Friday, January 11, 2008

The Tata Nano: The Not-So-Subtle Implications

More on the Nano and its implications

The Nano will presently not be sold in the US because it will not meet US safety norms.

The US is about three times the area of India and it has about one-fourth the population. This means that the US population density is about a tenth of India's population density. In the US, everything is very far from everything else, - vehicles typically run up 15000 miles a year in the US. If you want to get from point-A to point-B in the US in a reasonable amount of time - you have to travel faster usually at around 60-80 miles/hr. This is not how it works in India - things are simply closer together, you don't drive as much or as fast. This has nothing to do with infrastructure, it simply has to do with the size and population density of India. An Indian car drives about 3000 miles a year at a relatively sedate pace of about 30-40 miles/hr.

As the average speeds in the US are higher, most cars bound for the US market have to meet higher safety norms. The occupants have to be able to survive at least an 80 mile/hr collision. This means the American cars are heavier. A heavier car implies a bigger engine, because if you are on a highway ramp in the US and you have to accelerate to get up to 65 miles an hour - the average speed needed to enter the highway traffic safely you need acceleration - you need *engine* power.

The Nano does not have the size to provide the kinds of crush depths needed in the US market. It is simply too small to accomodate a larger more powerful engine and it cannot safely enter an American highway. A Nano can probably be used as a limited mobility solution in certain urbanised parts of the US - may be places like Manhattan, parts of Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Seattle etc... could use the Nano as way to minimise congestion and pollution, but honestly I don't think most Americans would fit in the Nano - it is just too small for them.

The Nano will not be sold in Europe at the present time - not because it will not meet safety or pollution norms, but because the European manufacturers will oppose its entry. All major European manufacturers are already cranking on their R&D machines to produce clones - we have seen the enthusiasm for collaboration with Tata in France, competitiveness in places like VW, and to our European friends, I say ... best of luck!

The Nano is going to really scare the Japanese and the Koreans. They are used to being the home of industrial innovation in Asia. They were expecting a comfortable ride in India - continually using Maruti Udyog and Hyundai India to control the Indian small car segment. Their ride just got really rough and to top it off - the Indians went and did something they didn't think was possible at all. Major heartburn, worrying and concern will dominate these places - both countries are only just getting used to being second fiddle to China in Asia- neither will enjoy being viewed as below India in anything like this. We will have to deal with this loss of status type fear building these two countries. As things stand, the Japanese and Koreans have some of the best technology development cycles in the world. They should definetely consider developing a powerplant that costs $700 or less, gives out 35-60 hp and is completely emissions free. To our Japanese and Korean friends I say... look what happens when you ignore the needs of your brothers in Asia.

The Chinese are going to copy the Nano, this is just how they react to things like this. They copied the Migs they got from Russia, the rockets they got from America, the motorcycles they got from Japan etc... one should think of it as a Chinese way of learning. Sure, in Shanghai with America-like roads and highways - the Nano will be out of place, but in the cities inside China, the Nano clones will rule the roost. To the Chinese - I really don't have anything to say, if I say something I am worried they will simply repeat it and then claim Chairman Mao said it and then I might be accused of being a Maoist!

As Nano clones gradually takeover the earth - the impact of such a large number of cars will be felt on global oil supply. The urban planning issue in India will get sorted out, but the long term implications for oil demand - say on a twenty year scale are worth looking at. This needs real brains... not the kind that we have auditing Carbon use in India lately.

Which brings me to the Cabron Dioxide "nightmares" that some people are having. One needs to put this in perspective - the Nano driven for about 3000 miles will emit about 0.7 tons of Carbon dioxide. That is about 20 times less than the annual emissions from a well tuned Hummer H3/Chevy Suburban/Chevy Caprice (US Yellow Cab). There are about 100,000 taxis in the US (and about twice that number in service with police and US GSA), about 100,000 Hummer H3s and as many Suburbans in the US, (and a comparable number with the US Army). So all in all just Hummers and Caprices in government and private service constitute about a million vehicles. We should be able to populate the earth with atleast 20 million Nanos before we get to the amount of carbon dioxide these guys are currently emitting.

The Nano emits about 6 times less than the Toyota Prius Hybrid. There are about a million of those around today. Assuming that we take the 1 million Hummers and Caprices and replace them with Prius hybrids, we can still sell about 14 million Nanos and remain at the same emissions level globally.

Yeah... wow.. didn't expect that did you?

BTW.. are you all pissed about the number of enviro-experts that are mouthing off about the Nano? - this is not an isolated occurance. Welcome my friends to the new age of the Carbon Proliferation Ayatollahs.


At 12:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi M,
1)Nano is a slap in the face of gang of three. In one go we have left gang of three behind.

2) American Psywar campaign relentless rolls on.

At 8:51 AM, Blogger maverick said...

My advice to the Japanese,

IGNORE American and Pakistani psyops about India.


At 9:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is currently a seminar series about energy security and climate change running in our institute in american midwest. When the speaker was lamenting about how the illeffects of Amru automotive pollution, an eager hippie stood up and proclaimed "Lets us all drive Prius". Such a noble thought but then I could sense pity in the eyes of the speaker. The reason for the pity is that Americans cannot simply switch over to the prius and their pollution problems will be gone.

The tethers that hold America and other OECD countries are much more fundamental and subtler than that. It is essentially the "Way of american life". Urban sprawl, sub-urbanization of cities, 100-mile 1-way commutes to work etc. The inefficiency is built into the system. On top of that highway system is geared for high-speed transport which automatically curtails your design options to high-horse power vehicles reducing you to hybrid type designs and safety norms which add weight. All this was designed by the americans for themselves assuming unlimited oil supplies.

With so much investment in these urban sprawls and living style so fundamentally tied to oil-platform no wonder the speaker looked with pitiful eyes.

At 12:16 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Hi Anonymous,

I think the way of life is a big problem in shifting the American energy utilisation pattern.

To some extent the way of life has evolved gradually over time, but some recent shifts in the way of life had created a ridiculous excess in terms of energy wastage.

Two cults have been allowed to dominate automotive design in America i.e. the cult of horsepower and the cult of safety.
The SUV and the Minivan have developed out of a marriage of opportunity between these cults and these vehicles are responsible for most of the crisis in American transportation.

Because there are things like the Minivan and the SUV on the streets, vehicles have to be built up heavier to withstand even low speed impacts.

The dominance of these cults ensures that all other factors in urban planning are marginalized and only safety and high acceleration remain the defining features behind most of the urban landscape.

Americans I have spoken to are pining for something like the Nano! but alas, the Nano is not for them!

My ability to find solutions to America's problems is limited.

The resources that can be applied to solve India's even more complicated problems are limited also but I do know some solutions to India's problems, and frankly I would much rather have some main-bhi-American DCH arsehole drive a hybrid Prius to Goa instead of a Mercedes. That is why I told the Japanese and the Koreans to take their garbage off the market and sell us some hybrids instead.

I personally would really love if the ultra image conscious DCH that drive their custom built cars around Delhi compete against each other to produce the most efficient cars they can instead of trying to see who can make a bigger boom box inside his arse.

And I would much prefer if the Amby was sacrificed by GOI to make way for and HM CKD built "Mitsubishi i" or a Tata Nano.

I would dance with joy if the GoI announced a decision to convert all our tanks, APCs, Jeeps and trucks in the Army to more efficient Hybrids within a fixed time frame - even if the time frame was ten years. I mean think about it, we would have the most fuel efficient military machine on the earth!

I am not a Medha Patkar style luddite.

I want India's future to be sexy - sleek, aggressive, environmentally conscious and fuel efficient.

I don't want to see the future of India composed of bunch of overweight round bottom dolls with implants that are chaufferred around by skinny Indians in giant cars that travel at 1 km per hour and pollute the environment with their gas.

The Tata Nano proves that this vision of a sexy India is possible.

Allah has been kind to this unbeliever and unlike those pious fools who carry a sense of entitlement, this unbeliever is eternally grateful for His grace!

At 2:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

M-saar, talking about hybrids, I had always wondered why no effort is being undertaken in India, towards making an after-market/retrofit hybrid kit for auto rickshaws and mini-buses. Wrap an electric motor around the two drive spindles of the auto and add an off the shelf battery, all controlled by basic commodity computing hardware and open source software. Atleast the auto driver need not go through the highly inefficient start/stop routines at every lights. And I had seen them do the whole coasting+restart routine on gradients, rather neatly in my neck of woods (Trivandrum). We need to provide them some help. Unlike the Prius, we dont want any "thermos-storing-hot-coolant-for-next-morning" routine in sunny India.

Wish some Univ/Labs of India will help come up with a basic retrofit kit (controllers, motors, legacy clutch-management, wiring etc) for less than 20,000. The local administrations can of course, provide that much abused "subsidy". Ver 2.0 would be to add a solar panel to the roof, so that they can charge up when they are at the stand. All the components could be recycled or reconstituted of course.

At 6:55 PM, Blogger maverick said...


I want hybrids to clear 1 Alpha east.

Let them bring their fancy tech into the country, then we can do jugad - as always.

At 6:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi M,

yes, jugad is the key ... something that the talking heads against the deal do not understand ...

they rant about $200B worth of reactors that would need to be imported, when it is clear that the first 2 or 3 reactors needed to be imported and the 4th to the 1000th reactor would have been jugad'ed ...

At 10:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


How did the Tata's keep the Nano under wraps until the Delhi Show?

Or did they fail?

At 11:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

M-saar, hmm.... I dont know about them clearing 1 Alpha East and how far they will help us out. I thought the field's leading tech, Toyota's HybridSynergy drive is distinctly, as you refer to them, DCH territory, when it comes to prices. Not for the provinces. From whatever I hear, mainstream hybrid in India is not going to be cheap and even Detroit is trusted with only those areas that they can provide a quid pro quo back to Toyota, as Ford has found out a couple of years back. Now that the world has started noticing the tinkering talents of India, why should they share if we have nothing to give back?

And why should they reduce the price of a hybrid drive to Indian mass market levels, when Grand Ayatollah Al Gore is going around shaming the "beautiful peoples" into buying a hybrid Lexus or two?

That is why I believe we should start tinkering right away and help the next phase of hybridizing non-western markets of this world.

Alok_saar, howdy :)

At 12:41 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Hello Hnair,

You say - why should they share when we have nothing to give back?

I say - we are giving them a share of our market.

When Suzuki first came in and told Sanjay Gandhi that they wanted to setup a plant in India, at that time very few people in India could afford a car. The right deal gave Suzuki exclusive market access for well over three decades.

That MUL could not turn that into a more permanent advantage is just bad luck. It was a solid investment from Suzuki's point of view.

We will make laws that incentivise Hybrid sales. Their hybrids can drive the Mercedes and Fords out of our market. When two million Nanos hit the streets I want to see who wants to sit in gridlock in mercedes while it burns petrol at ten times the rate as a prius.

Let the DCH pay for a hybrid instead of a mercedes. Why do they care all they want a smooth ride to Goa. The more they spend on the car itself the less they have left over for safed maal.

If Toyota sells to the rich and the super rich that way the poor will aspire for better fuel efficiency instead of a useless label like mercedes or rolls royce or masserati.

Al Gore and his friends in India are never going to amount to anything with Indian people. The Rupee is all that matters to them, let them see the power of the Rupee making a difference.

Once India sees the hybrids and other advanced engine tech is capable of, we will see jugad kick in. Less than two decades out, an Indian private company will make a hybrid bulldozer that clears all 700,000 km of road in J&K with such speed and fuel efficiency that even the Pakistanis will be paying BRO to clear Burzil La!

At 12:44 PM, Blogger maverick said...


I have no idea what strategy Tata used to keep the information secure.

The technology used in the Nano is not very secret. The key thing is that to make the Nano at the promised price, requires an Indian sense of economisation.

That is why no one can make the Nano.

At 12:52 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Hello Hnair,

I am only saying that the DCH wants something "sexy".

You tell them the hybrid is "sexy" - they will buy it. Put some bollywood babes on the hybrid and the DCH will sell their mothers and sisters to own it.

Let them get a taste of the hybrid and then all the tinkering will automatically start.

You do realise sir, that our biggest automotive innovation resource are those young sons and daughters body shop owners on the Delhi-Chandigarh road. These fellows drink magnums of champagne and make handmade cars while daddy's company provides small time contracting services for bigger industrial houses. They are our real strength.

Ek bar unko hybrid/fuel efficiency ka chaska lag gaya nah... to bas.. baki sab automatically ho jayega.

All Bharat Sarkar will have to do is make policy or law that panders to their efficiency lust and we will be ek dum fit - the havildar and his bribe taking instincts will take care of everything else.

At 3:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

M-saar, a huge market is something that they already know about and to which they are gradually warming up to. And I think they are gingerly introducing stuff that THEY believe we want. Might not always be what we want.

But my original point was that, the "Indian School of Tinkering", which was gradually gathering acknowledgment since those days in '99 when Prince Philip made that unfortunate "electrical box wired by an Indian" comment at Edinburgh, achieved a huge global break out with Nano. Earlier when MUL was started, there were no expectations of a quid pro quo from us. The only lure was a captive market, which is no longer there in this phase. Same when Huyndai capitalized on the post-liberlization affluence. But things have changed. They know that there are local firms that are agile competitors. And now there is a lot of expectation from India and a certain amount of wariness (accentuated by the Suzuki bosses' public discomfort at their ill advised prophecies). And the Nano has divided the world into the cliche two - haves and havenots. With the havenots watching the antics of the haves with revulsion. NPA territory :)

I hope GoI can do some allocations to different institutions to help out the boys 'n girls that you talked about (btw, Chennai too seem to have an innovative bunch, considering the gusto with which tinkered cars rip up the race track at Sri Perumbudur). This is something that I feel should not be left to the likes and dislikes of social elites of India.

BTW, Al Gore's NGO allies in India are still not clear to me, though his political ones are more clearer. :) However his organization's impact in limiting Indian development cannot be under estimated. He is positioning the penicillin around the expanding culture in the petri dish that is Indian aspiration. To me, Nano was to his ilk, what was Pokharan II to his predecessors, the NPA. And in the same fashion, they are deflecting attention from their own mistakes.

At 2:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At 9:12 AM, Blogger maverick said...


Yes, they Carbon Ayatollahs are going to come after us - of that there is no doubt.

Essentially, the US wants the world to reduce its Carbon emissions while doing absolutely nothing to reduce its own. Shifting the US economy from an energy inefficient mess to a more streamlined energy efficient entity is hard, it requires the very expensive "lifestyle re-engineering" that no one in the US is keen to do. So the same forces that created the NPA have created the entire Carbon Ayatollah setup to deflect the need to change by calling underprivileged people in poorer countries names.

As usual with all US based global policy making - the policy is made to suit the needs of propaganda but not with any sensitivity towards the populations its affects.

From the perspective of US policy, it does not matter if some guy in a third world country has to go hungry in order to meet the carbon norms imposed - so long as someone in the US can put a solar panel on their hummer and feel like they have done something sort of/kind of environmentally friendly - the policy is a complete success.

As with the NPA, I don't have a problem with the Carbon Ayatollahs. And as with the NPA - I have no illusions about what these people are and what they are trying to achieve. I am in favour of a carbon audited world just as I am in favour of knowing where all the nuclear weapons in the world are. I am in favour of negotiations on a carbon cap, just as I am in favour of disarmament.

I also know that at the present time there is no intention in the US to sequester the Carbon Dioxide they have produced. I know every scientist in the US will be happy to milk the funding sources by claiming to work on Carbon sequestration but privately will acknowledge that no solution appears feasible.

It is this disconnect between the reality and the propaganda projections that is unsustainable.

I am happy to seed the minds of young Indians with environmental consciousness but only to the extent it benifits Indian industry and Indian economics.

At 8:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi M,
1)This may not be the right thread nevertheless you have been warning on the effects of falling dollar. Here it is

2) As Kgoan was pointing out earlier, where did the Pakistanis learn suicide terrorism from.


At 5:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why get the DCH hooked on hybrids? I think this is a better option:

Its actually in-production mode!


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