Tata Motor’s Nano, dubbed the world’s cheapest car, near end of its run


Nano: Masses didn’t want it

Safe, affordable personal transportation for India’s masses had been a quest for Ratan Tata when he brought forth the ultrasimple, ultralow-cost Nano a decade ago.

Tata thought his company’s automotive unit could turn a profit making one-lakh passenger cars — an attention-grabbing round number in India: 100,000 rupees, which came out to about $2,500 at exchange rates.

That was then and this is now. Indeed, a moment of silence, please, for the world’s cheapest car, which has all but died in India. It was almost 10 years old.

The Nano’s death was confirmed by production numbers: Tata Motors produced 1 unit in June, down from 275 in the same month last year. Exports were zero, vs. 25 in June 2017. The company acknowledged that the car — which starts at roughly $3,500 — in its “present form cannot continue beyond 2019.”

Tata: Wanted car for masses

The death of the “people’s car,” as Tata Motors branded it in 2008, holds lessons for automakers hoping to make it in India: While consumers may be value-conscious, cutting costs to the bone in pursuit of a gimmicky claim to fame is no use if the end result is a second-rate vehicle with a tendency to catch fire.

Hailed as a “milestone in frugal engineering,” the Nano fell short on safety, ran behind schedule and produced questionable crash test results.

Tata remains hopeful: A spokesman for the group said the Nano “may need fresh investments to survive.” Yet the evidence suggests that pursuit of the lowest price above all else was misconceived.



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