Making of Nano : Interview with Ratan Tata

Nearly 72 hours before the launch of his dream car, Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata spent 90 minutes with ET for a one-on-one on the making of the people’s car. He shares the trials and tribulations he faced during the journey. Here is the partial text of the interview. Download the whole interview by clicking here : interview with Ratan Tata after launch of NANO

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1.Q: Are you nervous? Is this much bigger than the launch of Indica?

I think I was much more nervous during the launch of Indica because we had never been in car manufacturing before. We were venturing into a new segment. We are again venturing into a new segment but in a product line in which we have 10 years of experience now.

At the time of the Indica launch, you did not know whether the market would accept you becoming a car manufacturer from a truck manufacturer.

We took some widely publicised goals at that time that we would be as big as the Ambassador, or we would have the same size of the Maruti or we would have a diesel engine. We made those statements. We didn’t know those would be the kind of things the market would go for. So, I think at that time we were much more apprehensive and nervous than we are today.

2. Q: If one would really start at the very beginning, what really was the trigger for the idea?

Basically, just as an Indian, you know, I would be as concerned of my-self as one of the rickshaw pullers in Calcutta running with a rickshaw behind with two people sitting back. It bothered me. My mind will start thinking: Can we put a bicycle there? The same thing bothers me when I visit a plant also. The workers are bending over when the work piece should be raised or maybe they should sit in a pit or what-ever. Because I think human fatigue is something that affects safety.

So in this particular case, you could not help but notice that there were three or four family members on a scooter, the kid standing in the front, the guy driving the scooter and the wife sitting side saddle holding a little kid. And when you’re driving a car, you certainly say, Oh my god, be careful, they may slip. Add to that slippery roads and night time too. Any of these reasons can be dangerous for transport. That does not mean that the scooter should not exist because scooters are an evolution of bicycles and it is all the path of prosperity.

And this seemed like a dangerous form of transport. So, I, to be frank if I might go through the process, I asked myself, what if you put two wheels on the back that will give greater stability? If you build a bar over the top could you save the occupant? I will stop there and come back.
So, I set about thinking, can we make a four wheel vehicle from scooter parts initially and I, in fact, addressed an Automotive Component Manufacturers’ Association (ACMA) meeting saying that can we all get together produce an Asian peoples’ car. To this I never got very much response. The idea was a really low cost car that Malaysia, Indonesia and India could come together to produce jointly.
We could produce one part, they could produce another part, and each one would exchange and have the rights. In fact, even for the Indica, I went to ACMA. I said can we have an Indian car because no car has been designed in India. That time I was actually criticised. This time I had no response. So, in this particular case I had no response. In fact, the person who showed some encouragement was Brij Mohan Munjal, but we never really took it further.

And then we found that scooter parts were probably a real limitation. So we changed tack and we said let’s take a clean sheet of paper and start thinking and conceiving a car. Why a clean sheet of paper? Because we thought that if we had to do something that was different, then we probably didn’t want to have a legacy in any way or form and so we thought we should look at everything from scratch. And, initially I thought we could even have a car made from engineering plastics.

But we found that several of these concepts do not lend themselves to either cost or volume manufacturing and have had to move away from that to a more conventional kind of car. So, that led us to configure a small car which would be not a three wheeler but four wheels. It would be a car, a full-fledged car and we started again in an evolutionary manner and we thought, and if I might say so, it really started with being a four wheel rural car.

Do we have rolled up plastic curtains instead of windows? Do we have openings like auto rickshaws have instead of doors or do we have a safety bar? As we went on, we had many early concepts that went that kind of way till we finally decided that the market does not want a half car. The market wants a car.

And if we want to build a peoples’ car, it should be a car and not something that people would say, Ah! That’s just a scooter with four wheels or an auto rickshaw with four wheels or not really a car and I was reminded of a very interesting concept that Chrysler did many years ago when they developed an Asian car. It was a plastic car and for those who may not know or remember, it was one piece, the whole car from front bumper to back bumper, moulded in one piece of plastic, half of it and the other half. And it was welded together to make the whole car.
The most expensive part of any manufacturing unit is the paint shop. So this car with pigmentation with plastic parts, you didn’t have to paint it, but no one liked the car because, in my view (I drove the car) it was very nice, but people wanted a real car and not something that someone would say was not a car, this is half-a-car or three-fourths of a car.

So, with that kind of experience in mind, we decided we would do a car that would really pare the cost of a fair car. It has obviously been a long journey. It has been a longer journey than it should have been. I think we have easily taken two years or 18 months more than it should have been.

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2 Responses to Making of Nano : Interview with Ratan Tata

  1. Pingback: Tata Nano : Detailed specification « SPEAK INDIA

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