Many have hailed Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Motors, for doing what seemed the impossible; designing, engineering, and building a incredibly cheap vehicle (approximately $2,000), The Tata Nano, which promises to both reduce traffic fatalities and extend the freedom of personal transportation to India's masses. But a growing number of environmentalists are sounding the alarm, claiming that Tata Motors has missed the mark to go a step further and introduce a petroleum-free vehicle or at least one that employs technology to seriously reduce CO2 emissions.
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As a New York Times blog post explains, the sudden availability of an affordable car could "create more traffic and strain on India’s already rickety urban infrastructure." An infrastructure filled with claptrap vehicles and hazardous conditions that, according to Automobile Magazine, "claims more than 90,000 lives each year." Yet the Nano is far safer than any similarly-priced mode of transport in India at present, and Ratan Tata's obsessive devotion to the project led Automobile to conclude that the Nano is "more like a social mission than another new-car project."
The Nano is powered by a conventional two-cylinder gasoline engine located under the rear seats. The sedan is claimed to seat six-foot passengers comfortably front and rear, stretches only 122 inches from nose to tail, and is packed with clever engineering to reduce cost, increase safety, and ensure durability.
With the advent of the Tata Nano, is India headed for even worse traffic sprawl and a nastier stain on global CO2 emissions? Or will the profit made from sales of this promising car enable Tata and its ascetic, visionary leader to one day have a positive effect on not just human safety but on the environment as well?