After much hype from the press and protest from environmental groups, the Tata Nano, a car that retails for about 100,000 Indian rupees ($2,000), is ready to hit the market. The Nano is a no frills ride. It's stocked with a tiny 623-cc 2-cylinder engine with about 30 horsepower, only one windshield wiper, and four 12-inch rims. It has no radio, airbags, or antilock brakes, even by request.
The goal, says the manufacturer, is to produce a car that all Indians can afford. But at what cost? Writes the Times:
One uncomfortable aspect of the Nano’s cost-cutting regime — and an exceedingly awkward moment during a Q & A session held during the early press event — was the importance of India’s cheap labor. An executive huddle followed a journalist’s query, which lead to another mad scramble among hundreds of photographers eager to capture the situation. Ravi Kant, managing director of Tata Motors, finally stated that the yearly salary of a Nano factory worker is 150,000 rupees – or less than $3,000.
Another troubling aspect for a world confronting global climate change is the Nano's carbon footprint. What will it mean for global emissions and a heating planet if over a billion Indians now have access to incredibly cheap, personal transportation? The Nano does get 50 miles per gallon, but experts warn that the sheer volume of new cars will take away any of its efficiency gains. Time will tell.