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A travellers point of view - The Indian TATA Nano
Sunday, 27 January 2008
The news of the world cheapest car – The Indian Tata Nano – is undoubted a major accomplishment for the Indian car industry. Having travelled the Indian roads with a truck the same news from a travellers viewpoint brings about several mixed feelings. India is a densely populated country with a road network hardly coping with the sudden modernity of traffic. The news of a million new Tata Nano’s flooding the Indian streets every year comes with a feeling of shivers up our spines.

To say it bluntly – To any newcomer Indian traffic comes as a violent shock. The unprecedented intensity of all forms of traditional traffic mixed with modernity without any regard to road rules is something which takes a (long) while to get used to. Navigating the traffic chaos in an average Indian city without fear for collisions or fatal accidents must absolutely require Indian genes. We as Europeans can only say – once you’ve survived Indian traffic you probably survive any other traffic situation anywhere on the world. It can’t get any worse than this.

From a environmental point of view the news Indian Tata Nano is good. A fuel efficient less polluting car for the masses is something to be proud of. Western society can barely touch such an accomplishment. In Europe the cars only got heavier, luxurious with more powerful engines. As if the price of fuel is totally irrelevant. Which maybe so true in this time of consumption. A litre of diesel now does about € 1,10 in the Netherlands. That’s  65 Indian rupees, double the price of the same amount of diesel in India in august 2007.  
Car prices and weight have gone only up also under pressure of Dutch government rules. For example, in the Netherlands all new cars in 2008 must have ABS and airbags. That’s still expensive technology not to mention the extra weight this adds.

But most of all, after a few months of navigating the Indian roads, the news of the arrival of the Indian Tata Nano in the millions brings about a feeling of despair. On the Indian roads we’ve barely seen any signs of traffic rule enforcement. On top of that any effort of enforcement comes with an overwhelming feeling of where start? Simple traffic rules are violated “en masse”. With roads getting better, engine power going up – traffic gets faster and faster. Even the small 33 bhp engine of the Tata Nano is lethal in an average Indian city.

We’ve been in utterly crazy Indian traffic situations in totally unimaginable circumstances with a 10.000 Kg truck. We’d love to see some kind of traffic police in India – a big squad of incorruptible brave men lashing out at the most terrible offenders. And if to name one, the Indian bus driver. One thing is for sure, you need a army tank to survive a crash with a formula-1 Indian bus packed far beyond the max with people. The Indian Tata Nano will be no more than a soft bump under the wheels of the TATA bus. The despair is the strongest when thinking about a million new Tata Nano’s on the streets….each year.

And most likely the previous vehicle of the new Tata Nano owner will not disappear from the streets. It will probably be in the hands of people who can’t afford the new Tata Nano, instead driving a worn down to the thread car or motorcycle.

However maybe – we hope – maybe the presence of a million new Tata Nano’s owners on the road comes with a desperate cry for traffic rule enforcement. 2500 US$ is still a lot of money for an average Indian family. To have your first brand new car dented, scratched or totally annihilated in brutal Indian traffic probably isn’t so amusing.
And as we experienced out of first hand – driving around unscratched, without dents is impossible in India. Nearly every car / truck has it’s marks – our truck included.

If the Indian government would / could compensate this new development for a little bit safer roads we’d say – serious nationwide incorruptible road rule enforcement. Without doubt the biggest traffic rule enforcement project in the world. And that would dwarf the efforts of producing the cheapest car in the world.

And it’s possible – we’ve seen many Pakistani police officers enforcing road rules, Nepali traffic police checking drivers on speed, pollution and paperwork. Iranian police checking for violators all over the country. The result is evident – when leaving India – roads are a lot more drivable again.

We fear the worst – more Tata Nano’s equals more Indians moving faster – more accidents and human suffering. We wonder how lethal Indian traffic must get before clear signs of road rule enforcement starts? We surely hope we’ve seen the worst of traffic in India – we plan to return to India in 2008/2009. The first million TATA Nano’s will be waiting…

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