Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on October 29, 2009
Tata Motors has won kudos for its low-cost Nano, the world’s cheapest car. Here’s one honor the Indian company won’t want to trumpet: According to my BusinessWeek colleague Damian Joseph, the $2,500 Nano is one of the world’s 50 ugliest cars over the past half-century. “Admittedly, appearance wasn’t a design priority for the Nano, which is intended for Indians too poor to buy a regular car,” Joseph writes. “But that doesn’t excuse its egg-like stylings. Even the snub hood and tiny tires can’t draw the eye from the car’s domed top.”
Meanwhile, Tata Motors has other Nano problems. Check out the piece on BusinessWeek’s Asia Channel now by Mehul Srivastava, Ian Rowley and Moon Ihlwan. As they write in the BW story, Tata “may have to work hard to fight perceptions created by being a cheap, made-in-India car in Western markets obsessed with comfort and safety. Since September three Nanos across the country developed a short circuit that caused fire-retardant plastic parts to smoke up from the heat. Tata says it will carry out a preemptive audit of cars sold and in inventory as a precautionary measure, and it has ruled out a recall, choosing instead to replace the supplier for that specific part, called the combination switch.” Three problem cars out of 7,500 sold does not a crisis make. Problem is, when you hype your product as a People’s Car that’s the world’s cheapest, three might be all it takes to create jitters in the marketplace. Sure enough, auto blog GM Inside News already has a comparison between the Nano and the infamous Ford Pinto.
Tata should move fast to defuse the problem. CarTradeIndia.com, an auto industry website, reports today that a Tata spokesman says there have not been “actual cases of Nano catching fires but only smoke due to short circuit around the switch area and the melting of the plastic.” As damage-control strategies go, “No fire, just smoke” probably isn’t going to cut it.