Sunday, March 22, 2009

World's cheapest Nano set for commercial roll-out Monday

The Nano, touted as the world's cheapest car, will finally be launched from here Monday.The Tata group, India's largest industrial house, is all set for the commercial roll-out of the small-car that hit the global headlines last year, both after its unveiling at the Auto Show in New Delhi and then becoming the centrepiece of a political controversy over the location of its plant at Singur in West Bengal.
The $62.5 billion group finally had to shift its factory to Sanand in Gujarat after cascading politically-motivated protests over land acquisition from farmers raised questions over the company's ability to stick to its launch deadline, informally set for October 2008. Showcasing its prototype last year, Tata Motors had announced that it will cost all of Rs1 lakh at factory gates - the lowest cost for any car so far.
The group has said the booking process and specific details on the retail price will be announced Monday afternoon. Tata Motors hope to start from the second week of April advance bookings for the 624-cc jellybean car, which has a snub nose, a sloping roof and just about room for five to squeeze in.
Company officials said arrangements were being made to accept bookings with the existing dealers of Tata Motors, at Westside apparel chain and Croma appliances stores promoted by the group, and select branches of the State Bank of India.
Touted as the next revolution in automobiles after the legendary Model T, The Nano will be available in three variants - standard, deluxe and luxury. The base model will have no air-conditioning.
The four-door, five-seat car has a small 33-bhp engine at the rear and is targeted at the strong Indian middle class population that aspires to trade its two-wheelers for a much safer vehicle at an affordable cost.
With a length of 3.1 metres, a width of 1.5 metres and a height of 1.6 metres, Nano also has adequate ground clearance and can effortlessly manoeuvre on busy roads in cities as well as in rural areas.
"Let me announce today that the dealer price for the car will be Rs1 lakh only," Ratan Tata, chairman of the group, had said last year, standing in front of the automobile he had promised to deliver four years ago, taking the project as a personal challenge.
"A promise is a promise," Tata had said, seeking to drive home the point he will deliver the car at the same price as he had set four years ago, despite major escalations in input costs.
The abandoned factory stands as a silent reminder of the frenzied activity and the air of expectancy one saw here less than a year ago. The prevailing feeling now is of loss and sadness as the Nano prepares to roll out far away in Mumbai Monday.
The cluster of buildings that was once designed to roll out the revolutionary little Nano is now enveloped in darkness - symbolic of the state of mind of those in this rural hamlet who bemoan the loss of the prized project to Sanand in Gujarat.
From the rickshaw puller at the local Mankundu railway station to the tea stall owner in the vicinity of the factory, the general feeling is of dejection. But the sharp political polarisation in the area ensures that there are quite a few with a different viewpoint too.
On Oct 3 last year, global auto major Tata Motors announced that it had scrapped its plans to bring out the world's cheapest car from the facility at Singur, 40km from state capital Kolkata. The plant was shifted to Sanand.
"I used to earn Rs.200 daily ferrying the Tata Motors employees from the railway station to the factory gate after construction of the plant started... But now, with the project scrapped here, my earnings have become less than half," said Rasik Dey, a rickshaw puller.
Dibakar Das, a farmer who gave five acres for the Nano project in Hooghly district, said: "It is really sad that the project didn't come up over here."
"The project could have changed the financial condition of Singur, but the destructive protests by the opposition did not allow the project to take place."
The Hooghly district area had turned into a battleground for about two and a half years since May 2006 after the state government announced the Tata Nano project.
A section of farmers, led by main opposition force Trinamool Congress, carried out a sustained agitation demanding return of 400 acres of the acquired 997.11 acres to farmers who had been unwilling to give land by relocating the ancillary units.
But the Tatas, who spent Rs.15 billion in Singur for the project, were against relocating the auto-component units in the integrated project, saying it would increase the production cost of the car priced at only Rs1 lakh.
Apart from the mother plant, the project was scheduled to house 56 auto-components companies.
But the Trinamool Congress does not seem to be missing the little Nano. "This is just like any other commercial product launch for us," Sougata Roy, Trinamool Congress leader said.
Asked whether the party feels bad that the project, which could have been a showpiece for the state, had to be shifted elsewhere, he said: "We would not have been happy had the project come up in the state at the cost of the tears of so many people."

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