At long last Tata Motors has started selling its vaunted Nano. [For more on the launch, read "Tata Nano: Meet the World's Cheapest Car."] Market research suggests that the Nano may bring safer, four-wheeled transportation within reach of an additional 14 million Indians who now make do with overcrowded bicycles and motorcycles, but what about the environmental impact.
Fast Company was among the chorus declaring Tata "most innovative" for developing the Nano. But in the six years since Ratan Tata first announced his plans, the landscape has shifted. With minimal exhaust filters and an engine that can burn kerosene—even dirtier than gas, but heavily subsidized by the indian government—the Nano stands to make a disproportionate impact on greenhouse gas emissions and to increase traffic on India's already choked roadways.
The controversy over the Nano is a preview of a debate the whole world will be having come December in Copenhagen, when the Kyoto global warming agreement is renegotiated: To what degree should developing countries be asked to pay the price and curb excess emissions, when richer nations have already reaped the benefits?
Comments from Indians on the BBC's website show that the car will definitely find an audience. Madhurjya P Bora of Guwahati writes: "Nobody can prevent anybody from owning a car and the Tatas have that way made the big dream come true for many people. There's no point in appealing to the morality to not to drive a car because of environmental issues. It is like trying to stop those Hamburger joints as they help increase obesity! Educate people to use the public transport system, make it more efficient etc. etc. It's my right to buy a car." Bora is correct, but Nano buyers may not be right.
[Via BBC News ]