Tata Nano could have been a success, if only...

M Ramesh Chennai | Updated on January 27, 2020

Dr V Sumantran, who was the CEO of Tata Motors’ car business between 2001 and 2005, says he had received 'rave reviews' from European and American car designers about the Nano (file pic).

Dr V Sumantran, who oversaw the development of the Nano, says the car could have been produced in Karnataka; the shift to Bengal delayed the project

Tata Motors’ home-grown car, Nano, was not doomed to be a failure, but fate took it in the other direction.

Dr V Sumantran, who was the CEO of Tata Motors’ car business between 2001 and 2005 during which period he oversaw the development of the Nano, says he received “rave reviews” from European and American car designers, who “marvelled at the product”.

Speaking on ‘Auto Industry – Present and Future Tense’ at the Triplicane Cultural Academy on Sunday, Dr Sumantran observed that things could have been different but for one decision.

When Tata Motors was planning for the Nano, the company owned 1,200 acres of land near Dharwad, Karnataka, on the ‘Golden Quadrilateral’ highway. The company could have produced the Nano there, as there was no need to acquire land for the factory.

But the company wanted a bigger area and it decided to go to Singur, West Bengal “and you all know what happened” he said. Trinamool Congress leader, Mamata Banerjee, who was then in the Opposition, protested against the state government acquiring land for the project, and eventually, the project had to be shifted out of the state.

This caused a delay of a year and the cars then had to be produced in a “temporary makeshift” plant in Uttaranchal. Within a month of starting production (because the production had to be hurried to make up for the lost time) three cars caught fire. “All this was unnecessary,” Sumantran said.

Asked if it could be revived, he said that the learnings from the Nano were already being applied elsewhere, such as in the Renault Kwid.

“It was my pet project, I was passionate about it,” said Sumantran ruefully over the fate of the car.

A regular mid-sized vehicle weighs about 1,300 kg — which means, it takes that mass to transport a 65 kg human being. The Nano, on the other hand, weighed only 625 kg.

Earlier in his speech, Sumantran pointed out that even if a fourth of the two-wheelers and buses produced by the year 2025 were electric, it would call for a battery production capacity of 30-40 GWhr, which would call for an investment of Rs 30,000 crore to Rs 40,000 crore.

He said the vast improvements achieved in the emission and safety standards of cars produced in the country meant that India-made cars were acceptable in all parts of the world — which opens up a huge export market.

Competing against the Chinese is a major challenge, he said. “Wherever we go, we find extremely aggressive and subsidised Chinese products.” Yet, wherever there is a high amount of engineering required and the scale is not very big, India can take on China, he said.

On driverless vehicles, Sumantran observed that the vehicles were extremely complex and had come a long way since they were conceived, but there was still a long way to go before they became completely acceptable.

Published on January 27, 2020

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