Sunday, January 13, 2008

Responses to Tata’s low-priced car reveal confusion

Tata’s Nano has evoked a mixed response. A confused response, one may say.

The reactions of Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee and social activist Medha Patkar appear to have been influenced by the Singrur issue. It was acquisition of land for the Tata project that precipitated the agitation at Singrur.

Quite naturally, energy and environmental considerations have influenced the responses of many groups and individuals. Some are opposed to the Nano because it comes as oil supplies are running out. If the motor car becomes more affordable than at present, the demand for oil is bound to go up and the available supplies may be exhausted sooner.

The other side of the picture is that switch to vehicles with greater fuel efficiency may delay that event. The makers of big, oil-guzzling automobiles are not known to be slowing down. As oil wells start drying up, the search for alternatives will intensify.

The worry that the arrival of a cheaper car will clog the already congested roads is real. But then it is not wise to demand that the entrepreneur must wait until the authorities have built enough roads for all the vehicles they hope to sell.

When Henry Ford began mass production of cars, there were no motorable roads and no automobile garages. They came later and filled the need that had arisen.

Alexander Graham Bell linked two small US towns by wire and demonstrated that it was possible for people in one place to talk to those in the other. Mark Twain is said to have asked what did they have to tell each other.

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