"We like this car," commented Ferrari CEO, Jean Todt on seeing the Tata Nano. He wasn't the only foreigner to like the Indian car when it was unveiled in the Geneva motor show earlier this year. All the ooh's and aah's followed after the launch as the Nano received thumbs ups from super bosses in the Auto Industry.
But when Tata Motors declared that it would make a car for as little as $2,500, about four years ago, many of the industry experts judged and assured that it would never be possible. People around the globe, who still perceive Indian roads as cattle-infested with two-wheelers carrying three or four passengers, were dang sure that it would rather be a dining table with chairs and wheels than a vehicle similar to a Ford or a GM.
On January 10, 2008, the cute small car from Tata Motors took the world by surprise as Chairman Ratan Tata drove it on to the dais proudly and with a hint of style, silencing critics instantly and moments later, going on to do the same with environmentalists who had campaigned against the car for its emissions and impact on global crude oil prices.
In this Automotoportal special, we explore the car indepth, sighting key factors that kept costs down and some interesting events that took place during the car's development stage.
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During the initial stages of the car's development, a 20 hp marine engine was fitted for testing purposes. Later on a 554 cc engine that developed 27 hp and a 586 cc engine which developed a little more, were also put in place.
The car was designed by I.D.E.A, an Italian design firm known for its world class cars and Tata's own Indica hatchback. Design engineers including Ratan Tata, instructed and guided I.D.E.A on how to go about designing.
By mid-2006, the first prototype had been built and tested successfully. But the team felt that it needed to be longer. So they scrapped the design altogether and commenced working on a new one which was 100 mm longer with better safety characteristics.
Throughout the project, Tata Motors never had a yardstick. They partly used the cheapest car on sale in India, the Maruti-Suzuki 800 for a few specifications, but it had a price tag twice as the car they were working on.
By getting hold of similar products of competitors and tearing them apart, Tata engineers were able to study the advantages and disadvantages their parts in contrast with others.
10 different floor design for the body and 150 thermodynamic simulations for the engine were drafted during the development span.
For more suitable weight distribution, Tata contemplated on placing the radiator up front, but later decided against it due to the complications arising from the piping and connections.
The Nano's engine is the India's first high-pressure die-cast engine. 10 patents were filed for the engine alone.
Some of the vendors involved in this project can break-even only after a significant amount of time. Battery maker Exide, claims it will take two or three years before it makes profit on the Nano's batteries.
The commercial vehicles wing of Tata Motors played a major part in making better use of plastics, discovered better ways to lay out fuel lines and manufacture better lamps.
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As this car was meant for two-wheeler buyers, Tata roped in a head engineer from Yamaha who suggested to design the instrument clusters, lamps and cables with a motorcycle in mind.
The window winding mechanism on the front doors shares similarities with a helicopter's and the door handle has seventy percent lesser parts than the ones any European car.
Tata used test facilities in foreign countries and the Nano has clocked test miles in countries like Australia and Germany.
The bumpers are thinner in cross-section and come in black color on the base model.
The bumpers are put together to the body using glue instead of welding, a cost-cutting initiative.
The headlamps are engineered to eliminate actuators by adjusting the suspension, and saves $10 in the process.
There is only one windshield wiper and washer straying from the conventional two.
Nano employs thinner tires in the front and thicker ones at the rear. Tubeless tires were lighter by 2 kg and was preferred due to safety concerns.
The alternator used in the car is from Bosch which has an output of 35 amp and weighs 5 kg. Bosch's standard generator would weigh 6 kg and output 40 amp.
The wheel bearings used is rated for speeds close to 45 mph after which it starts to wear quickly.
The dashboard is cast as a single piece and hold an analog speedometer, odometer and fuel gauge. The dash is scooped out eliminating the need for a glove box.
The instrument cluster on the Nano weighs 400 grams which otherwise would weigh close to 1 kg. It is also mounted in the middle of the dash, so in the case of the car being exported to left-hand drive markets, a new dash design is avoided.
To keep costs down, Tata had to install low-cost seats, floor mats and keep the interiors very basic. For example, the headrests are incorporated along with the seats and the runners are left uncovered and the front seats are stationary.
The car tips the scales at 580 kg. Lesser weight meant a lower capacity engine could power the car. The cost is also kept down by doing so.
Surprisingly, the starter motor is borrowed from a motorcycle!
Bosch pulled out 700 of the 1000 functions in this car's ECU. Even the various sensors that give feedback to the ECU from the engine are designed lighter to reduce overall weight.
The whole engine costs a mere $700 to manufacture. A single balancer shaft and two cylinders are its hallmarks.
97% of its parts are made in India availing cheap labor.
The base model of this car has its wheels fastened to the hub using 3 lugs instead of 4 or 5
The Nano's roof is ribbed to increase rigidity and allow a thinner sheet metal to be used. It also adds a styling element to the car.
The glass on the rear windows are fixed and cannot be rolled down. Similarly, the rear windshield is bonded to the tailgate using glue.
One can find the battery in the Nano under the driver's seat.
Lower maximum speed meant the powertrain and suspension could be kept simple and made at a reduced cost
As the engine finds itself at the rear, the steering wheel shaft that connects to the wheels could be made hollow to save materials and cost.
The basic model has no radio, no power steering, no power windows, no central locking or air conditioning
The Nano will use $10 airbags in its deluxe models in the future.
The Nano has put fear not only into Indian brands, but global ones as well. It has shown the world what Indian engineering is capable of and more importantly what determination and smart work can do. The strategy adopted by Tata was simple yet effective. Manufactures across the world are now working on their own small cars, which are smaller in price and dimension than any other model in their showrooms. 'Consume less, pollute less' is the moto and a moto that makes apt sense in today's world where oil prices is sky rocketing, and Governments are devising strategies to curb pollution.