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How Ugly is the Tata Nano?

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., 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.

Reader Comments


October 29, 2009 9:02 AM

In the intended market, it doesn't seem as though appearance would matter much. And three problem cars out of 7,500 may not have a lot of impact either, as the vehicle's customers will probably be eager to own a car.

Abhishek Katiyar

October 29, 2009 9:12 AM

Damian Joseph - Atleast Indian Manufacturers have shown the way to world that cars can be made cheaply, not like companies like GM where they have to rush to govt. for bail out.


October 29, 2009 8:57 PM

Can we give credit where it is due? Tata has done a fantastic job to engineer a product at the steeply low price but does not at least look cheap. It is a courageous strategy as well and let's hope it will sell. The risk is that somehow the car is under-equipped. History shows that when people start buying cars, they actually do not go for the lowest price ones but instead a well equipped car; after all after indulging oneself with a large amount already what is it to add an additional price to not feel short-changed with that always-on nagging feeling. Emperical evidence had shown this in Japan with the earlier Toyota models and is going on right now in China, and perhaps in India. That is what Tata needs to watch carefully.


October 29, 2009 9:44 PM

It looks like a rat in the NYC subway system, but it might be just me.


October 29, 2009 11:11 PM

"Nano, which is intended for Indians too poor to buy a regular car."... ooohhhh, aren't we condescending!

You may be surprised to know, it is actually a regular car.

And just because one journalist needs to create still one more list, does not make the Nano ugly. The thing that will get ugly is the profits of other car firms when the consumers start realizing that they can get a good car like the Nano at half or even one-third the price.


October 30, 2009 12:13 AM

the Nano is dead. It will never sell in the US or Europe. Maruti could take a year off and still be in front of the Nano. India

October 30, 2009 1:25 AM

Nice review. :-)

C. H. Ng

October 30, 2009 2:47 AM

You want cheap and you want it to be good & nice. Where to find? Better build one yourself...!!
Remember the saying..."Good things not cheap; cheap things not good"....!


October 30, 2009 8:30 PM

For that price it looks kind of cool. And according to reviews it drives well to. I would rather buy this than an expensive usa made gas guzler. Atleast it has much better mileage.


October 31, 2009 1:22 AM

Seems like this car came out long time ago (2 or more years?) to enormous hype (about Indian innovation) and fanfare but now only selling a miserable 7500 instead of the millions. Typically Indian to hype first before producing. Nano is a NoNo.


October 31, 2009 1:57 AM

Nano publicity being encashed to attract traffic / clicks / page views to this ugly web page.
no wonder this is now a days the most sought after commercial / home based business.


October 31, 2009 8:14 PM

as ugly as the one who make it cheap car for poor ppl, more ppl drive cheap car that country can start callin themselves auto nation lol.

that is the intention


November 1, 2009 12:34 AM

tata nano costs about 1.5 on road...with that much money an ordinarily living indian can opt for a more safe car like maruthi 800


November 1, 2009 5:33 AM

One should be considerate of the target market. For the target market its a good car.

Design is something relative and very perception based concept. It may be good for some one and bad for others.

revolutionary Nano

November 1, 2009 12:36 PM

I must say that Nano is a great Auto!

for 1909 !


November 1, 2009 2:33 PM

I am very happy that a BW writer wrote a negative review about Nano. That is because I am confident about BW writers getting their analyses(India related ones) wrong most of the times. Thank you. Coming to on the ground reality - people in many towns expressed enormous interest when they saw Nano for the first time. It is going to be a hit, get used to it! Just wait till the plant in Gujarat state goes online.

Not so ugly American

November 1, 2009 5:00 PM

This car was doomed from the very beginning. Lousy parts cobbled together, the smoke is only the first of the problems. Let the Indians design telemarketing support systems and leave the auto industry to the quality minded developed nations. oh, and that's one ugly car. Give me a Corvette any day.


November 1, 2009 7:38 PM

not sure how this car qualifies as ugly. This looks so similar to the daewoo matiz(chevy spark) which was voted one of the best looking cars sometime has consumer taste changed so much in less than 5 years that the best looking has become the ugliest looking?

freedom lover

November 2, 2009 2:24 AM

Dear Bruce,

I m getting a hang of your blogs. Say something insulting about India and Indians and then sitback and watch a slugfest between the Indians and CHinese.

GR8 formula...

By what criteria do you call the Nano ugly? It surely is a futuristic beauty. It's fuel saving proerties makes it an environmental goddess; it's space saving technology is a boon on crowded roads and packed parking places.

By my criteria, the Volkswagon "Beatle"
was no Marlyn Monroe; While GM's Hummer and Chrysler "Dodge" looked hideous but were called brutish and powerfull. Maybe because they were all created by the whiteman.

So perceptions of beauty vary from individuals.

By the way, I think you and your pal in businessweek probably believe that a Rhino's backside is the the most beautiful sight in the world ...


November 2, 2009 4:00 AM

The car is not all that ugly, u can't expect a lot out of a small bodied car, u look at a Mercedes Smart are they much more prettier?
Anything Aerodynamically shape is not going to be eye catching at all.
Is a modern day Citroen 2CV.


November 2, 2009 5:29 AM

"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": oh, so journalism these days is based on just 1 person's opinion??
As for the real issue - the combination switch heating up and melting plastic parts around it - of course Tata has to address this, and the sooner the better!
But do you also remember how long it took some USA companies to own up to problems with exploding fuel tanks, which killed a no. of people?
So don't make this look just like an 'India only' issue...


November 2, 2009 6:09 AM

How Ugly is the Nano? Agree with you that it's an damned ugly piece of junk, but that's already good enough for Indians.


November 2, 2009 7:53 AM

With beauty is in the yes of beholder. Ugliness is repulsive. Look at the glitter in the yes of the beholder which are the owners of Nano, and their pride of ownership of their own car, a switchover from motor cycle. The sub-continent Indo-Pak which includes neighboring Pakistan with consumer envying owners of Nano, and wait for the day when then will have their Nano assembled infront of their eyes at the franchise of Tata. Nano not only gives respect, but a wait till the policy between the two countries of India and Pakistan for Tata trucks which roll the highways of Pakistan towards the CIS, comparably cheaper and better than their European counterparts. Ugly is dirty word. Tata is and never was ugly. The aesthetics, aerodynamic of the car may have some staring it cautionsly. eMail:


November 2, 2009 9:16 AM

The cheapest car in the world and they've only managed to build 7500 crap ones in two years?
The wheels are soooo tiny and if one got stuck in a pothole I guess they would need the whole indian family sitting in the back jump out to push it. Absolutely great innovation??


November 3, 2009 9:10 AM

50 most ugliest cars??
The ratings should be done in following way:
The cost of the car in dollars or INR divided by uglyness factor (??)on a scale of 1 to 10 . The lowest scorer is the one who wins. The highest one qualifies for being called a high priced crap.
I believe that nano to be a winner here.
“Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it” - Confucius

Jack Doresey

November 3, 2009 12:56 PM

Hilarious. It's ugliness was precisely covered at

freedom lover

November 4, 2009 2:51 AM

The Nano is beautiful, and people who call it ugly are just PLAIN JEALOUS :):)

Or they are lobbyists for polluting monster cars.

Beautiful is the car which cuts emmissions...

Sexy is the car which takes little space in overcrowded cities...

Wow! is the car which is affordable to all...

Sleek is the car which looks futuristic and not a prehistoric dino...

Can the jealous people out here list ten such models??


November 12, 2009 4:35 PM

I do not know what the big deal is. There are a number of popular models on the ugly list including BMW 7-series, Prius, Rav4, PT cruiser etc.

Planet Automatic

November 24, 2009 5:55 PM

US and Europe consumers are soon going to be riding pleasure waves of the latest and greatest Indian made vehicles in the next 10 years.

C. H. Ng

November 25, 2009 2:36 AM

How ugly is the Nano? At $2,500, what can we expect? Not only it won't be a beauty but also not good since good things won't be cheap.

Btw in another decade, not only US & European consumers but also the rest of world will soon riding or driving latest great cars, but I doubt they will be Indian made. I believe by that time, not only the European made cars but also those made by the Japanese, Korean & Chinese will be the top rated, perhaps in that ranking order too. Indian made cars? comment!!

C. H. Ng

November 27, 2009 10:04 PM

To say Nano is ugly is very subjective as beauty is only in the eyes of the beholder. But to say India will or can produce greatest cars in 10 years time is a laughable & ridiculous boast becoz anything can happen is 10 years time. How can one knows what will happen by that time? You & I might not be in this world anymore (6 feet underground).
Or there might be another world war which cause a near total destruction of everything & everybody & the only people left standing are the Eskimos?

Rubbish isn't it, my comment? So are yours @Planet Automatic. Please write something more realistic. I think in 10 years time, the European, Japanese & Korean cars will remain the best top three in the world, and maybe in that same category order. Your Indian made cars? No way....except be the best seller in your India home market by taxing other imported cars so high that they are totally priced out of the general Indian buyers' range, like what is happening in my own country.


December 8, 2009 9:48 AM

Tata Nano is cute, has good space inside than the other small car which is 4 times costlier & also a perfect city car.
Sad it was Business Weeks "Weak & Ugliest analysis".It is like blind mans perception on elephant.
I realy doubt wether author has really seen a Tata nano car!
Team bhp blogger has driven the car from Mumbai to Delhi.
Which proves what it is.


January 18, 2010 2:03 AM

First off - beauty is for the most part purely subjective. That aside, and even though your colleague Damian Joseph may be very well informed when it comes to design, the selling point of this car is not is design. Nor is it its high-performance engine or its luxury features. It's a $2500 car! Thank goodness designers don't run auto makers.

Secondly, you seem to think that your standards for safety and reliability are the same as those of consumers in India who choose to buy a $2500 car. You would be stepping down from a to a Nano. The consumer in India is stepping up from a dangerous motorcycle to a far less dangerous automobile.

Finally, every new product will have its share of teething troubles. Tata hardly need your exhortations to address the Nano's problems early. They've launched more than one vehicle in India and have been in vehicle manufacturing, probably for longer than you have been alive!

The Nano isn't going to challenge any of the big US or Japanese manufacturers any time soon. What is interesting about it, is that it's an innovation in cost and manufacture which, for a change, the US and Japanese auto makers will probably take from, rather than the norm.

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