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Don't count on Tata's Nano making it to our shores

Tata Nano fever has spread to North America. If you’re one of theinflicted, we can only offer condolences. Because there is no vaccine,and only faint hope that this intriguing car will ever enter our midst.

Tata Nano fever has spread to North America. If you’re one of the inflicted, we can only offer condolences. Because there is no vaccine, and only faint hope that this intriguing car will ever enter our midst.


Nano was initially developed for its home market of India, where the base vehicle sells for about 100,000 rupees — roughly $2,250 Cdn.


But the concept of a simple, small, no frills, inexpensive, ultra fuel-efficient device is compelling to people all over the globe, particularly these days, when there is a heightened emphasis on efficient mobility, and a scary economy.


Nano freaks here first perked up their ears when Tata went on record saying the company recognizes there is definitely a market for Nano in developed countries. It subsequently unveiled a European version at this year’s Geneva auto show, with a planned launch in 2011.


And during auto show week in Detroit this month, an example of this European Nano was proudly on display at the Detroit Science Center.


Some took this as a sign that Nanos would be soon be consorting on our streets and highways. Tata is apparently mulling things over, but the odds are certainly stacked against the little bugger's entry into our markets.


For starters, to meet our safety standards and performance and convenience expectations, the Nano would have to be heavier and more powerful than its current 35 hp, and that means less fuel efficiency and a higher sticker price, factors that would quickly dilute the purity of its current compelling formula.


We also have a terrible track record when it comes to the long-term acceptance of small, basic, inexpensive cars from far-flung lands. Remember how we treated Skoda? Lada? Dacia? First we say, “Yeah, sure, come on over for coffee.” Then soon after, “Who invited you?”


Small cars like Nano are also famous for having small profit margins. To make money on Nano, Tata will need to sell quite a lot of them.


But Tata has very limited capacity at present and lots of debt, and here in North America its initial customers might only be the hipsters — those who chose products primarily for their ironic cache.


And if there turns out to be a healthy market here for Nano and its ilk in the future, who is to say it couldn’t be fulfilled by Toyota, Honda or Ford? If Toyota can build a $375,000 Lexus LFA supercar and compete in F1, I’m pretty sure they can cobble together a Nano slayer.


Finally, Mr. Tata noted he got inspired to create and build the Nano, after seeing entire families of six or seven riding together on little scooters.


For those Indian families, a Tata Nano is obviously a safer and more practical alternative. But six or seven on a scooter is not a phenomenon you just see a lot of in this country, whether on Yonge Street in Toronto or on Highway 12 in Saskatchewan.


– Michael Goetz has been writing about cars and editing automotive publications for more than 20 years. He lives in Toronto with his family and a neglected 1967 Jaguar E-type.