OPINION

Safety Concerns on Flaming Tata Nanos

April 09, 2010
Aaman Lamba

A comparison of the homepages of Toyota and the Tata Nano is instructive. Front and center of Toyota's website is information about the Toyota recall program. The Tata Nano website features Nano diaries, circa 2009 news blurbs, and an invitation to browse the Nano. There is no mention of the eight-plus incidents of Tata Nanos catching fire and a search on the Tata Motors parent site delivers no relevant results.

Most recently, a Tata Nano being driven to a dealer in Gujarat caught fire. A previous fire actually occurred as the car was being driven home from the dealership in Thane. There have been no reports of any injuries or casualties from the fires and previous fires were reportedly traced to a faulty electrical switch in the steering column, the supplier of which was replaced. Recent fires have apparently occurred in the rear of the car, where the engine is located.

A team has been formed by the company to look into the recent fires, including the head of the "People's Car" project, Girish Wagh. A pre-delivery audit has been introduced, which seems like an obvious step that should have been there in the first place. The company reaffirms that the car has passed all the relevant national and international safety certifications, but this does cast a pall on the vehicle hyped as a transformational agent of change in India.

Regulators and the government have refrained from any comment on the issue publicly, and given the limited count of Nanos on the roads thus far - approximately 30,000 - it would be relatively easy for the company to recall cars, were the problem traced to a manufacturing or design fault. Car enthusiast boards and the like are buzzing with discussion on the topic, with prospective buyers uneasy with the lack of clarity from the manufacturers. For what its worth, there has been no well-publicized recall of cars from either Toyota or Honda in India, so this might be a case of complacent manufacturers in an immature market.

The window of opportunity for damage control is slender, especially with high profile brands. As Toyota has learned to its cost, repairing the brand damage is a far more costly affair.

Aaman Lamba is the Publisher of Desicritics.org, a Blogcritics network site. He also blogs, more infrequently nowadays, at Audit Trails Of Self
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