Why The Humble Nano Is Still Ratan Tata's Daily Driver

Modified On May 20, 2022 11:50 AM By CarDekho

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The Nano was Tata’s two-wheeler alternative for the Indian middle class, and it’s found a second life as an EV for fleet operations

Ratan Tata stands alongside a Tata Nano during a media event

The Tata Nano is widely, and sometimes infamously, known for being “India’s least expensive car”. Its 11-year lifespan in the Indian market was relatively short when compared to models such as the Maruti Alto and 800 that have been around since the 1980s. By the time the last Nano was produced in 2019, monthly sales figures had dwindled to single digits. Nevertheless, it was the brainchild of then Tata Group Chairman, Ratan Tata, who took special interest and pride in the project and still uses one as a daily driver: 

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A post shared by Viral Bhayani (@viralbhayani)

The Nano you see here isn’t the same entry-level hatchback that was on sale in the mainstream automotive market. While that vehicle was powered by a 0.6-litre, 38PS 2-cylinder petrol engine, the Nano in the video is possibly an electric vehicle (EV) built by Electra EV. In fact, Ratan Tata owns a custom-built Electra EV Nano electric car, himself! 

Ratan Tata stands beside his Electra EV Nano electric vehicle

Electra EV’s Nano is exclusively for fleet operators. Although you can’t buy it, you can ride in it in Bengaluru where Sainik Pod runs several Nano EVs as taxis. The all-electric Nano is powered by a 48-Volt electric architecture derived from the first-generation Tigor EV sedan. Its manufacturer, Pune-based Electra EV, provides electric powertrain development and manufacturing solutions to multiple businesses, including Tata Motors Electric Mobility, Tata’s EV division. 

Why did Ratan Tata create the Nano?  

Tata Nano front fascia

Most people in India who own a private vehicle can only afford a two-wheeler for their daily usage and family needs. The National Family and Healthy Survey 2019-2021, reported that 7.5 per cent of Indian households own a car, but two-wheelers are owned by 49.7 per cent families. 

Ratan Tata with the first-gen Nano compact car

The sheer lack of safety, space and weather protection offered by scooters and bikes was the reason why Ratan Tata was inspired to create the Nano. In his own words: 

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A post shared by Ratan Tata (@ratantata)

Why did the Nano fail in India? 

Last-gen Tata Nano dashboard

The Indian automotive market can often be tricky and unpredictable. There is cut-throat competition between models at the entry level, where Maruti’s Alto and 800 have ruled the roost for decades. The Nano had to bring something new to the table to make a real difference. 

Tata Nano rear boot access from inside the car

Unfortunately, it didn’t. The Nano was an all-new product that had to compete with well-established Marutis whose research and development costs had largely been paid off. So, Tata had to make some significant cost-cutting measures to bring its price down to the promised Rs 1 lakh for the base model. At launch, the Nano lacked basic equipment such as an opening rear hatch, an external fuel filler flap and a passenger-side rearview mirror. It had just one windscreen wiper, and the tiny 12-inch wheels were held on with just three lug nuts. Of course, the base variants didn’t get airbags, power windows or air conditioning. 

Tata Nano front three fourths photo

The severe cost-cutting served as a constant reminder to Nano owners that they were getting fewer amenities than even the most basic Maruti-branded alternative. Buying a new car should be a matter of pride, but if you could only afford a Nano, you’d be reminded of its bargain-basement nature every time you stepped into it. 

Besides, Indian two wheeler buyers already had four-wheeled alternatives – pre-owned compact cars. The reason they couldn’t make the switch was because the running costs of even the most basic used cars were much higher than that of a motorcycle. The Nano attempted to change this, but it still couldn’t match a motorbike or scooter in fuel economy or service costs. 

Tata Nano rear three fourths with rear hatch open

Even so, the Tata Nano was a novel product that might have been more successful if it had arrived some years earlier, when Indian buyers were actively seeking alternatives to entry-level cars such as the Maruti 800.

By the time the Nano made it to production, Indian car buyers had begun looking for an upgrade from their Maruti hatchbacks. The Maruti Swift soon overtook the Alto to become the sales leader, and the Nano was left in the rear-view mirror once and for all.

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1 comment
abhijit kumar roy
May 23, 2022 1:37:41 PM

Most unjustified view point on Nano.. The main cause of marketing failure of nano was Indian mentality due to tagging of cheapest or Lakhtia car during promotion of nano.

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abhijit kumar roy
May 23, 2022 1:39:30 PM

Moreover, during launch of automatic nano in 2015, there was severe promotion failure on the part of TATA Motors itself. Proper marketing needs proper promotion, which lacked for automatic nano.

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