It takes a big motoring occasion like the launch of the Tata Nano, covered today in the news and financial pages of big-note organs like The Times, to show what a joyless bunch the Fleet Streeters really are when it comes to covering motoring topics, and how willing they are wilfully to misunderstand the facts.
Faced with a story about how a fundamentally high-minded car company from the developing world, Tata Motors, has halved the entry cost of car ownership in India, all our daily newspaper commentators seem able focus on is the fact that “only” 40,000 Nanos will be built in the first year, and that early owners will have to be chosen – perfectly fairly – by choosing their names by lottery.
The last time a company halved the cost of motoring, Henry Ford dropped the price of a Model T from around $800 to less than $400 between 1908 and 1918. Nothing like it has happened since. In my book, that makes Tata’s achievement truly remarkable.
The Nano lottery exists only because a) Tata has scored such a hit with buyers that its new product is in huge demand, and b) because the company laudably set out to establish a new factory in a region of India it believed would benefit from industrial development (West Bengal), but was confronted by so much bloody-minded opposition that it was forced to relocate to Gudjurat with the loss of 18 months’ production.
Ratan Tata continues to believe Nano production could eventually top a million units a year, and is holding to his pledge to price the entry-level Nano at one lakh (which is 100,000 rupees, or about £1400).
Under the circumstances, snide references to the fact that what was meant to be the world’s most democratic car “hasn’t worked out like that” and that the Nano “will only be available to lottery winners” don’t get close to fitting the facts.