Saturday, January 12, 2008

Jumping on the Bandwagon.

It's one of those few times when I feel the urge to jump. Jump on a bandwagon that is. But make no mistake, this is no ordinary bandwagon that is fortunate enough to count me among its occupants. This is the cheapest and arguably the most keenly anticipated bandwagon in some time. I have heard it being said that it could potentially change the business landscape across the world and could possibly sweep a billion people off their feet. If all this doesn't make sense, let me acknowledge my lack of prowess in the field of clear, concise and meaningful communication and try to spell that out in a more non-cryptic, non-Noodle House manner.

I am gearing up to give my opinion, vent my feelings and, in general, join all those hordes of people, whom I usually look down upon, who buy into the hype around.....well, anything that has been hyped. The current 'thing' that has been hyped enough to get me jumping on bandwagons is probably the second Nano, the first was the iPod version, to have caused people to spend as much time waiting in anticipation. But where the Jobs inspired Nano was small, cute, electronic and could be carried in your pocket, this Ratan Tata inspired Nano is small, cute, runs on petrol and could, quite possibly put, a couple of scooter manufacturers out of business and a few hundred thousand people into the world of car ownership. If I am still accused of being cryptic, well, I am talking about the TATA 'Nano', the cheap car to beat all cheap cars. At a starting price of around 1.2 Lacs post taxation or 1 Lac (the magic figure!!) at the dealers, this is the first sub-$3000 car in existence. And that is the reason I said it could potentially change the business landscape - at least in the automobile industry. Now that this price-point has been shown to be achievable and very much possible, manufacturers present in all points across the global circumference will be forced to at least re-evaluate their business practices. An Indian manufacturer is set to teach at least a few lessons on business innovation to his global brethren.

That's the good part. Obviously, there is also the bad part, to keep with the Yin and Yang theory. Now the bad part is what affects me directly. Planning to shift human butts from two wheeled scooters into four wheeled 'Nano's is fine and socially uplifting (at least in the Indian context, where a car is looked upon as a self-proclaiming sign that says 'I have arrived'!!). But as a supporter of two-wheeled transportation, I would like to point out that the Nano, cute and small as it might be in car terms, still occupies space where 2 bikes could stand comfortably without one handlebar getting intimate with the other. The Nano, for all its claims of having a mileage of around 20 Kmpl, is still a lot thirstier than the scooters it has its sights on. The Nano, being a car, has its own maintenance costs that I don't think will be less than those for a scooter. And finally the 1Lac price tag of the Nano, its trump card, might be peanuts in car terms but is still a minimum 100% more than what a scooter owner would shell out for his two wheels. This brings me to the one aspect that I haven’t bothered to address so far. Safety. Anyone on two wheels would be a fool to argue that they are safer sitting 'on' their vehicle than 'in' the vehicle. The car has the bike beat in that one aspect. And I really don't have a witty or torturously wordy way of making it seem like some insignificant advantage.

In a nut-shell (if this is a nut-shell I guess it was a BIG nut), this is how I look at the small sounding 'Nano'. In terms of Space, Price, Ownership/Running Cost, the 'Nano' can't live up to its name, compared to the two wheelers it is planning to replace. In terms of Safety, it has the drop on the bikes but again only comparatively. Given the hype surrounding this vehicle, Mr. Tata's so called vision of 'Bringing a car within reach of the common man' and the initial public reactions to the launch of the car, I would have to say that people being people will try to emulate lemmings and throng the nearest TATA showroom to get their 'People's Car'. And for all my misgivings about increased congestion, pollution and in-the-city travel times, the 'Nano' might just make India the most populous nation in car terms, Mr. Ratan Tata might retire and laugh all the way to his bank and I might end up buying one just to keep up with the Joneses!

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