New Yorkers take on the Tata Nano
The low-cost Tata Nano is all about the bare essentials, but the first example to arrive in New York City looks to have developed a taste for the good life. Rather than rubbing fenders with other cars at this year’s New York Auto Show, held April 2-11, a bright yellow Nano has taken up temporary residence in the ornate lobby of Andrew Carnegie’s former mansion, now the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.The Nano will be on display in its swanky Upper East Side setting until April 25.
Known as “the people’s car of India,” a base Nano costs approximately $2,200 and comes with no frills. There are no airbags, no power steering, and not even a separate opening for the trunk – the luggage compartment is accessed via the rear doors and folding rear seat-back. Yet Tata Motors has grand plans for the Nano, including planned exports to Europe and the U.S. within several years.
As part of the Cooper-Hewitt museum’s rotating series of exhibitions, called “Quicktake,” the Nano is intended to promote discussion, according to Cara McCarty, the museum’s curatorial director. The Quicktake series is about “responding to ‘of the moment’ innovations and design,” she said, adding that even in New York, where driving can be a nightmare, “people simply love cars.”
Comments from museum visitors hint that the Nano is building its own New York fan base. “I think it’s great,” said Jean-Noël, who lives with his wife, Betsy, in Central Park West. “Instead of looking at it like a cheap car, you can see it as a better scooter,” he said, referring to a panel describing how the Nano was developed for families who could otherwise not afford an automobile. An adjacent picture of an Indian family precariously perched on an overloaded scooter drives the point home.
A small car like the Nano “is absolutely all you need in most cases,” agreed Jorg and Antonella, who call the Upper East Side home. Stepping back from the car, Jorg nodded his approval. “I absolutely do like it…I love it.” Their only major concern: the Nano’s tiny 12-inch wheels might not be able to cope with New York City’s cavernous potholes.
Matthias, a security guard stationed in the front lobby, was more immediate in his approval of the Nano. “Personally, I would buy it,” he said, without hesitation. “This would be a perfect car for college students and delivery companies.” The Nano’s small size could be a time saver too, he added, since finding a parking spot would be easier. The Nano is almost two feet shorter than a Mini Cooper. As this video shows, the Nano’s small size also came in handy when positioning the car in the Cooper-Hewitt museum.
Of course, not everyone proved as convinced of the Nano’s design merits. “I like that it doesn’t have any pretense of speed,” said Adam, a student who lives on the Upper West Side. However, he found the museum setting made the Nano feel more like a “concept” than a real production car. “I like that it’s cheap,” he said. “But I’d still be terrified to get hit by a truck while driving one.”