On Tata Nanos catching fire, word is that it’s a manufacturing defect. Some say, alternatively, that it may have been a case of owners’ negligence. To which, I say, bull.
It is going up in flames, because owners are setting it on. In the first odd case, I typically suspected the hand of a correspondent from Overdrive – they have a tendency to do unbelievable things to test vehicles – but we will, obviously, never hear about it from them. But to be fair to them, I believe the entire deal is in fact, a conceptual defect.
You see, every mass-centric idea in India (HH Splendor and M800 duly excused), has been a big ticking atom bomb. Local trains in Bombay are bombarded by working-class crowds on a daily basis, occasionally leaving the task to neighbouring countries. When Reliance launched mobile handsets for Rs.999, offering 500 minutes of free talktime, everyone bought one. And showed it the way to the bin, when the bill came knocking on the door. Reliance Mobile, today, is sulking in a corner, licking its wounds.
In India, ‘cheap’ works. But ‘cheap and best’ does not. Simply because while a product is cheap, it is not the best. Best as compared to what? Grapes? The fact is, the Nano doesn’t excel at a single thing. It is inexpensive, yes, but the used car market clearly overshadows the fact. It isn’t spectacularly fast, except of course when it is over 80kmph, and on fire – which is more spectacular than fast, really.
Autocar India took the Maruti 800’s speedo past the bump stop, to an outrageous 141.1kmph – but nothing happened. The doors didn’t fall off, and more importantly, it did not catch fire. And the 800 could seat five, had 5 gears, fuel injection a surprisingly peppy engine and an a/c that worked just fine. We owned one. Look ma, no burns!
But to buy a Nano, first, you have to get past the waiting period. Now I enjoy the concept of having to wait a year, at times two, for my Bentley Arnage to arrive home. Simply because I know they have spent two years finding that Lion in Zambia, whose hide I wanted for my steering wheel cover. In the Nano’s case, you can’t even chose the b(lo)ody colour until the lot has arrived in the stockyard a year later. Where you have to beat other Nano customers with thorns so they don’t pick the only colour you want - yellow, of which there is only one.
And then, with blood gushing out of one eye, and a dangling nose, you make your way out of the dealer’s in a not-so-bad Gray. But now you’re on the four lane. And you have to follow run-in instructions. So you’ll have to move into the slow(est) lane. Oh, but you can’t see – there’s no LHS rear view mirror. Great, now the idiot in front of you has decided to do a u-turn at the junction. Woohoo! The brakes don’t work. Obviously – it’s raining, and drum brakes won’t work even if you propose to feed them to lions. So you’re rocketing towards a fast decelerating Audi Q7, stuck in the fast lane with brakes that don’t work and with no clue what’s coming from behind you on the left. Bloody merry, innit?!
Put me in this situation and I’ll most gently smear aviation grade fuel all over the car’s dull gray, and hire an F16’s afterburners to do the decent thing. Others will perhaps just go the traditional Indian kerosene-matchbox way. Moral of the story; if you love the idea of being alive, with zest, forget the Nano. But on the other hand, if using a laptop frustrates you but you can’t afford to lose all the valuable data – buy a Nano. It’s cheap to buy, plasticky, and admit it, there’s nothing more fun than watching a car parked. And on fire.