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Nano: The new Model-T

Last updated on: January 12, 2008 13:28 IST

It is the cheapest passenger car in the world. In a reference to its price tag of 100,000 rupees, its manufacturer, Tata Motors, calls it the "one-lakh car". Environmental activists believe that the Tata Nano will soon be known as "the car that ate India".

Certainly, an affordable car for the Indian people is going to have an impact on carbon emissions and traffic congestion. Indeed, without a radical shake-up in the local pricing of congestion and the global pricing of carbon, this is a sample of what business as usual is going to look like for the next couple of decades: as wealth grows in India and China, so, too, will carbon emissions.

But these problems cannot be laid at the feet of Tata Motors. Policymakers will have to take the tough choices themselves, and find a way of protecting the planet without condemning India's commuters to getting around, Fred Flintstone-style, with vehicles powered "courtesy of Fred's two feet". Higher fuel prices would promote efficiency, and resurrect an old joke: "How do you double the value of a Nano?" "Fill the tank."

Environmental concerns aside, there is much to celebrate about this bold successor to the Ford Model-T. Cynics can laugh about the lightweight construction (another old joke: it takes two engineers to make a Nano, one to fold and the other to apply the glue) but as a result of saving weight, Tata Motors can boast that the car does 50 miles a gallon and hits European emissions standards.

The truth is that this is an impressive realisation of a corporate vision, a car long-promised, designed explicitly to hit a price point, and one that will meet the needs of poorer consumers. It is safer than a bicycle and cleaner than an old moped.

And here's a thing: it looks as though it's a dream to park this car. That's worth thinking about. Tata Motors is in pole position to buy Land Rover and Jaguar. Why bother? At £1,300 plus taxes and delivery, surely the Nano is the car to take Britain by storm.

FT.com