Will fires spell Tata for Nano, the world's cheapest car?

India's Tata Motors denies need for a recall of the Nano, despite reports of three fires.

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

Tata, which proudly launched the Nano, ‘the world’s cheapest car’ earlier this year, may be starting to feel a little hot and bothered. Apparently, three of the cars – which cost about £1,300 in India - have caught fire since the beginning of September.

The Nano was designed to take India’s burgeoning middle classes by storm, getting them off their bikes and mopeds and onto four – albeit basic - wheels. With no air conditioning air bags or electric windows and a tiny two-cylinder, 625cc engine, the vehicle is strictly no-frills. It’s a full four-seater however, and can manage an impressive 73 miles per gallon.  

But for all the Nano’s thrifty virtues, potential customers may find their ardour being extinguished by the reported fires, which seem to be emanating from the electrics in the steering column area of the car. One Delhi customer claimed that their vehicle managed to catch fire spontaneously even though it was parked with the ignition off.

Nor is this the first problem to beset the Nano’s inception. Disputes between Tata and West Bengali farmers over allegedly stolen land forced the firm to abandon a half-built plant, delaying the car’s launch by seven months and costing Tata around $350 million.

And production limitations have meant that the grand vision of dominating Indian roads has got off to a pretty slow start. There are currently only around 7,500 Nanos plying India’s notoriously rutted highways; in a country with a population of over a billion, that’s not exactly a revolution.

But then, three incidents in 7,500 cars isn’t that many either – hardly a smoking gun, at least so long as things don’t get much worse. Tata, which also owns Jaguar Land Rover, denied that a recall was necessary. But they have agreed to repair the three damaged cars, instigated a programme of pre delivery 'audits' on all new cars, and agreed to check the vehicles of any customers who choose to bring them in – which could be a sizeable proportion. That sounds like a recall in all but name to us.

With plans afoot to launch a slightly less basic version of the Nano in Europe in due course, Tata is robustly defending its position that there isn’t anything much to worry about. A company spokesperson said, in perfect legalease, ‘We do not accept that there was fire in our cars. However, we do agree that there was an incident of short-circuiting around the combination switch placed inside the car’. They also conceded that this caused smoke to be emitted.

Well, you know what they say. There’s no smoke without it…


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