It's taken six years for rubber to hit tarmac. But, never before in automotive history has there been such enduring interest in a car that was but a faint gleam in the eyes of a few people. The Nano has not ceased to mystify people ever since the dream of a "people's car'' was first announced in the 2003 Geneva auto show. And now, when this engineering-miracle-in-the-making has become a reality, the world is watching on with great curiosity and amazement. And, probably with also some premonition that the global auto-industrial template might be in for some permanent changes. Tata Motors chairman Ratan Tata spoke to TOI about his dream, its fruition and his expectations from the new-born through two sessions of media interactions and a separate gala, launch ceremony on Monday. Excerpts.
What's the Nano?
The Nano is based on an emotional desire to provide a safe and affordable mode of transport for Indian families which were exposed to the weather and other dangers. We have been excited in doing so. We have met most of the goals, contrary to most conventional wisdom. It's a credit to the team of 500-odd engineers from Tata Motors. There was first a sense of disbelief and then achievement. I didn't realise it would attract so much attention.
Now that the car's out, your first feelings?
We are the gates of offering a new form of transport to people of India and later to other parts of the world. I feel very excited also because we have gone more during the last mile by putting Plan B into action, by putting the car out now rather than waiting till December ''09. We have been able to successfully mitigate the loss of time. We hope our dreams come true and Nano proves to be the product that it was meant to be.
The car was originally planned from Singur in West Bengal and the Pantnagar plant (in Uttarakhand, from where the first batch of cars will roll out) is only an interim solution till the final one at Sanand, Gujarat, comes on line. We had undertaken to deliver the car from Pantnagar till the Gujarat plant comes on with higher volumes. The car will roll out of the Sanand plant by end-2009 or 2010.
The Pantnagar plant, where the capacity has been created for small trucks, has a capacity for 50,000-60,000 cars and the balance would come from Sanand. The total capacity is 2.5 lakh cars, extendable to half a million.
What about the promise of pricing?
We had said in January that there were many increases in material costs but we were keeping our promises. Subsequently, there has been a tremendous aberration in cost of steel, other new materials. Nobody would actually be committing a price which we are doing. We are playing a fair game. It is not a gimmick. We indicated a price and we are protecting our customers.
The car was designed not to be the cheapest but as an evolution in the mode of transport.
What's your message to Mamata Banerjee now?
And to the people of Singur, Kolkata, West Bengal?
We still have a shell of a plant in Singur. We still have a very warm feeling for that part of the country. We had also hoped to be part of the industrial resurgence of that state. In the latter half of this year we are inaugurating a cancer hospital in Kolkata that we are donating to the city. We haven't decided on what to do with the sheds at Singur. Nothing has been ruled out.
What about international plans?
We have planned to market the car elsewhere, in developing markets like Africa and south-east Asia. But, we felt that, going by the demand, the product could also find some interest in Europe, the UK and USA. The product would come with some changes but at attractive prices. There's a niche now that didn't exist earlier. But, it will have to wait for a while for us to develop a car compliant with the emission and safety norms. The car is designed to meet European standards. Some additional air bags need to be put and then the car has to go through the validation process which will take some time. We plan to be in Europe in 2011.
The Nano will need some redesigning for the US market which will take three years.
What about competition?
Conventional thinking is that two-wheeler companies will now introduce price incentives, the existing four-wheelers will lower their prices and there may be some new entrants also. Some of the people who thought such products cannot be priced at this level can see them now.
Plans for scaling up production?
Demand will dictate the need for additional plants. The idea is to create satellite centres for entrepreneurs, monitor quality and create employment. I also had this concept of small entrepreneurs who could put together the Nano by soldering kits supplied by us. But this is possible only after stabilising the production and kitting operations at Sanand.
We are looking to expand the Nano platform with new variants. But it won't happen for the next three years.
Finally, any thoughts about the global slowdown.
I am confused and confounded by the global demand situation. I feel reinstatement of consumer credit for buying automobiles will change that situation.
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