Tata Nano

Should the Tata Nano come back as an EV?

Not a new idea, I’m sure. With the EV revolution that is quietly taking place in the country, I was wondering why the company was holding back on an electric Tata Nano, as work on the Nexon EV was taking place at a furious pace. Speaking of EVs, the Nexon EV was launched last year at an aggressive introductory price tag starting at Rs 13.99 lakh to Rs 15.99 lakh. It is the most affordable long range, fully electric vehicle available in India right now. It costs a little bit more than Rs 7 lakh more than the base ICE version. For perspective, the Hyundai Kona and the MG ZS EV start at Rs 23.72 lakh and 20.88 lakh (ex-showroom). It is a competitive edge for Tata in terms of pricing.

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Now, coming back to the Nano EV, one of my senior colleagues in Tata Motors was also wondering why the company was not putting its might on developing an electrified version of the Nano. He too agreed that it had the potential to turn around the fortunes for the company in the EV race. There were some questions in my mind (which I will come to shortly) when I thought why Tata Motors was reluctant to invest on the Nano EV. You just need to look at the performance of the Nano in the Indian market to get the answer. At the time of launch of the Nano, the company projected to make 250,000 vehicles a year but then, it sold roughly one third of that number all these years.

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‘Nano’ car with big dreams

It was an ambitious target for a car that was made from the ground up, without any benchmarks for reference – not to mention a million obstacles that the company had to overcome before production commenced late in 2008, including the shifting of plant from Singur to Sanand. Fast forward to the Auto Expo in 2008 and it wowed critics and the public alike when it made its debut.

Tata Nano headlights
A missed opportunity?

It was nothing short of an engineering marvel, making a car so simple and yet so sophisticated at the same time by applying frugal engineering methods to keep the costs in check, while also using quality materials to build the car. The car used rear-engine rear-wheel drive concept, different sized wheels for front and rear; boasted of interior space that could bloody the noses of premium hatchbacks and made use of simple electronics to keep the emissions and cost in check. It ticked all the right boxes for a city car – practical, compact, fuel efficient and affordable.

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Questions, questions…

Why did the Nano not do well in the country? Was it because it was priced much higher than what was promised? Was it because of its quirky looks that was maybe a bit ahead of its time? Did Tata Motors believe that the hype surrounding it during its making was greater than the need for an effective ad campaign? Was it because of the ‘cheap’ tag around it that many buyers were reluctant to put their money on? Whatever the reason, the Nano didn’t deserve to die a quiet death after making quite an entrance at the 2008 Auto Expo. The small car made the biggest impression back then.

Small footprint, but spacious inside
Nano EV, sans the issues that riddled the Nano

Recently, I was watching a podcast by evo India where ed Sirish Chandran was asking the same – is it time for the Nano to come back as an EV? Despite the risk of sounding obvious, let me list out some of the things that would put wind in the sails of the Nano EV. The Nano EV would get rid of the NVH problems that plagued the car. It would run quieter – eliminating that engine sound that reminded you of your last Uber Auto ride.

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The Nano would be a better handling car with minimized body roll if the high voltage battery was placed under the floor, like the Nexon EV. Because of its compact size and less weight, the range can shame its own sibling or the MG ZS EV. Range anxiety would be non-existent, just like the charging infrastructure in many parts of the country. It could very well set the benchmark for affordable long range EVs and single-handedly change people’s view on electric vehicles and bring on more early adopters. Then there is the running cost, again in its favour.

Those eyes…

Of course Tata Motors has to tweak the Nano EV to meet the current safety standards. With the Global NCAP rated 5-star Nexon and Altroz in the line-up, Tata Motors cannot afford to have a Nano that has zero or 1-star rating. It has established a name for itself when it comes to safety. Therefore, a minimum of three-star rating by the Global NCAP for the Nano EV could banish all thoughts that the company has compromised on build quality in the pursuit of cost effective engineering in case of the Nano EV.

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With the lessons learnt from the Nexon and Altroz, it is not a difficult task of inducing the same build quality in the Nano EV. This would restore faith of the people on the Nano EV. It would make sense if Tata Motors can initially launch the Nano EV in congested cities like Delhi or Mumbai, gauge the response to the car and then launch the car in other cities. And this time it can do small volumes and then ramp up if the demand spikes. Which will skyrocket, given the FAME II subsidiary that the GoI is offering for early adopters and manufacturers.

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Most important of all – give it a thorough design makeover, position the car as a sporty, stylish everyday EV and lose the ‘cheap’ tag that kept many customers away from the car. Follow it up with a strong marketing campaign that will bring customers back to the showroom. Just before Maruti launches the electric Wagon R, which is still some time away. What say, Tata Motors?

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