Vision is something that is extremely necessary in the automobile industry. Almost all of the initial pioneers of this industry like Karl Benz, Henry Ford and others had a vision which they tried to convert into reality. Some succeeded, some did not. But one way or the other, all of it gradually helped the industry to grow. A somewhat same case happened in India when Ratan Tata took the initiative to solve the plight of the common man. In his mind, Mr. Tata had the concept of a small car for city runs which can take the load of a family.
This was converted into reality in the form of the Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest car, and it became a sensation the day it was announced. The entire world had nothing else to talk about, other than the Nano.
Then it failed.
There are many explanations for why it failed – and what we hear most often is the point that India had turned status-conscious. But there was a time when a car – ANY car – would have been a matter of pride. In our opinion, this was the case even in early 2000s. Can you imagine, in the 1980s and 90s, Indian car magazines used to carry stories and opinions that suggested considering better-built auto rickshaws as family cars?
We are confident that the Nano would have been a hit, if it were launched a decade early. And a superhit, if it were launched in the roaring ’60s. Down below is a render by our in-house artist, Vipin Vathoopan, which gives us an idea how would the Nano look if it was made during the 1960s.
The 1960s was a time when there were only a few car available for the common man in India. Therefore, a small car like the Nano makes sense and could have been an excellent idea at that time. The most popular cars during those years were the Hindustan Ambassador, Premiere Padmini and Standard. The Ambassador was the most popular car back then but it was actually a pretty heavy car with zero focus on drive comfort and ergonomics.
Talking of the design language of this Nano, it has vintage written over it everywhere. The front gets typical round headlamps with the old school Tata badge in between, The boot at the front gets a lever type shiny handle while the number plate is held by a thick slab of shiny metal. The front bumper too is reminiscent of old cars and is placed at the extreme end of the body. The bonnet and the windscreen are not at an obtuse angle to each other which is the case with most cars. Rather, it is made as a single piece in a straight plane, which is the same as on the current Nano.
The side mirrors and the door handles both are covered in a shiny metal and designed like the typical 60s car. Another highlight of this retro spec Nano is its white rim wheels, which put a seal on its 1960-ness. The wheel hub cap is a circular steel piece, which again is detailing at its best. The colour theme of red and white matches the era too. Notice that the overall silhouette remains the same as the present time Nano but various changes have made it go back in time.
A small and cheap car like the retro Tata Nano could have turned the tables at that time, both for the people of India as well as Tata. The same concept was applied by Suzuki in 1983 when it launched the Alto in India, rebadged as the 800 SS80. It went on to become a huge success and is still in production today, albeit in a different form factor. The 800 was hit in the first place because of its low price tag, light weight, ease of operation and good fuel economy. All of this could easily be achieved easily by the retro Nano had the concept been given a thought before.
Though Tata had been making vehicles since 1954 for commercial usage, its foray into the private and passenger vehicle market happened only in 1991 with the entry of the Sierra. However, if the company has turned towards the passenger segment cars first and built something like the Nano, there was no doubt it would have been a big hit. The world’s cheapest car will soon be discontinued as it will not be able to meet the upcoming government safety and emission norms. It will be remembered as a remarkable car, killed off by poor marketing strategy mainly. No doubt it would be picked up by B-Schools sooner or later as a classic case study how marketing can ruin a well thought of product.