Tata Nano

What started as a revolution for first time car buyers in India ended up as a whimper a decade later. Jaguar Land Rover’s parent company Tata Motors has finally said good-bye to its $2,500 motorcar – the Gen I Nano.

With just one unit produced in July, and after deliberations Tata Motors has admitted that the Nano cannot continue in its present form.

The idea wasn’t bad, the execution and marketing was. It was Ratan Tata’s pet project and he envisioned the Nano as the most affordable car for Indians. It was conceived as a safer mode of transporting the family than on an exposed two-wheeler.

The Nano project was originally slated for West Bengal. While Tata poured in mllions of dollars in building the infrastructure in Singur on land leased by the then Communist government, the whole project was scuttled by Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee who believed dying farmers were more important than industry in the state.

In the end, a discouraged Ratan Tata pulled the plug by saying, “What will you do if a gun is put on your head.” Business savvy Gujarat pitched for the project and the Nano project was kick-started once again.

It was a ground-up project for the Tata Motors. The benchmark was Maruti’s 800. When the no-frills Nano was launched, it was greeted with scepticism and paranoia due to its quirky styling and niggles like cars catching fire due to faulty wiring. It wasn’t exactly a styling icon but the rear-engined Nano did carry people from point A to point B with frugality.

In this day and age of smart marketing, it took a while for Tata PR to accept the fact that labelling the car as the ‘cheapest in the world’ wasn’t exactly the best way forward for any product, let alone the Nano.

All this happened as China began flooding the global markets with cheap, sub standard products and this cheap was associated with China and the subconscious element perhaps got stuck in the minds of the Indian consumer.

Finally, reports say that Ratan Tata wanted to keep a limited production line alive for “emotional reasons” and even fought bitterly with his successor Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry who called the Nano a “legacy hotspot”, a monkey on the back. It should have been kept alive as a triumph of frugal Indian engineering, many would argue.

Now it remains to be seen whether a Gen II Nano will be planned as newer priorities takeover. If Tata Motors can turn-around and make Jaguar Land Rover as one of the most successful automotive brands in the world, there’s no reason why a successor Nano can’t be built. Perhaps, Nano with its goodwill could become a subbrand for Tata Motors and represent electric cars in future.

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