“World’s cheapest car” it’s been called, and unquestionably the Tata Nano has brought about a revolution in India. In carving out a niche as an affordable, simple, and incredibly fuel efficient car for the average folk in poorer nations like India, it has also sparked a change within the global auto industry to the point where Toyota, Nissan, Ford and many other major players are now trying to compete with the Nano in this new ultra-cheap minicar segment.
But along with that, the Nano is also, quite literally, sparking something else: Over the last year, a list of Nanos that have an apparent bad habit of spontaneously combusting has been growing in India — the latest one involving a minutes-old Nano being driven home by its proud new owner. And as you can see in the above pic, that car is toast.
Even though Tata has accomplished an amazing feat with the Nano, being the world’s cheapest car does not excuse it from having the potential to kill its occupants in a blazing inferno. There’s a good reason we pay so much money for safe cars these days. When you strip a car down to its bare essentials and cut as many corners as you can to save money, sure everybody can afford it, but will they want to if it turns out they have a good chance of ending up in a body bag?
Tata says they are investigating this “unique case,” but the fact of the matter is, since its introduction last year there have been at least three other reported cases of flaming Nanos. Initially blamed on getting the kinks of production worked out, the Nano is now a year old and it is still presenting these niggling problems. Its not that I don’t wish Tata success, I just question whether or not building the world’s cheapest car will ever result in a safe car as well?
Maybe that question doesn’t matter and maybe I’m imposing my richer-nation bias on the situation. Perhaps a few flaming cars here and there will prove acceptable to a country that is lusting after vehicles they can actually afford? After all, how will they ever become a country of “haves” unless they start somewhere? But if I had a choice between buying a car that could be engulfed in a fireball and using public transportation, biking or walking, the choice would be clear. I think one of my new year’s resolutions was “not melting.”