November 30, 2010

The New Nano Car That’s Causing a Big Stir

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To design and mass-produce an automobile selling for around $2,200 is no easy feat. In an exhibition scheduled to take places at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, a team of students from the College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP) will demonstrate how Tata Motors’ revolutionary new car, Tata Nano, was built and how it works.

The “Unpacking the Nano” exhibition will be on display at the Johnson Museum from Jan. 15 through March 27 of next year, and it will feature two Tata Nano cars. One of the vehicles will be taken apart to reveal and explain that functions of  its parts, called subassemblies. The other vehicle will remain intact to demonstrate the appearance of the finished car.

The team, consisting of AAP students, faculty and alumni working on this exhibition, has created custom shipping crates for the Nano’s parts. Each side of the shipping crate doubles as an exhibition panel and includes text, maps, charts and other valuable information about the vehicle, such cost, weight and various statistics.

According to Prof. Alex Mergold, architecture, the team wanted to illustrate the cumulative effects of all the “nuts and bolts.” Mergold also said that the exhibition encourages discussion and examines the potential implications of the new car.

“What does the Nano add up to as a car? A piece of engineering and design, a status symbol, a social construct, a financial asset, an environmental hazard, a solution to India’s mobility problem? This thing brings out many debates, and that’s what we are hoping to stimulate.”

The exhibition highlights “the role of design as an agent of profound social change,” said Kent Kleinman, architecture, project co-director and AAP dean. “It also addresses safety, the Nano’s role in sustainability in India and other nations, and casts a critical eye toward American automotive culture.”

Though an estimated 250,000 Nanos will be purchased in 2010, the company aims to eventually produce around 2 million cars a year. The four-door car, designed by 70 Tata engineers in 2009, has an aluminum two-cylinder engine, weighs 600 kilograms, and gets up to 65 miles to the gallon.

Tata Motors’ original goal was to meet the price of 100,000 rupees — approximately $2,200 United States dollars — and bring affordable cars to people in India. A safe, more advanced alternative to the bicycles, pull carts and other types of transportation on the streets of India, the Tata Nano was designed to be a convenient way to travel without investing a large amount of money.

According to Spencer Lapp ’09, the final design of the car was different than the design that engineers had expected to create — the car turned out to be more than they hoped for.

“It was started from a blank slate. Tata Motors started with the idea that this car was going to be much less than it eventually became. They tried a design with no doors, plastic curtains and a plastic body. They discovered they could design a car that people would want to drive, not a golf cart,” he said.

After deciding not to use outside manufacturing, Tata designers and engineers designed and built the parts themselves, which proved to be a good strategy, said Lapp.

“The value engineering became a very effective strategy; the car’s weight essentially drove the cost,” he said.

“The design accomplishment is truly extraordinary,” according to Kleinman, who discussed the Nano with Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata ’59, B.Arch. ’62, at a reunion in 2009.

The exhibition, said Prof. Alex Mergold, will not only encourage discussion regarding the car and its social, environmental and economical implications, but also, create new teaching possibilities.

“During the research phase, we ended up with mini-courses on design, engineering, environment, anthropology, sociology — all during only one semester,” he said.

After the exhibition ends in March, Kleinman, Mergold and the rest of the team will hold a symposium: “Unpacking the Nano: The Price of the World’s Most Affordable Car.”

Original Author: Maria Minsker