Tata Nano on fire

When the Indian conglomerate Tata announced the Nano in 2008, it promised an automotive revolution equivalent to the Model T. The $2,200 Nano would be priced at half the cost of its competition, and single-handedly make four-wheeled transportation ubiquitous in India. Well, that was the plan, anyway.

ForeignPolicy.com is reporting that some three years later the Nano hasn't even begun to live up to its billing. While Tata projected monthly sales of 20,000-25,000 cars, in August the factory shipped a mere 1,200. Despite an annual production capacity of 250,000 Nanos, the company has only managed to sell about 129,000 to date.

While new product failures are a dime a dozen in the auto industry, the homegrown Nano seemed like such a slam dunk, its failure is shocking. Yet FP says the Nano's biggest problem should have been easy to see: Nobody, not even those in developing countries, wants a car whose primary attribute is that it is cheap.

Nano sales have also been hurt by problems with Tata's dealer network and safety concerns after reports of cars catching on fire. Tata told FP that it is addressing these issues, and a new advertising campaign for the car is airing on national television. A Tata spokesman also noted that over 90 percent of Nano owners have reported being satisfied with their cars.

So is the Nano a failure? Certainly it's not the success that many predicted, but revolutions aren't usually as neat and tidy as Steve Jobs liked to make them. And even if all that talk about Tata exporting the cars to the U.S. is looking like utter nonsense today, we found things to like about the Nano when we drove one last year. We're willing to concede that the final chapter on Tata's people's car has yet to be written.