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Nano the Making

Nano the Making

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Published by RajeshKumar

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Published by: RajeshKumar on Mar 17, 2008
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09/24/2010

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Knowledge Centre
LEARNING CENTRE – ERC
 
The Making of a Modern Classic
When Tata engineers began making the Nano, it was seen as an act of faith; what they haveaccomplished is an act of courageDinesh Narayanan18 Jan 2008In early 2003, five engineers from Tata Motors troopedinto the main conference room at Bombay House, theVictorian sandstone building that houses theheadquarters of the Tata Group. They had beensummoned at a day’s notice from the Tata Motorsfactory in Pune by company Chairman Ratan N. Tata,who had just made a promise the world said would be‘impossible’ to keep.Tata had told a Financial Times correspondent on thesidelines of the Geneva Auto Show that he was thinkingof making a car that would cost about € 2,000. Adjustedagainst the then exchange rate of the rupee, thattranslated to Rs 1 lakh. Tata says he had never reallydefined the project in his head exclusively by its pricing.“It was the media that said it,” says Tata. “But wedecided to accept the challenge….” With that resolution,Tata imprisoned himself and his engineers in a promiseto fulfil which they would have to all but rewrite theprinciples of automotive engineering.When the engineers walked into the conference roomthat morning, they knew that the meeting had somethingto do with Tata’s statement about a small car that theyvaguely remembered reading about in newspapers a fewdays ago. Little did they realise then that the next four years of their lives would be dottedwith moments of agonising failure and heady success, between which they would eat, drink and catch up with their families. The worst: the engineers would not be able to share withanyone, even their wives, what was going on inside their second home, the drab block of concrete called Engineering Research Centre (ERC) at Tata Motors’ campus on the outskirtsof Pune.
Jai Bolar, senior manager for development at Tata Motors’ ERC, recalls that the teamentered the conference room armed with just a 60-slide presentation on all the low-costmodes of personal transport. The vehicles included motorbikes, autorickshaws, scootersand the company’s own Indica. “We had no clue as to what we were supposed to do,’’say Bolar. “So finally, we asked him whether he could tell us what he had in mind.”
CLASSIC CARS DOWN THE YEARS Top tobottom: Ford Model T — 1908 Volkswagen Beetle— 1938 Morris Mini Classic — 1958 Swatch-Mercedes Smart — 1998 Tata Nano — 2008
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© TATA Motors Ltd.
 
 
 
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© TATA Motors Ltd.
The next few minutes will, forever, be imprinted on the team’s mind. Tata, or RNT as he isaffectionately called, held forth, exhorting the team to dream of building a low-cost car thatwould cost only marginally more than a two-wheeler and revolutionize personal transport inIndia. Show the world what Indian engineering is truly capable of, RNT told the engineers.“Make me also part of the team. Only in a country like India or Pakistan can a low-cost car bemade,’’ he insisted.
The motivational talk worked. “We came back from the meeting all charged up,’’ saysNagabhushan R. Gubbi, head of engineering for passenger cars. Gubbi did not know,nor did the others, that they had just been impelled by arguably India’s most visionarybusinessman to create history.Spluttering Start
The team made little progress over the next year and ahalf. It tried to source parts from around the world, eventoyed with the idea of an open car with plastic or canvassheets for protection (see sketch below). The problemwas it was still thinking of making the motorcyclistsafer. Two-wheelers continued to overtake the image of a car in their minds.
“The biggest challenge when the project started wasthere was no brief, no benchmarks, and it had neverbeen done before,’’ says Bolar.
Even RNT had onlythe disturbing image of a family of four riding a scooteron wet roads and an unclear dream to help such familiesas benchmarks.In August 2005, Girish Wagh, an easy-going, but intense 35-year-old with a reputation forbuilding teams and trucks, entered the scene. Wagh, a mechanical engineer by training, had just helped build the runaway hit Ace. He arrived at a time when the first ‘mule’ was ready. Amule in auto parlance is a vehicle that comprises the engine and transmission, driving a mock-up addled with electronic sensors. It moves like a vehicle just for testing purposes. The firstmule had a marine engine that delivered 20 brake horse powers (bhp).
“We wanted to see whether such an engine would work,’’ says engine man NarendraKumar Jain. It did not.Cranking Up
At Tata Motors, Jain is regarded as a pioneer. He is credited with the first gasoline engine thatTatas made. For two years, Jain scoured the world looking for an engine that could fit a smallcar. He even tried motorcycle engines, but finally decided that RNT’s common man wouldneed an engine not yet invented. Jain then went to work with a clean sheet of paper.
 INSPIRED LEADERS: RNT with (right)Tata Motors Managing Director RaviKant (Tribhuwan Sharma)
 
 
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He started off designing a small engine that woulddeliver 20 bhp, but realised midway that it wouldnot be enough. So he increased the engine’s capacityto 554 cc, which delivered 27 bhp. The engine stilldid not have enough zing and its driveability wasnot satisfactory. So, Jain redesigned the engine andincreased its capacity to 586 cc. That appeared to bepeppy enough and satisfy all parameters. The team,swelling in number as new tasks were incorporatedand specialists taken on, was working to meet threeparameters — acceptable cost, acceptableperformance and regulatory compliance, not onlycurrent but also future.While Tata engineers worked on the engineering of the car, Italian design house I.D.E.A., which alsodesigned the Indica, was chartered with styling. Guided by RNT, the styling kept changing.Though in an interview with BW, RNT underplayed his own role in the design, Wagh says hewas intimately involved in the styling and made some alterations even a few days before thelaunch.
“Mr Tata was present at every testing and he made all the decisions,” Waghsays. “He was very focused on what the customerwould like’’.
THE IDEA STAGE: (Left) An earlyvehicle layout for the occupants, and (right) the sideview rendering of Nanoduring its design phase
In December 2005, the second mule was tested, andby mid-2006, the first prototype or alpha was ready.After testing the prototype, which ran on the 586-ccengine, the team found the vehicle wanting.
“Wefelt it needed to be longer,” Wagh says. “RNTwanted changes in styling, which meant changesin body design, which increased safety performance.” It was decided to increase thelength by 100 mm. It meant redoing everything that was done until then. The team wasback at the drawing board.Beat but Not Beaten
That the project did not have any specifications, and was never tried before, worked both inits favour as well as against. With only three parameters to guide them, the engineers keptcoming up against failures. Jain says the biggest support from the management was not tohold a failure against anyone. “The hardest part was continuing to believe we could do it,’’RNT said. “I never felt the project won’t go through. I was scared I won’t meet targets —price targets, time targets, the auto expo…’’
 Bolar says that since there was no precedent to the project, everybody had a number of concepts. “The management remained open, but the most challenging task was to definethe specs,” he says. The Maruti 800 was the only benchmark to go by. And it cost morethan Rs 2 lakh on the road.

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