With the advent of Tata Nano, the cheapest modern car available in the world today, the eyes of automotive lovers are on India currently. Tata Nano didn’t just bring changes on the availability of 4-wheel contraption to the market, it also brings about a revolution. Hot on the heels of Tata, Toyota, Ford, VW, and other automotive brands are going all in with their own cheap cars. But why Honda won’t follow suit? An article of Wall Street Journal will explain why, and my own witty comments after the click.
First of all, let me short brief you about the whole Nano thingie. It’s a car, first and foremost, but with a price tag starting from US$2500. A freaking US$2500 car! A baseline Harley Davidson could even cost more than that, and it’s a bike. So what is this Nano anyway and why it’s so cheap? Well it’s a car, or should I say, it’s a carriage with a very simplistic engine, 4 wheels, a top, and some seats.
The size of the Nano is basically in-line with modern day Japanese Keii car, which itself is a category for small cars. With a width of 1500 mm, length of 3100 mm, and wheelbase of 2230 mm,The Nano is currently have the same width with any other Keii car and it’s only a fraction shorter than the Keii cars. It even nail the shape and looks of 1st generation Suzuki MR Wagon perfectly. Well, considering Maruti (an Indian auto maker) connection with Suzuki, probably this is a homage of some sort (or a blatant slap in the face for Maruti). So with Keii cars dominating Japanese own domestic market, the shape and size of the Nano probably put it in a safe place. But the similarity and praise from me will end there. Now let’s took the tone and manner of this article a bit grittier.
Above, the Nano, Below 1st generation Suzuki MR Wagon. Similar in girth.
So why is the car so cheap? Well, don’t think about airbags, fancy engine terms, air conditioning, radio, power steering, cup holders… Think small, more appropriately, think more less. Like I said before, it has no creature comfort whatsoever, no AC, no power steering, no power window, no audio system, and thin sheet of sound proofing (probably it’s the carpet that doubles as sound proofing. The engine is 624cc of simplistic design, a single balancer shaft, and get this… No brake booster! So if you have weak knees and just generally weak, your Nano will also brake as weak as you. Oh, did I mention it looks like a hatch but it’s actually not? The back of the car is not openable.
Well, it’s the things that made the base model of this car is so affordable, but also a pain in the ass. Do you guys know the weather and climate in India? I visited the place like 7 years ago and it’s damn humid plus it’s hot. With global warming making it harsher, I really don’t want to be stuck in traffic jam without air conditioner, period. Considering that the engine of the car is placed below the 2nd row seat… The heat will creep in to the cabin… Well, the good news is that the upscale version of the Nano will feature air conditioner and everything in between. There’s also safety issue… With such a ridiculous low price, does Tata designs a car with safety in mind? What about its crash value? Will it survive a front end collision with say… Toyota Land Cruiser? Or does it even have a side impact beam to protect occupants from side crashes? Thankfully, the car engine produces around 32ps, too small for any spirited driving, so major speed accidents will be unquestionable.
With India’s middle class population is rising, Tata expected that they will want to buy a 4-wheel contraption that denotes status, and safety along the way. With this, Tata has sounded the perennial war drum and what do you know… Across the borders, every automaker responded like horny goats. Toyota came up with Ique, Ford announces plan to invade India with their own cheap car at the end of 2008, Bajaj, another local Indian auto company unveils Bajaj Lite, another Tata Nano fighter and VW, Nissan plans a similar move. Wow… Just wow…
Wow indeed, but there’s another automaker that take the Nano and the middle class boom with a grain of salt. According to a Wall Street Journal article, Honda, one of the biggest automaker in India stated explicitly that they are not riding in the cheap car bandwagon, they are sticking with motorcycle for the booming middle class. Deviant to the end, that’s Honda to you, not wanting to follow the trends but rather just going their own way… *sigh*… Honda… Someday your stubbornness will get you somewhere. But anyway, here’s my witty comment part.
Hero Honda (that’s Honda India) Hunk (that’s the bikes name… Serious…), half the price of Nano.
So Honda is betting that the booming middle class will opt for its bikes rather than the cheap cars. I think it’s a good idea. First of all, India is booming economically and growing at an exponential rate. Like any other growing countries, people wanted to do something with their excess money, and most people bought a car to announce their status to their neighbors, friends, and mother in-law. Note that, people, that’s plural and with many having the same state of mind, what happen to the road condition? Well, traffic jams. Getting stuck in a traffic jam without air conditioning like I stated earlier is a killer. The smell of your own sweat, combined with the humidity and hot weather… You won’t impress any clients that way, especially with being late. Now, a motorcycle wouldn’t have the same problem would it? A bike could slip the narrow spaces between cars and delivers you fastest to any destination.
Delhi in the morning… You are hot, sweaty, smelly, and need to visit a client fast.
There’s also cost of ownership. A bike will always return insane amount of mileage per gallon/liter of fuel consumption. It’s significantly smaller, lighter, and doesn’t have to wait long time in traffic jam with their maneuverability compared to a car. I don’t know about how you live… But to me, those who work their way up from the bottom will appreciate the value of money like crazy. Every penny counts and time is money. So if rising middle class of Indians works their way up from the bottom, they will follow the earlier notion I mention. Well… Not really, it’s an Asian thing, but will probably apply to Indians.
One thing that Tata Nano have the advantage over a bike is seating capacity, a roof and a chassis. It will be good for small families especially on trips on monsoon times and considering that India’s increasing traffic accidents, a shell will be beneficial from harder crash compared to if driving a bike. BBC stated this very clearly that the amount of road accidents in India is catastrophically high. It even featured a video of driving in India. Most people who lived in developed country might piss their pants from watching the BBC made video, but to those living in developing country, it’s a daily thing. I’m even quite surprised seeing it’s helluva lot better driving in India than in my country…. Helluva lots! Those BBC reporters must be too accustomed with driving in London, come visit Jakarta once in a while and experience more crazy driving antics and vodka drinking monkey on the roads.
Dusty, smelly, unruly, my town, Jakarta rush hour… India’s deadly traffic… Pfft…
So does Honda really meant it stating they will have no Nano competitor? It is very likely. Compared to other global automaker, Honda is relatively small. It’s not even a home favorite, trading places with Suzuki and Mazda as the 2nd and 3rd automotive company in Japan. The only notable sales figure for car products is in America and after that, only motorcycles dominates Honda success globally. Therefore, a careful global planning must be ensued if Honda wants to survive. There will surely be a surge of demand for the Nano after its official launch, but what will happen after that initial try out or in Product Life Cycle term, will it survive the introduction phase? It might be a fad if it fails, and Honda research, retooling cost will be for nothing. But knowing Honda, if indeed the Nano and Lite succeed, I bet that Honda will follow suit. Speaking of following suit, Honda already have a Nano competitor (s) if they wanted to. Considering that Honda have 4 Kei cars, one of it being Honda Zest (featured on the blog header) is really quite an attractive car if it has the same Nano price tag.
Personally, I like the car, if it came with air conditioning off course… Oh and automatic transmission. But truth be told, I’d prefer a motorcycle as my main mode of transportation especially with daily traffic jams and a Nano on my garage for weekend driving with the missus. So even if the Nano succeed, I still think that Indians will prefer something more practical that is more “traffic jam proof”.