Nano is the new Turbo, part deux

This week’s unveiling of the Tata Nano is yet another piece of evidence that "nano" is the new "turbo".


In our world of bloated, inane Flabbigators and ANC SL2455’s and RSQ77 urban land yachts, the Nano is a refreshing point of view.  Instead of car design being done from an elitist point of view whose aim is to find ever new and novel ways to heat, cool, and pamper our fat asses, the engineers at Tata have said "here’s all you need" and nothing more.  It’s a populist design approach visited before by such iconic designs as the Model T, the Beetle, the Mini, the Cinquecento, and — my favorite — the 2CV.  Unlike those designs, however, I don’t believe the Nano is the rational enough.  That swoopy windshield is a hollow attempt at style over substance: who needs an expensive, complex, Le Mans-quality aerodynamic solution when one’s top speed (let alone average speed) is so low?  Something more planar would be simpler, cheaper, and easier to fix and replace over the life of the car.  Of course, reflective design is the lord of the manor when it comes to automotive sales, and what people really want is swoopy, I suppose.

And, doffing my hypocrite’s cap, I can’t help but think that the last thing the world needs is another car, let alone a popular, high-volume one.  However, if we’re going to have more, they might as well be nano-ish in mass and form.  Where’s the true cradle-to-cradle personal transportation solution we all need?  Perhaps I should get on that…

8 thoughts on “Nano is the new Turbo, part deux

  1. And for a opposing point of view… I think this concept is great. Given it’s target market is 3 world destinations it might help people travel in a safer fashion, with less pollution (less 2-cycle mopeds) and enable people to get places for needed things with great ease such as medicine and water. I also believe the overall form is fairly appropriate for “these times” and probably utilizes what little power there is to cut through the wind. A sweet roof rack to the cat’s meow. To bad it will not be available in USA.

  2. I totally agree that is so refreshing to see that a car is not designed to portray its owners budget or dreams of glory.
    However, I don’t agree that this focus should avoid “aerodynamic” forms…neither the beetle nor any of the examples you mentioned forgot about the esthetics in favour of plain rationality, and this is, in my opinion, what makes this designs truly democratic: it’s cheap, but not because of this less stylish.

  3. Martin,
    I think it is significant that the Model T, the 2CV, and the Beetle all had flat windshields, and still managed to be aesthetic triumphs. I never advocated avoiding aerodynamic forms if they were truly merited (as they were on the Beetle), but I’m sticking to my guns: the Nano is form for form’s sake. That’s fine if you want to sell cars, but this kind of car can be so much more than that.

  4. Why have the designers designed something so ugly ? Have they no comprehension of BASIC aero dynamics, proportion ? Did they design it blind folded ? This will NEVER achieve the cult status such as the mini, or beetle, simply because there is no emotional connection for us to lust over.
    It disgusts me

  5. Diego: You’ve got a point, and I don’t pretend to say that the Nano is a perfect design. However, I still believe that form for form’s sake can be justified under some “sociological” conditions.
    I live in Chile, a third world country, where poor people in the past 15 years has been able to dress more “stilishly” due to the availability of chinese manufacture. My grandfathers told me that, 30 years ago, was very easy to distinguish somebody’s social origin looking at his clothing, but that now fashion was made available to many, that barrier was diffuse.
    I do not want to make an apology of fashion, but it is a very beautiful example where designing for poor people does not necesarilly implies that objects “look like” poor.
    I am not an expert in glass design, but I understand that now it’s cheaper to make a curved screen than in the 60’s (the 1973 model of the beetle, in fact, had a curved windshield), and I think that little detail can turn into a source of proudness to many families whose first car will be this one, and it will look modern and stylish like any other car in the streets.
    Sorry if my english is not that good. I’m just stating that in designing for poor people there is and should be a place for some luxury, like sacrifying some rationality in favour of the looks, whether we like this looks or not.

  6. Hi Martin,
    I think you are right. Many studies have shown that mobile phone aesthetics are MORE important in emerging economies than in mature ones, because there the phone is IT. It’s THE cool thing that you own, as opposed to over here where the challenge is the find the right color on your Prius to compliment your iPod and your HD TiVo controller.
    By arguing for flat glass, I was doing the blogger thing of using a little hyperbole to make a point. I think the last vehicles on the market in the US with flat windshield glass were the Izuzu Trooper (first gen) and the Mercedes G-Wagen. Flat glass makes a lot of sense, but not if you look bad in front of your neighbors. I guess I’m reacting to the overall design of the nose, which is trying a little too hard to be aero for aero’s sake.
    Give me a 2CV any day!

  7. Hello Diego: Well, I think you’re right too, the design is far from perfect. I’m just advocating the right of affordable design to be fashionable. It’s good to know too that my intuitions are sustained by studies…do you know where I can find one of these studies about looks and emerging economies?
    On the other side, in my case, I stick with one that’s not included in your list:
    Give me a Renault 4 any day! (specially the fourgonette version)

  8. Hi Diego,
    I write from India and I completely agree that aesthetics are very important in the Indian market. Owning the car, for a large chunk of poor population, is an opportunity to feel that they have in some way participated in the lifestyle of the visible ‘middle class’.
    My bet is that , ‘Nano’ will also become the new ‘Auto Rickshaw’ (like ‘Tuk Tuk’ taxi in thailand) in India. And to me that will be a big market. Lets wait and watch.

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