Expectedly, the launch of Tata Nano at the India Auto Expo in January was a much awaited affair. It was also one of those dream occasions when the company itself did not have to go all out for an advertising blitzkrieg - the media and competitors took care of that. After the launch, to be more precise, the showcase launch, Nano was the topic for coffee table conversation for almost everyone - skeptics and believers alike. Many people asked me too - "What do you think of the Nano". Ha! No no, not that I am a great automobile seer; but I guess people like having different opinions than the person facing them.
Now, what do I feel about the Nano? Simply speaking I am a fan. I may not buy the car when it comes out but not liking it would not be the reason. For most of us, especially people who follow Indian newspapers, impact of the Rs 1 lakh car, takes a while to settle in. We have been listening about it for such a long time, that now it is just another car being unveiled.
But you can be sure, it is a watershed moment for Indian engineering and for automobile industry all over the world. For me, Tata Nano is a symbol of many hard and soft factors combined. Let me see to what extent you agree with me:
1. Ratan Tata is a visionary par excellence. Tata companies have displayed an uncanny aggressiveness under him - they have shed the staidness that Tata companies were once associated with. The thought of Tata envisioning a safer mode of transport for a family precariously perched on a two wheeler is a noble one. But considering many would pooh pooh it as a mere stunt to earn brownie points, I will leave that point aside, for sometime. For me what impresses me most is that a person chose to think in a direction which no one bothered to look at. Someone really thought OUT OF THE BOX. As the Economist put it:
"Instead of waiting for the great swell of prosperity in India and elsewhere to create millions of customers for his company’s products, Mr Tata has decided to wade out—further than any one has gone before—to bring a car to them."
It truly takes guts for a person and for an organization to sink 1700 crore Rs into a project that has more than its share of detractors from day one. Especially for an organization that had turned around only 6 years back. So, if not for anything else, I salute the never say die spirit with which the project was undertaken.
2. Disruptive Innovation (DI). I see DI as something which changes the rules of the game, many times by turning the game on its head. Incremental innovation on the other hand, improvises on something that is already existing. The price tag of Rs 1 lakh offered a lot of scope for innovation of the disruptive kind; rather that was the only way it could be achieved. Innovation not only in terms of the product as such - hollow steering wheels, centrally located dashboard dials, rear mounted engine are just a few of them - but also in the process - plans to ship CKD(Completely Knocked Down) kits instead of fully assembled cars so that more cars can be shipped in every shipment. The belief that the car should not be metal bullock cart but actually a full fledged car ensured that they never backed down on aspects such as quality and emission standards.
3. Speech is Silver, Silence is Golden. As the Tata 1 lakh car progressed, the problems tried their best to keep pace. The Singur problem - Though I would be wrong to blindly believe that Tatas and CPI government were totally clean, I also find it hard to believe that Mamata Banerjee had no vested interests in the entire affair. As the news of progress of Tata's car trickled in, the leitmotif of complains shifted from "How is it possible to build a car like this?" to "A car of this kind will cause immeasureable damage to the environment apart from clogging the city roads". Tata gave a good reply to the pollution skeptics by making a car which is not only Euro-III compliant but can also comply with Euro-IV standards with some tweaking. I was wondering how Tata would counter the "Urban nightmare" question - but I should have known better. Tata's reply (in not exactly the same words) - Are the roads any better now? So you can be sure that the Nano will not create a problem, it will worsen it. Should we ban the Nano because only the rich have the right to clog the roads, only they have the right to have a roof on their head while travelling? - This may sound communist but think hard and it is pure pragmatism. You are stopping a person from buying a car only because he can afford it. Tata let his team's child speak for itself. The fact that the very same people who were rubbishing the idea made a beeline to enter the Nano-car category speaks volumes of their hypocrisy and lack of foresight.
4. Indian Engineering adds the crown jewel to its throne. For quite sometime, Indian innovators have been talked about. Nano is one of a few innovations at an organizational level. Bajaj's Pulsar is another. Indian engineering has made the world believe that seemingly impossible things are possible. And it is possible against all odds.
For those who crib about the lack of power steering, I just smile. I do have an answer to that too but then I am sure once the power steering question is answered, another will take its place.
If this piece sounds as a paean then forgive me, but I am truly impressed.