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are two cars on display.
One is a complete prototype of the Nano, the $2,500 compact car Tata unveiled in January, which has all the essentials and safety features of India's higher-priced automobiles along with a sticker price that will forever change the economics of low-cost cars. The other is a neat bisection, with the car's innards clearly visible.
"Every day we invite people to come and examine the car and ask: 'How can we make more savings?'" says Tata Motors Chief Executive Ravi Kant. Inside the Tate Group Empire Tata Company Profile
That quest to build the world's cheapest car hasn't ended. The Nano [ Images ] should be available this fall, but the mission began back in 2003, when Ratan Tata [ Images ], chairman of Tata Motors and the $50 billion Tata conglomerate, set a challenge to build a "people's car."
Tata gave an engineering team, led by 32-year-old star engineer Girish Wagh, three requirements for the new vehicle: It should be low-cost, adhere to regulatory requirements, and achieve performance targets such as fuel efficiency and acceleration capacity. The design team initially came up with a vehicle which had bars instead of doors and plastic flaps to keep out the monsoon rains. It was closer to a quadricycle than a car, and the first prototype, Wagh admits candidly, "lacked punch."
Even a bigger engine, which boosted the power by nearly 20%, was still dismal. "It was an embarrassment," says Wagh.
But the failure was also the catalyst for Tata's decision to build a proper car, not an upgraded scooter on four wheels or anything flimsy or cheap-looking. "We didn't want an apology for a car," says Ravi Kant. "We were conscious of the fact that whether it was a $2,500 car or not, it ought not to have looked like a $2,500 car."
makes a rack and pinion steering system. So were local Indian players. Rane Group. It focused on reducing the weight of the materials used. for instance. and every other car manufacturer would want to work with us. Typically. we could dictate terms to the market. For the Nano's rear-wheel drive system. the product is made of two pieces. "We thought if we were successful in this. earnest but flawed prototypes. made the driveshaft -.not for a new car. First." GKN Driveline India. asked them to help. but it was redesigned as one to save on machining and assembling costs. GKN designed a smaller diameter of shaft.a major cost-reducer. . Soon most of Tata's traditional suppliers were on board.the component that transfers power from the engine to the wheel. which made it lighter and saved on material costs. pointing out that not only could a company's specific developments for the Nano help to make history but they could also improve their companies' businesses and bottom lines. According to Harish Lakshman. both inside and outside Tata's own organization. were skeptical. a subsidiary of global auto parts leader GKN. replacing the steel rod of the steering with a steel tube -. chief executive of GKN Driveline India. The team spent a year developing 32 experimental variants to create the perfect driveshaft for the Nano. after showing them the early.Becoming a part of history The tale of the creation and design of the Nano is one of innovation and ingenuity. which makes the computer that is the heart of car's engine." says Rajendra Ojha. and not to reduce costs. Companies including Germany's [ Images ] Bosch. But Tata persisted. but applied differently -. director of the $317 million company: "The world has seen this sort of integration of two pieces into one. Ratan Tata called a meeting of his top parts suppliers and. It roped in designers from the company's French and Italian operations and changed the design to make it lighter and easier to manufacture.
Taking the pulse of the project All the suppliers have similar stories. now.m. The engine. So instead. head-breaking details. "every cost." Every morning. was designed three times. Initially. tighter industry regulations.designers.particularly as the price of raw materials like steel have more than doubled in the past four years. Each engineer represented a different part of the car: engine and transmission. insisting that everyone involved -. manufacturing teams. so in early 2005 he decided to build his own. as Kant acknowledges. recalls Wagh. "We had to have the pulse of the project and know exactly where the hurdles were. Wagh quickly realized it was necessary to bring everyone on board. the biggest hurdle for the company -"then." -. every component price. Wagh's team grew to comprise some 500 engineers. Kant. has to be run by me. .be there to accelerate decision-making and problem-solving. to discuss the latest developments." he says. with the Nano. "else it leads to last-minute heartache and delays. safety and regulation. for instance. and in the future. and the company has to follow new. vehicle integration. body. who recently led negotiations to acquire luxury auto brand Jaguar Land Rover. That was. Coordinating the vendors with Tata Motors' team was a whole new exercise in logistics. most stuck to Tata's mandate to cut costs. Attention to detail pays off Fitting the parts of the car together required lots of little. an impractically large group to gather on a daily basis. a core team of five engineers gathered every day at 3 p. Wagh thought they'd buy an off-the-shelf engine and so studied all the small-capacity engines available. has little time to get involved in day-to-day details of Tata's many projects. Over time. And although none would disclose specific cost savings. vendor development people -. They were unsuitable." Wagh remembers. However. he would spend an hour or two on the floor of the Pune factory. and industrial design.
lacked the necessary power. and the hunger of young managers looking to break from a hidebound corporate environment. If it had been an upgraded scooter on four wheels. So its capacity was increased by 9%. has put an end to all discussions of having variants of scooters or quadricycles as passenger vehicles on India's roads. ambitious nation with a combination of engineering talent. it made an immediate impact. The attention to detail paid off: When the car rolled onto the dais at the Auto Show in New Delhi in January. and Ratan Tata stepped out of the driver's seat with ease. "It was in a mindset change. which has resulted in an unexpected side-benefit Wagh calls "organizational innovation". The Nano." Kant recalls. "Imagine the plight of the body designer -. Organizational innovation Still. It's a tale that illuminates the India of today -." The Nano. the story of the Nano is not confined to its impact on the auto industry. "The innovation wasn't in technology.he went through hundreds of iterations. What shook the automobile world most was the fact that the designers seem to have done the impossible: The sleek. multilayered management structure. The body had to be changed because Ratan Tata. before Wagh finally settled on a 623 CC engine. Indeed.on average aged between 25 and 30 -.The first was a 540 CC engine that. he adds. . however. wanted it to be easy for tall people to get in and out of the car. over six feet tall himself. a desire for low costs and value. when fitted on the prototype. Then the foot pedal had to be realigned to create more legroom. affords both safety and status. then at the last minute the car length was increased by 100 millimeters!" Wagh says. the team that worked on the Nano -.an eager.has helped to flatten Tata Motors' stodgy. then by another 9%. sophisticated Nano doesn't look flimsy or inexpensive. Tata still would have been applauded for making a family of four safer on Indian roads.
" . Tata Motors is determined to succeed in its mission. "We are hungry for growth -. Ravi Kant says. is still being built. Wagh now spends most of his time away from his Pune home.The factory in Singur. Bengal. and machinery is being installed. supervising the work at Singur leading up to the launch date in fall.and innovation is a by-product of that.