in the more deluxe models.

The 10.2 feet length is good for parking in tight spaces but not so beneficial when up against an aggressive SUV or truck. The Nano also features one 623cc rear engine, a wiper and a tiny trunk. Its makers say the Nano has scored normally in all full frontal crash tests.

The little Nano that could arrived six months later than expected because of plenty of controversy. An eruption of violent protests over land by farmers and opposition political party leaders in West Bengal caused Tato to relocate its factory to the state of Gujarat. It’s expected to take up to a year to complete the new factory so the company can roll out a limited number of the cars from its other plants in India.

According to AP News, Tato is recovering from the down-turned economy and reduced consumer spending, declaring a loss of $54 million and trying to refinance the remaining $2 billion of a $3 billion loan it borrowed to buy Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford Motor Co. in June.

So who is the market for this ultra-cheap car? The Nano was designed with struggling farmers and thrifty businessmen across India in mind. Earlier this month, Nano Europoa was introduced at the Geneva Motor Show with a planned launch of 2011. There are no plans yet to bring the car to America. And although Tato is seriously in debt, this baby will hardly make a dent.

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Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.