Tata Nano and design dreams

Tata Nano and design dreams

Five spectacular accomplishments this year are poised to shift India’s orbit and place it in the league of most promising nations. These are: the Indo-US nuclear deal, India’s mission to the moon, the naming of craters on the moon after Indian scientists, India joining the Big Bang experiment and finally the production of the Tata Nano. Rarely does a nation record so many achievements in one single year.

The year’s excitement began with the unveiling of the Tata Nano; it’ll end with its expected launch. The Tata Nano brings excitement to Gujarat and more of it to Ahmedabad, in whose vicinity it will be manufactured. A car that is small in proportion, but big in aspiration, the Tata Nano means that for the average Indian, owning a car need no longer be a day dream. Moreover, it brings hope and opportunities for indigenous design development to India’s automobile sector.

From the design point of view, the Tata Nano responds to the crucial Indian design issue of affordability, safety and human dignity. Designing an affordable means of transport for an average Indian family commuting precariously on two-wheelers is no mean challenge. The Tata Nano offers an affordable design solution to a common man’s transportation needs. It also stimulates the Indian design community to think out of the box and look at a car not just as an ostentatious accessory, but also as a functional, safe, technologically appropriate, aesthetically pleasing and yet affordable product.

In India, we have seen mobile telephony revolutionizing the communication sector; with the Tata Nano, we expect to experience revolution in the design sector. In the auto industry, the two-wheeler segment is likely to be its first direct casualty, particularly those close to its range in price terms. Two-wheelers in that segment may move up in the value chain and gradually become a lifestyle statement, as in the West. The Tata Nano has already inspired other players, too. It will open up opportunities for design intervention not only in automobiles, but also in product, graphic, textile, accessory, retail and interface design.

Can the Tata Nano bring a design revolution to India? Will it enable us to design technologically complex products such as cars, aircraft, hi-tech surgical equipment, etc? Are our design schools, such as the National Institute of Design (NID), and the upcoming design industry prepared?

Scepticism and excitement abound. NID churns out some very creative automobile designers every year. At present, there are close to three dozen NID alumni working as designers and interns with leading automobile companies in the country, including General Motors (GM), Maruti, Honda, Renault, Reva, Mahindra and Mahindra. In fact the real investment in design comes through the interaction with industry, which is essential for design learning, inspiration and innovation.

From this point of view Ratan Tata’s visit to NID in January 2003 became a turning point. He spent hours with NID faculty and students discussing how NID’s design experience and Tata Motors’ industrial experience could be blended to strengthen automobile design in India. A delegation led by Mark Farmer, director, vehicle architecture, GM, reaffirmed the recognition of India’s growing potential in automobile design. To meet industry’s expectation from the design academia, Ravi Kant, managing director, Tata Motors launched the first postgraduate programme in automobile design in the country at NID in June 2006.

The next year, Pininfarina of Italy, the design house designing some fine brands such as Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Lancia, signed an agreement with NID to collaborate in automobile design through education, student internships and exchange programmes.

The proximity of the Tata Nano to NID may be a coincidence, but it brings opportunities for industry-academia interface for intensive design development.

The synergy may help Gujarat develop into the design hub of India. Design will give Ahmedabad the new industrial identity it has been looking for since the relocation of its textile industries and lead it further on the path of growth and development.

Mihir Bholey is a senior faculty member at National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. Comment at otherviews@livemint.com