So now the Tata Nano has been launched, and by the summer, buyers in India will be able to purchase a vehicle that, in base form, sells for the U.S. equivalent of about $2,200. And already, people are asking why we can't have a similarly-priced car over here.
I've always said "be careful what you wish for." Because sometimes, you get it -- or in this case, you don't.
The base Nano is two grand partly because it's a four-wheeled motorcycle with a roof. The list of features, according to Tata Motors, is a two-cylinder engine, three exterior colour choices, single-tone seats, and a fold-down rear seat. That's it. You can move up to a heater and air conditioning, but they're not on the base model.
It has seatbelts because they're mandatory in India, and that's probably the only reason. It doesn't have airbags, which are mandatory in Canada. It doesn't have anti-lock brakes or electronic stability control, which will be mandatory in a couple of years. It doesn't have a tire pressure monitoring system, required on vehicles in the U.S. It has only a single wiper blade and one exterior mirror.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the U.S. has just added roof strength tests to its list of requirements for a vehicle to earn its "Top Safety Pick" award, and the government is expected to pass a ruling requiring stronger roof pillars. Which means that, once again, cars will become more expensive to produce.
Now, just to be sure, I don't think cars should be unsafe. All of the safety features on vehicles can be a good thing, as long as you don't think they're a substitute for a safe, well-trained driver who concentrates on the road instead of the cell phone or the coffee cup. (And don't get me started on the fact that the IIHS says that stronger roofs help keep people from being ejected from the vehicle if they're not wearing seatbelts. You don't deserve fancy safety features if you're too stupid to use the simplest and cheapest one in it.)
But is the government the reason why we can't have a $2,000 car? Not really. I've already had my fill of people who complain about the Smart because "it isn't safe," based on its size. I can only imagine what would happen if the Nano came over here, completely unchanged from the model that's sold in India. The people who complain just want the $2,000 price tag. They definitely wouldn't take the $2,000 car that goes with it.