In an irony of sorts, the Tata Nano finally started rolling off the main assembly lines at Sanand in Gujarat on the same day-Wednesday, June 2-that its bete noire Mamata Banerjee won a stunning electoral victory in civic polls across West Bengal.
A year-and-a-half ago, Banerjee had led a vitriolic resistance to the Nano's initial factory at Singur near Kolkata forcing Tata Motors to shift the project. However, while mass-scale production has begun, things have not been going all that well for the "world's cheapest car". After incidents of cars catching fire, Tata Motors has started adding additional protection to fuellines of all Nanos, though the company, which is dealing with the exit of its passenger car head Rajiv Dube, insists it's not the same as "recalling" the car.
At the same time, demand has hardly been as dramatic as the hype preceding the launch would have had most believe. The company had hoped to sell 100,000 cars made at its Pantnagar plant by the time production began at Sanand, but has moved around only 70,000 units until now. Dealers are optimistic that mass production and an economy back on its feet will bring renewed demand.
Despite reports that production will take a while to ramp up, component makers such as Sona-Koyo Steering Systems told this magazine that "everything is going according to plan". But engine redesign for the mandatory compliance with the Bharat Stage IV emission norms has punched a hole in Ratan Tata's promise of "price-protection" at Rs 1 lakh a car. So, what is next for Project Nano?