Good news or bad news? Tata Motors launches “Nano”: 55 mpg, $2000 car Peoples Car

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"Good news or bad news? Tata Motors launches “Nano”: 55 mpg, $2000 car Peoples Car"

I’d love to hear your comments on the Tata Nano. Tata Motors launched commercial sales of the low-cost car Monday.

The 2-cylinder Nano gets 55 mpg (23.6 km/litre), which the company claims is “the highest for any petrol car in India” and hence has “the lowest CO2 emission amongst cars in India.”

That’s the “good news.” On the other hand, the stripped down version — yes, it is a bit odd to describe any version of a 9 foot by 5 foot by 5 foot car as not stripped down — which does not have heating or air conditioning, air bags, a stereo or, apparently, even a “cup holder in front console,” is only $2000.

And that means a lot more potential buyers.

Still, I’m not sure anybody United States — where the average vehicle gets 20 mpg! — can criticize India too much. That didn’t stop the New York Times editorial page a year ago when the car was first unveiled:

Given the gas-guzzling behemoths that so many of us in the West feel entitled to, it would seem hypocritical to begrudge people in poor countries an affordable car. Much like the hypocrisy of the dealers who have resisted Tata’s bid for Jaguar on the grounds that Indian ownership would erode the brand’s prestige.

The sad fact is that the world has changed since Americans celebrated the egalitarian breakthrough of the Ford Model T. We know now that gas-driven automobiles do terrible damage to the environment, and the notion of loosing millions upon millions of new carbon emitters on our planet is not something to celebrate.

So while we admire Mr. Tata’s business and engineering acumen in creating the Nano, we ardently wish that he would focus his talents elsewhere: creating transportation that is both affordable and doesn’t emit ever more greenhouse gases. That would be something for the whole world to celebrate and buy.

But the truth is that no such transportation exists until the world makes a mammoth transition to clean energy. Certainly the cleanest car you can buy is no car. And Tata claims “the Nano pollutes 12 percent less than a typical scooter,” though I’m not certain that’s CO2.

For the foreseeable future, fuel-efficiency is the best strategy. And even in 2020, when oil is probably $200 a barrel or more, fuel efficiency will still be one of the two best strategies for reducing CO2 emissions in cars — along with electrification. Hmm. An electric Nano.

Thoughts?

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39 Responses to Good news or bad news? Tata Motors launches “Nano”: 55 mpg, $2000 car Peoples Car

  1. barryjo says:

    So they are producing a car that gets 55mpg. And what are they replacing?
    Scooters and bicycles. And they plan to produce millions of them. That is real progress.
    But can it be used for anything but transporting 2 people and one sack of groceries? I think the US tried something similar in the “80′s. Pieces of crap.

  2. Jim Bullis says:

    We never get to know how fast the car will be going when it gets the 55mpg. I doubt it will be the 80 mph which is barely acceptable for operation on US freeways.

    This is not a criticism. For India, perhaps there is not a freeway to drive on at this speed. Good engineering would adapt to the application intended, and serve the people who need the car.

  3. oxnardprof says:

    I think that the model they are following, the US model, is what is wrong. The car does provide transportation that is more affordable to the Indian population, akin to the concept of the Model T. Mass transit in India, for the average person, appears to be an onerous mode of travel (based on descriptions I have read, not personal experience.

    The transportation model adopted in this country leaves me with no choice. I cannot take public transit from home to work. I do not have transportation near my home that allows me to abandon the use of a car. To the extent that this car moves India on a path to follow the US transportation model, this is a disaster.

    I do not have enough information to compare the use of scooters to the new vehicle. As an American, I certainly am suspect to criticize the desire of people in developing nations to follow the US dream. However, this dream has the potential to turn into a nightmare because we cannot find a better path.

    So, I do not cheer the development of the new car while I understand the market for it.

  4. Will Greene says:

    My thoughts exactly, how can we criticize India when we consume 25% of the world’s oil with 3% of its population. We need to look at the global market for information, but focus on what we can control, our own practices. We have to lead by example like we once did.

  5. paulm says:

    An electric Nano…ZENN
    http://www.zenncars.com/

    Not quite as cheap though….

  6. paulm says:

    ….”doubt it will be the 80 mph which is barely acceptable for operation on US …”

    mmm…have we forgotten $4/gallon gas already!

  7. john says:

    We have seen this coming for some time, and have failed to act — to lead. The average American uses more than 50 times as much energy as the average Bangladeshi, and more than 5 times the global average.

    As long as we hold out our existing model of what it means to be wealthy, then that’s what folks will aspire to. And we cannot complain, censure or otherwise try to restrict others from getting what we got. What we can do is provide a more sustainable model for them to covet.

    Our global ecological footprint — a measure of net environmental impact — is 12 times that of Africa, and about 6 times that of Latin America and 5 times that of Asia. Imagine these nearly 5 billion people consuming at our rate — that would be the equivalent of well over 30 billion people inhabiting the earth.

    The US and the developed world must create a sustainable and renewable model of development built around clean technology, low consumption, and circular flows of stock.

    Our survival depends upon it.

  8. Jim Bullis says:

    I had the dubious pleasure of driving from the San Diego area to the San Jose area. I did this also when gasoline was well over $4. Guess what, it made very little difference. Both trips were on Saturday so the traffic had to be somewhat more discretionary driving than weekday driving.

    There was no perceptible deviation of the average speed from the same number, well over 80 mph. The traffic density from LA to SD showed very little change over the last few years.

    There are various issues that seem relevant to this Nano event. First, it looks like the main efficiency gain is due to the light weight. There seems to be no serious aerodynamic work represented, so low speed mpg should be ok. All things considered, 55 mpg is not very impressive.

    But maybe we should be careful about giving this thing a plug. India is much more locked in to coal than we are. If anyone thinks we can change that, have at changing it in the USA first. And don’t fall for the slight of hand that would make it appear that coal is not the price setting base for both natural gas and electric power. No, California is only tricking its sunny self into believing its ban on new coal has any real global effect. It only appears to work as long as the rest of the country refuses to jump on the band wagon.

  9. Bob Wallace says:

    Two thoughts…

    1) The ~50 mpg Nano is largely going to replace ~60 mpg scoters, not bicycles.

    2) The excitement that we see from so many millions of people over the possibility of owning something that we take for granted in the western world should make it very clear that people want personal transportation vehicles.

    Yes, people will and do use public transportation in denser populated areas when it is available in an acceptable form.

    But they also want to ability to put the family in the car and drive to Grandma’s from time to time.

    We would be smart to not fight the desire for personal transportation. It’s a battle, and probably a war, that we would lose.

    Better we work toward a future of sustainable personal transportation and at the same time improve our mass transit systems where road/parking space is limited.

  10. Sasparilla says:

    This appears to be India’s model T or something along those lines and India should enjoy the spotlight.

    We definitely want India and China to become fully developed countries/economies – and I can’t begrudge them from wanting to make things better for themselves (and have better lives). Personal transportation is one of those things to strive to on the way up the ladder.

    Looking at the big picture of things though, all I can say is that the electric vehicle cannot come soon enough – as it will be quite a while before the technology is cheap enough to buy instead of a Nano and we need to get there ASAP.

  11. Bob Wallace says:

    Tata plans on releasing a compressed air propelled version of the Nano within the next two years.

    Compressed air drive will be a lot less expensive than battery propulsion (until battery prices become drastically cheaper.) And the air can be compressed using green energy.

    It will be a way to bring low cost clean personal vehicles to the market.

  12. Dana says:

    I think Bill Wallace’s point #1 is key – these 55 mpg cars are going to be replacing scooters which are probably only slightly more fuel efficient. Really the Nano isn’t much more than a large, enclosed scooter. But the Nano can more safely transport several people than a scooter, so it may even take some scooters off the road.

    An EV competitor to the Nano is already in the works though: the Tara Tiny.
    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/02/out_nanoing_the.php

    Though I believe a very large percentage of India’s energy comes from coal, so the Tiny wouldn’t represent a terribly large CO2 emissions reduction over the Nano.

  13. jorleh says:

    200 million Tata Nanos in India and China in ten years. 500 million in twenty. Those people deserve their Tata Nanos. This is only one small part on our way to Hell.

  14. vv-tec says:

    What a cool machine! This is actually the most advanced auto on the road today and should serve as a wake up call to the auto manufacturers. Why on earth would anyone pay $20k for a small car to sit in traffic when they can have a Nano for $2k???

    Western manufacturers must innovate and stop selling 300KW cars to drive in stop and go traffic.

  15. Bob Wallace says:

    A thought…

    These things are small enough and cheap enough to be “card swipe rentals” in crowded western cities.

    I suspect a lot more people would be willing to use public transportation to get to and from cities if they had a convenient way to get around the city once they got there.

    Cabs are expensive and buses often run inconvenient routes and infrequently.

    (I don’t think petroleum engines are long for this world given the battery breakthroughs we’ve seen in the last couple months. Might be best put our energy into getting lots of green energy on the grid to fuel the cars to come.)

  16. Thomas says:

    I think it’s telling that Americans would even consider criticizing the development of an affordable fuel-efficient car in India (according to Wikipedia, in 2004 per capita CO2 missions in the US were 20.4 tons compared to 1.2 tons in India). Leave India alone, at least until the US cleans up its own act. I admit that the US is a car dependent country and changing that takes a lot of time, but still, the fact is that even the hybrids in the US are big cars. Until we figure out our own mess, we have no right to tell other people or nations what to do.

  17. hapa says:

    the tata nano is a distraction. if the rules aren’t right, it doesn’t matter. tens of millions of little cars or a few hundred coal-fired power plants. doesn’t matter. either way you missed your chance.

    if you can get your rules in line with the situation, though — somehow be the first country in history to curb the enthusiasm in the face of damnation — without murdering anyone — what’s a few little cars?

    the energy budget per capita of the near future is — really amazingly small — if we want to give nature room to breathe. if little cars like this are how people want to spend their watts who’s to say “no.”

  18. Maarten says:

    Owning a car, however small, improves your marrying prospects. Besides a car owner and driver profits from subsidized roads, fuel and can impose huge costs on society as a whole. So, who would not want to own and drive a car, rather than, say, vote for improved public transit?

  19. Bob Wallace says:

    “the energy budget per capita of the near future is — really amazingly small — if we want to give nature room to breathe”

    But is it?

    Let’s set aside the possibly/probably rough transition from now to the future and jump forward a bit….

    Cal Cars has done a plug in Prius, uses 0.26 kWh per mile.

    Were we to to be the average US driver we’d pile up 12,000 miles per year, an average of 33 miles per day. 8.56 kWh per day.

    Now were we to buy enough solar panels and put them somewhere that gets a good fours of usable sun per day we’d need 2.2 kW of panels. At $4 per watt (which will soon be a high price, installed) we’d need to spend less than $9k to power our ride for the next 25+ years.

    We’ve got an incredible amount of sunlight striking the Earth’s surface, tera-whatevers of wind blowing across it, and more energy than we can conceivably use under our feet.

    Now I’m not suggesting we squander energy, continue to grow our population, make our stuff out of non-sustainable materials, but I think we have a shot at a less than bleak future.

  20. Nick says:

    Small as it is,where are they going to put them? Tens of millions more cars will drive (pun intentional) a wave of highway construction leading to urban land resumption, loss of agricultural land and expensive legal conflict.

  21. Martin Hedberg says:

    If peak oil/gas/coal isn’t here in near future, OR humanity voluntarily let most of the fossil carbon stay in the ground, we will face devastating changes in the climate system. (We may already have lost the initiative on this matter).

    There is NO future for the type of cars we (US, Europe…) produce so far (I’m Swedish). If we are to use any cars at all it has to be cars that produces lot’s of km per amount of energy (electricity, ethanol, gasoline…) you put into it.

    We can’t blame Tata for making something that has a far better energy-performance than what we have done so far. What we should do is build capacity for not using as much energy, and especially fossil energy, to gain welfare. And thank Tata for making it obvious that our western cars (and way of living) obviously is out of date. Or will be in near future.

    PS. No I don’t think the Tata way of living is the future either. But they help us to understand that our definitely is not. DS.

  22. barryjo says:

    If I remember correctly, cows are sacred in India. They are allowed to roam freely and the people must get out of the way. Wonder what will happen when one of these “cars” hits a pile of bovine dung. Or worse yet, that from which the dung was expelled. Won’t be pretty!

  23. Bob Wallace says:

    Barryjo – you really should visit India. It’s an interesting place and becoming like the rest of the rest of the world quite rapidly. See “old India” while there’s some left.

    The cows are more tolerated than worshiped. In fact, they’re really kind of disappearing from the streets. Many of them seem to be taking one way journeys to Islamic Bangladesh if you get my drift….

    Bottom line, Indians want comfortable lives and they want “stuff”. Not that stuff is happiness, but they’d like to find that out for themselves.

    Hope we figure out how to make stuff and power stuff in green ways fast.

  24. DB says:

    “My thoughts exactly, how can we criticize India when we consume 25% of the world’s oil with 3% of its population.”

    Of course US manufacturing (at $5.2 trillion last year) is 13 times India’s, so a significant difference is to be expected, regardless of consumption.

  25. barryjo says:

    Mr. Wallace: I googled “india, cows”. The terms “sacred” and “Worshipped” were quite prominent in a number of articles.
    To the point where they are puttting cow urine in soft drinks.
    I really don’t think a visit is in my future!
    And DB: your quote is irrelevant. Sorry.

  26. Ronald says:

    As I understand it from one article I read, China was able to convert a whole bunch of people from riding gas powered scooters to electric powered scooters that helped somewhat on pollution. Maybe that’s the future of these cars.

  27. Tony says:

    I’m with Bob Wallace on this one. It’s hard to get people away from the idea of owning their very own car. Lets admit it, there is a great sense of freedom that comes with car ownership. “I want to drive to Minnesota right now to visit my friends. Ok, hop in, lets go, right now.”

    Zip Cars have been great for me. They are convenient and still give me that sense of being able to get somewhere that isn’t public transp. accessible or carry a large load of stuff if I absolutely want to. Initially I had reservations about being “trapped” without a car, but after two years of using a combination of bike, public transp. and zipcar, I will never buy I car again if I can get away with it. Scaling up a shared car system in metropolitan (or even smaller city) areas is something I’d like to see more of.

    Again, this gets back to people’s “need” to have a car on hand all the time. If the options were available, convenient, priced well and we could get away from our love of car ownership, then it could work. I fear changing our (US) infatuation with owning cars is not an idea that will die easily.

  28. Jim Bullis says:

    The biggest disappointment with the Nano is that it ruins the big advantage of the motor scooter which is that it takes up half the width on the road.

    How many Nanos on the road will carry more than one person? My guess is that in the end it will be about like in the USA.

    Take away the cars with the second person being a child, and the number goes down a lot more.

    Wouldn’t it be great if we could get something safer and more comfortable than the motor scooter without demanding that all cars be road hogs?

  29. Jim Bullis says:

    It has been suggested that the process of designing a system the requirements should be clealy set down and assessed. A ranking in importance is a good way to sort out the priorities. Then you have a better chance of getting it right. It is a little more complicated than that, but my cut on this is:

    Rank 1:
    Fast.
    Safe.
    Comfortable.

    Rank 2:
    Convenient
    Multi-purpose (whole soccer team, whole family, kid drop off, or commute)

    Rank 3:
    Attractive

    Rank 4:
    Enable conversation among occupants

    Rank 5:
    Exhibit wealth of owner

    Rank 6:
    Enable romance (ok but maybe another setting would also work.)

    Rank 7:
    Demonstrate sexual prowess

    Rank 8:
    Prove rebellious nature by maximizing noise, size, and waste

    It seems that the American car works this list backwards. It looks like India aspires to do the same, though perhaps they will skip ranks 7 and 8.

    Any additions?

  30. Geoff Hnederson says:

    No surprise that India is following the white rabbit down the same hole we did. At least they went for fuel economy of the way down, so good for them.

    But millions of nano’s, in whatever country, is still a lot of pollution, no matter what arguments surround that fact. As someone mentioned, how about an electric Nano?

    The Nano also says something about the way India, and maybe other countires, see’s Climate Change. Even given it’s fuel efficiency, which compared to world norms is miserly, the production and use of the Nano, in the proposed vast numbers still means a huge increase in Consumption, which causes pollution.

    So maybe it’s time to consider a ‘longevity” covernant on products so they have an economic lifetime that amortises their environmental cost. Apply that to household appliances – do away with planned redundancy – and there’s a huge step forward for the world. Ah I ramble again…

  31. charlie says:

    People are right that it will be replacing scooters. What I don’t know is what sort of engine/exhaust the Nano will be using, but I suspect it will be cleaner than what is used in scooters. If successful, a small victory for cleaner air.

    In terms of carbon and fuel use, not much of a difference. India has to import its oil and doesn’t have much to export in return. Finding ways to cut that fuel bill should be more of a national priority. However, in India kerosene stoves use more oil than cars. Wood stoves produce more carbon than kerosene and also create more pollution and deforestation.

    There are plenty of small cars out there; what the Nano represents is a highly engineered solution to the small car world.

  32. qwerty says:

    It’s funny that Indians are not allowed to develop because Americans and Europeans have messed everything up. I guess this is quite a selfish opinion!!

    Why can’t they develop? What are they replacing with that car? As said before, mainly scooters which polude way more.

    I think that first people need to look at their belly and change their “deffects” and then, just once they are sure they are doing the “right” thing, critisice others!

    Or the Tata Nano will be worse than being the country which most uneficient cars in the market? Because in US you are the kings of trucks and small SUVs for people that use them just to commute!!

  33. shopa says:

    The Nano is not safe to drive on US highways. It will be crushed by large SUV’s in a collision. Look at my website for a picture of a small car that has been hit in rear by a large car.

    http://www.safersmallcars.com

    On my website is an invention that greatly improves small car safety.
    Small and light vehicles are the easiest way to get high mpg.

    Please help me promote this invention.

  34. cait says:

    Sorry if this covers ground that has already been taken by others, but a few too many comments to read through on work time ;)

    Speaking as someone who lives without a car perfectly adequately, I don’t want to say “And we cope, so there” or similar nonsense. The point is that I cycle to work, or take a bus / tube and we do hire a car when it is completely necessary, having 2 small children and having the odd family member in inaccessible places.

    Those who have said “the mistake is trying to follow the American model” are partially right, but in the US as well as in the UK, if one lives within a city, transport links tend to be good enough to warrant living without a vehicle, particularly if there is a localised hire facility (ie: locally based vehicles available by the hour at low cost).

    the big problem in all western post-industrialised societies is that anyone living outside of urban locations are basically screwed. I have little time for anyone, even with kids, gassing on about the need to own a vehicle from within a city, but living rurally means disastrous infrastructure, uncoordinated transit systems and for my money, if a cycle ride is going to be longer than an hour (10 miles or so) then that makes it problematic, from a commuting perspective.

    Taking all that to looking at India, it’s clear that heavy, heavy investment in public transit systems based on electric vehicles (tubes, electric trams / buses etc) needs to take place within India’s enormous cities. building infrastructure to provide reliable electric vehicle transit in to India’s vast rural landscape… in the next 50 years, that is not likely to be achieved, realistically?

    The vast number of people living in rural communities are living hand to mouth. Even there, a Tata car is out of reach for many. The gigantic % of cars that will be sold will be within cities. This spells even more congestion hell, and cities grinding to a halt.

    Perhaps then the Indian govt will divert revenues to building an eficient 21st century public transport system with targetted reduction of cars on the roads. Preceding this will be the inevitable congestion charges affecting vehicles which will make the $2k starter price only part of the expense picture.

    Not to mention the built in emmissions in the creation of the actual vehicles, obviously.

    Yes, we need electric vehicles, but sticking to this notion that we all need one, constantly standing in the garage, on the offchance that we need to visit granny, or because we need to go to the shops is ridiculous. Sharing, spot hiring and non-car reliance is the way forward – globally, irrespective of the electric/oil driven question. Less, less, less, less, less.

  35. joneden says:

    shopa Says:
    March 26th, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    The Nano is not safe to drive on US highways. It will be crushed by large SUV’s in a collision. ……

    A car like the Nano would also crush our balance of payment problem,our carbon emissions, and our dying car industry……but we wouldn’t want to focus on those issues at the expense of extra room, height above the road, warmed seats, tinted glass, entertainment systems, navigation systems, air bags, the attendant prestige, etc etc

  36. joneden says:

    …not focus on those issues unless (and until) those nice foreigners buying our bonds should decide they don’t care for any more of them–some recent heavy breathing from the Chinese suggests that day may not be that far away.