March 28, 2011

Unpacking the Real Nano

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While attending the preliminary talk in the symposium series of “Unpacking the Nano” made me squirm in awe, amazement and pride at a fellow Indian, the rest of my train of thoughts pushed me in divergent directions.

While ‘Nano’ might be an object of intense interest in studying its effect on the familial, financial, societal, middle class lives of working class India, its emphasis as a car is hugely escalated. This is happening not so much for the unwanted hype that things get embroiled in, but because it represents the product from a company of remarkable existence. It is a TATA product, Ratan Tata’s pet before being the publicized affordable car it became at the end of the day.

The number of Nanos sold in 2010 — 200,000 — speaks to something more. Is the Nano a contemporary and stylish car? Yes, it is. An affordable version? Affirmative. A safer one or a preference of choice? Probably no. Of note is that a similar car, Reva, albeit much more expensive than what Nano promises to be, didn’t hit off quite well in the Indian market because it is an electric car with limited capabilities.

While nothing notable was mentioned at the conversation March 13 with Dean Kent Kleinman, Prof. Arjun Appadurai and Tata regarding the safety and efficacy of Nano on the roads of India, it is crucial to see that Nano was a car of debate a short while ago for its potential launch in the U.S.

Nano is no exception for being a object of desire, for being the cute, smart, stylish automobile you might want in your garage. However, it is the name behind its epiphany, which is carrying and will carry its legacy, if it is to have one, in the future. Nano is not a brand name. TATA is. It means more to come out from the manufacturing division of a trusted, royal name in India that gives Nano its debatable shine and glory than anything else. Customers are and will be wary of the limitations that this piece of material interest poses to the society at large. I am not sure if one can imagine main roads in Pune or Nasik or Hyderabad to be connoisseurs of bright-colored or speckled Nanos. And why would the U.S. need this? Not only is Nano a product of a developing country, but don’t we have a Beatle or a mini-cooper here?

While Nano would satiate the craving of a middle class family to procure a four wheeled addition into their house, it might be hasty to predict this as anything close to a global or even an Indian automobile revolution. Just like marriage, once the honeymoon period of owning a car wanes away, a reality check on the burdens it comes with checks in. How safe it is in the un-gated communities of India’s metropolitan cities or suburbs or in the fields way out in the rural scenario is a big question. How much would it weigh on the pockets of a family-managing consumer? What are the hidden costs that lie cast away in the veil of the glamour the car blushes in? Is this going to set a trend in pushing companies to produce more viable and hip products for affordable prices?

Nano is a trendsetter in making people admire, once again, the potent hidden in pragmatic imagination that might come from doodling in a board of directors meeting.

Like all things that become a hit in the market, Nano is run by the fuel called TATA. It is symbol of a person’s dream. It is a huge one. It is a promising one. Ratan Tata is a legendary figure for the youth of India. Nano works as his concept. However, it has a larger tint of idealism hidden in its frugal design. Whether it will work in a practical Indian hi-beat cultural potpourri is a question for another time.

Lavanya Sayam is a researcher in the College of Veterinary Medicine and can be reached at lgs56@cornell.edu. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

Original Author: Lavanya Sayam