India: $2500 car, boon or bane?

For a measly US$2,500, Tata Motors has launched “Nano”– the world’s cheapest car — making the 4-wheel mode of transport less of a luxury and more of an affordable means of transport for millions of Indians. The car is said to meet all safety norms and apparently emits less pollution than a two-wheeler. With India’s huge lower / middle class population that depends on its two-wheelers, a reliable car at this price would encourage the shift and begin a revolution in transport in the country.

Well, that’s what they are saying.

In India, other than the the issue of affordability, the reason why many people opt for a scooter or a motorcycle, is because of the ghastly state of traffic and driving in the country. I strongly believe that if you can drive in India, you can drive anywhere in the world. It probably has the most undisciplined road traffic on the planet (absolutely out-of-control, actually!), and surely ranks high in the list of world’s worst roads; the most convenient way to get anywhere quickly is therefore a two-wheeler.

An Indian’s skill set to maneuver a motorbike around others, bulls, cars, bicycles, people and potholes is truly fascinating and practicality issues make me wonder whether the scooter-driving target audience will want to switch. When I lived in India, if four of us were to go out, we would always opt to go on our automatic scooters rather than AC cars. As for the Nano being a transport solution for young families, it’s not uncommon to see a nuclear family travel on a scooter — something they are so used to, it doesn’t have the word dangerous associated to it anymore. Also, I don’t think Indian roads can handle more cars! I don’t think the Nano can substitute two-wheelers in India and they will remain the fastest and cheapest mode of transport.

So, although I’m proud that India beat China in this endeavor, I wonder if it was really worth it.