How the Nano happened


It’s a promise that Ratan Tata kept, but what actually went into making the world’s smallest car, the Nano? Who were the people behind it? These and other nuggets of information are well chronicled in “Small Wonder: The making of the Nano” by Philip Chacko, Christabelle Noronha and Sujata Agrawal.

The Nano’s journey makes interesting reading. Right from the germination of the idea, revealed by Tata Motors chairman Ratan Tata in an interview to the ” Financial Times” at an auto show, to the reaction the car has evoked across the globe. It’s a brand even Michelle Obama, wife of the US president, wanted to see when she was recently in India.

The Nano would never have happened had it not been for the many Tata Motors employees who never became famous but gave unstinting support to the development of this car, affirm a cross-section of officials at the company. As Ratan Tata says, “This book chronicles the saga of the creation of the Nano, in particular the human story of the commitment, fortitude and capability displayed by all the Tata Motors’ employees connected with the project, in the face of multiple challenges and setbacks.”

Not only had the Nano team to battle the scepticism of those outside the company, it also had to deal with the doubts of staff and suppliers. “It did not help that the list of naysayers and doubters inside the company was growing by the day, though the small-car team itself never wavered in its conviction,” say the authors. Girish Wagh, Nano’s main architect, says, “We had to go through more than 8,000 ideas, bound together through three waves of cost-reduction initiatives, to reach where we have.”

The biggest challenge – getting the cost right – threw up many weird ideas. These included having a car without doors and just some safety bars or one with soft shutters for protection against the elements. Some even questioned the need for four doors when a survey had already found that people use the right-rear door only about 5% of the time. Others suggested a motorized quadricycle. The first styling sketches have almost nothing in common with the Nano’s final design. There is much detail on the issues that forced the company to shelve plans for the Nano factory in Singur. For Ratan Tata, it had been a “leap of faith” to choose Singur; the exit was a sad and “lonely decision”.

It had to be relocated to Sanand in Gujarat.

As for the all-crucial name, there were many others that went before – Mint, Nio, Inca, Mycar, ICar, Eon, Era, Atom. But finally, it was the Nano that was launched and competitors reacted in ways that ranged from “the magnanimous to petty to downright nasty.”

Overall, a good case study of the birth of the world’s smallest car.
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This post was submitted by Mudit Agrawal.

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