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Downsizing American’s taste for automobiles

December 5, 2009 Popular Culture 19 Comments

Longer, wider, bigger has been the automotive trend for decades.  Same with increased luxuries.  Tata Motors has bucked industry trends by introducing the world’s cheapest car, the Nano.  The base Nano, made in India, sells for the equivalent of less than $2,500.  Yes, under $2,500!  Before you dismiss the Nano, Tata Motors also makes Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles.

With a starting price of only 100,000 rupees ($2,150), the Tata Nano is the cheapest car money can buy. Already a huge hit in its native India, where it went on sale earlier this year, the Nano could soon be coming to Europe and North America. Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata Group and Tata Motors, has said exports of the Nano are planned for Western markets within the next 2-3 years. (full story)

A hybrid model is planned but that will drive up the cost.

Image source: Wikipedia (click image to view source)

So will this car take off in North America?  It looks like a cute toy.  Like many toys this car uses a lot of plastics.  The Nano has already passed numerous European safety requirements.  This is not the car for highway driving but work and groceries? Sure, why not.  Tata isn’t going to cannibalize sales of Jaguars but a few transit dependent riders might become owners if they live in a place where they can afford to park it.

The private automobile is not going away from American cities but I do like the idea of more Americans buying smaller, cheaper & basic cars.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "19 comments" on this Article:

  1. “Longer, wider, bigger has been the automotive trend for decades.” Funny, my son is watching WALL-e right now. Has me thinking of Buy & Large, I mean, Hummer.

  2. Fenian says:

    I'm not sure that the American public would initially spend money on an Indian brand. It would probably have a stigma similar to driving a Yugo. That is, until the brand had proven itself after a few years (remember when Hyundai first came here?).

    However, I believe that Kei cars from reputable Japanese companies would potentially sell to city-dwellers without the stigma of being cheap or unreliable. Everyone from Subaru to Honda manufactures Kei cars.


  3. JZ71 says:

    Three perspectives – One, be careful what you ask for. You could finance one of these for much less than the cost of a monthly transit pass, so the law of unintended consequences says that this could/would kill public transit outside of those few truly dense, urban areas in the United States and create more demand for parking.

    Two, much like the smart for Two, many people question their longevity, in addition to their crash worthiness – will they last 80,000 miles, 100,000 or, like many modern vehicles, 150,000 miles? And related, if they only last half as long, what's the real impact on the environment? In the real world, especially in rural areas, recycling is a foreign concept. Even in urban areas, where recycling does happen, a vehicle with one half or one third the life of a “normal” vehicle will still have the environmental impacts associated with production, distribution and salvage.

    And three, from Consumers Reports perspective, you're almost always better off buying a good, more-substantial, used car than buying a smaller, less-substantial vehicle.

    In a perfect world, we'd only buy the minimum we need to accomplish any task. We don't live in a perfect world. We live in a world driven by both fear and marketing. Many of us like our luxuries and we like our bigger vehicles. These aren't rational choices, but they're easier and more comfortable, which is why many of us spend our lives working so hard to achieve or acquire them. . .

    • I wasn't asking for it but I can certainly see a minimum wage worker that spends 90 minutes on a bus each day giving serious consideration to this car, despite the obvious drawbacks.

      • JZ71 says:

        “The obvious drawbacks”? Compared to what? Assuming $4000 out the door, I'd assume they'd be able to get a monthly payment of $75-$80, plus $50 a month for insurance and $70-$75 for gas, so you have personal transport for +/- $200 a month / $50 a week. If it means the difference between a job and no job, or making another $1/hour, it's a no brainer, even if it's twice the cost of public transit – even for the poor, time is money. And it holds true whether it's a glorified golf cart (which this is) or a ten=year-old beater . . .

        • Read the links. The car has no trunk or even a hatchback – just the four doors. Full it is barely fast enough for the highway. I wouldn't do it. It is a 4-door enclosed scooter. The cost is currently just over $2K so I don't see it getting much over $3K for a fully loaded hybrid. Insurance would be more than your estimates if someone has a poor credit rating.

  4. aerosmith says:

    What a great platform to work with. …shoehorn in an engine/drivetrain combo from *.Honda, completely revise the suspension, stiffen the body structure, create bigger wheel wells for much larger wheels/tires, install DISC brakes, construct some creative duct work to feed the new powerplant, and enjoy the commute!

  5. JZ71 says:

    I can't figure out if we're agreeing or disagreeing. I think we agree that this is basic transportation and that it really doesn't work well for highway driving. I'm just not sure that having “a few transit dependent riders . . . more Americans buying smaller, cheaper & basic cars” is actually a good thing. There are few places, especially around here, where they, or anyone else, can't “afford to park it” or any other vehicle. And, like you, I agree that “The private automobile is not going away from American cities but I do like the idea of more Americans buying smaller, cheaper & basic cars.” I'm just afraid that cheaper/more affordable will equal even less public transit use and even more single-occupant vehicle use (which I, and probably you, agree is NOT a good thing, especially from a sprawl standpoint). And no, expecting to legislate less parking to “force” people to “do the right thing” ain't gonna happen. That's too idealistic and academic. Give the majority their own cars, and the majority will demand, and get, even more free parking!

    • We are mostly agreeing. One national automotive writer dismissed the idea this car would have an impact on transit riders but I think he is wrong. I can see this as a good car for someone who uses a bike/scooter but wants a car for bad weather times.

  6. Tim says:

    Ford and Chevy both sell a ton of small 1.3 litter engines cars in Brazil. They run on gasoline and ethanol. We will never see these small affordable American cars. Thing is in the USA everyone wants big SUV's and muscle cars. Can't change western thinking. In the USA its all about status. You drive a Prius to say “I care” Its all about image.

  7. Jennifer says:

    I see it not as a transit killer but as supporting a transit lifestyle. If you do have access to commuter-type transit (express routes, MetroLink) or are a person inclined to live near your workplace, this kind of car would make it more attractive and possible for people to go essentially “car-free”. You couldn't use it for highway driving, so you'd stick to transit for the daily commute but with the security of having this wee machine for hopping around town for groceries, doctor's appointments, etc. – things you can get to without getting on the interstate, and places that already have ample free parking anyway, but may take too long by transit to justify using it. I see this as making it easier to offload that GM dinosaur and be even more transit-dependent. With our current transit network, and the very limited range of our local flex-car program, people have to be pretty serious urbanists to go completely car-free here. This kind of wee cheap car might help. And it looks like you could fit two of these babies in one regular-sized parking space!

    • Yeah I think it depends upon your starting point. For the working poor that haven't had a car this may be a way for them to reduce their transit dependence. But for the green household that wants to lower their carbon footprint this could be a great way to use transit, bikes and scooters but still have a car around when needed. It may not reduce transit ridership but change the demographics of the ridership.

  8. JZ71 says:

    And from today's Automotive News: “Tata plans hybrid Nano – SEOUL – India's Tata Group plans to produce hybrid versions of its Nano, its chairman told a South Korean newspaper. Ratan Tata did not elaborate on the possible launch of hybrid versions of the $2,000 Nano. But he told the Maeil Business Newspaper that low-priced goods have better chances of success than high-end goods in India and that preference for lower prices will spread across the world.”

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