Can the World Handle the World’s Cheapest Car?

Today the Streetsblog Network takes us to India, where some fear the recent launch of the highly-anticipated $2,000 Tata Nano — a.k.a. the "world’s cheapest car" — will wreak havoc on the environment and already crowded public spaces. Hard Drive has the story: 

medium_tata_nano_1.jpg.jpegPhoto via Hard Drive

India’s middle class is on the rise, as is the desire to ape Western
commercialism. As a result, many people still see a car ownership as a
point of pride, a symbol of individual progress, despite growing
problems with air quality and gridlock.

On a recent trip to India, the manager of a tire company told me
many of his neighbors were putting their names into a Nano lottery to
be the first to own their first car. That worried him. "The roads are
beyond capacity now," he said. "How will they hold millions of more
cars?"

Earlier this week, Tata Motors announced its intent to expand into European and US markets. Said company chair Ratan Tata: "This was never conceived as the cheapest car, but as providing transport to those people who never owned a car." You’ve been warned.

Also on the Network: Hub and Spokes reflects on keeping cities like New York affordable; Portland Transport looks into a new transit-timing tool from the makers of Walk Score; a study cited by Bicycle Fixation reveals that bike lanes are good for business; Cap’n Transit checks up on the Red Hook Tunnel Bus; and more. 

  • iso

    I find the continuously negative Western coverage of the launch of the Nano to be elitist and troubling. For example:

    “India’s middle class is on the rise, as is the desire to ape Western commercialism. As a result, many people still see a car ownership as a point of pride, a symbol of individual progress, despite growing problems with air quality and gridlock.”

    This paragraph assumes, in an extremely elitist and patronizing way, that the only reasons Indians will buy this thing are “the desire to ape Western commercialism” and “[seeing] car ownership as a point of pride.” It completely discounts that many people will purchase the car in order to improve their well-being in very real and obvious ways: increasing their travel range for employment, education, commerce, and leisure, while getting to all those places in greater comfort and safety.

    That does not mean that “tragedy of the commons” type factors will not simultaneously decrease quality of life (e.g. poor air quality, congestion, etc), but we all need to seriously get of our high horse and quit assuming, as the above article does, that “being like us” is the primary motivation of everyone in the world.

  • Brooklyn

    I agree with iso — the condescension in this post is breathtaking. I don’t begrudge Indians or anyone this tiny-wheeled sure-to-be piece of shit. Rather, I’m disappointed that India socially or politically didn’t nudge Tata toward a declaration of Indian energy independence by debuting the world’s cheapest hyprid/electric car. I’m curious if some Indians are as aware as some of us are now how much automobile proliferation and dependence keeps us all beholden to sheikhs and sandy wastes of nations — I’m sure you could trace a money trail from the oil fields to the Mumbai massacrists.

  • Peter

    disagree with iso and Brooklyn.

    i’ve been reading about and watching videos on the Nano for months, now, and a lot of it has been from non-US media sources. people in India — Indians — love the idea of raising their ‘class/status’ with a new car — that’s the simple truth. we don’t have to like it, but as someone who is generally oversensitive to race/class issues and see it just about everywhere, in explicit and implicit forms, i find nothing of that nature to talk about in the LA Times or Oregon posts.

    that said, i’ve decided that Peter Norton’s “Fighting Traffic” book is the new, new thing that we advocates need to be all over, stat. i read some reviews, read the first chapter (online) last night — it’s incredible. it offers about 8,000 new ways to argue for congestion pricing/market pricing of the roads, offers insights on the history of streets-for-people-instead-of-cars, etc. — I think it can be a big help for us in making sense of this iPhone-of-Cars.

    here’s a quick write-up on the book:

    http://page99test.blogspot.com/2008/05/peter-d-nortons-fighting-traffic.html

    we need to get the author, Peter D. Norton, interviewed on Streetsblog, interviewed on Streetfilms, etc., and we need the knowledge in his book spread into the livable streets community quickly.

  • garyg

    in India — Indians — love the idea of raising their ‘class/status’ with a new car

    Yeah, that must be it. It’s all about “status.” It couldn’t possibly be that Indians see the same benefits to getting around by car — speed, comfort, convenience — that have been drawing Americans and Europeans to cars for three generations.

    iso is right. The condescension is breathtaking.

  • I \v/ NY

    now they can tear down the taj mahal to provide free abundant parking

  • I \v/ NY

    peter, i agree, i just heard about and read the intro of fighting traffic too and it seems to be a real game changer

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