Miscellaneous Ramblings

Nano Nano: The Tata Motors Nano and Apple's iPod nano

Charles Moore - 2009.04.06 - Tip Jar

Mini (or mini) nomenclature isn't the only iconic brand name Apple shares with the automotive world. There's a new four-wheeled Nano that could turn out to be as much of a game-changer as Alex Issigonis's original Austin/Morris Mini car was exactly 50 years earlier in 1959 - the revolutionary Tata Nano launched on March 9 by Tata Motors in Mumbai, India is the cheapest car in the world - the "netbook" of automobiles, if you will.

front view of Tata Nano
Tata Motor's revolutionary, affordable Nano.

Revolutionary Minimalism

Tata's Nano follows the wheel-tracks of previous car for everyman revolutions like the aforementioned Mini, the French Citroën 2CV, the Italian Fiat 500, and Ferdinand Porsche's original Volkswagen Beetle. Tata's nano will sell for about 100,000 rupees (roughly US$2,050) as a people's car bringing automobile ownership within reach of millions of low-income families now making do with often bizarrely overloaded and unsafe two-wheeled - or just two-legged - transport.

Speaking at the Nano's unveiling ceremony last year, Mr. Tata said,

"I observed families riding on two-wheelers - the father driving the scooter, his young kid standing in front of him, his wife seated behind him holding a little baby. It led me to wonder whether one could conceive of a safe, affordable, all-weather form of transport for such a family. Tata Motors' engineers and designers gave their all for about four years to realize this goal. Today, we indeed have a People's Car, which is affordable and yet built to meet safety requirements and emission norms, to be fuel efficient and low on emissions. We are happy to present the People's Car to India and we hope it brings the joy, pride and utility of owning a car to many families who need personal mobility."

Tata Motors

Never heard of Tata Motors? It's India's largest automobile company, with revenues of $7.2 billion in 2006-2007, and the company is famous throughout the developing world for its heavy duty trucks. Tata also builds conventional sedans, SUVs, and pickups.

The company's profile was raised in the West when it bought Britain's Jaguar Motors and Land Rover subsidiaries from beleaguered Ford Motor Company last year.

The Italian-styled Nano shares superficial resemblance to Daimler AG's SmartFor2 minicar, but it's more practically utilitarian, with four doors and a roomy passenger compartment that can seat four six-footers or even five friendly adults.

The Nano's superlight 1,300 pound weight and rear-mounted aluminum, two-cylinder, 623 cc, 33 horsepower, multipoint fuel injected engine with electronic management and a balance shaft for smooth running gives the Nano one of the lowest carbon footprints among automobiles - and fuel efficiency of 50-plus miles per gallon. The Nano's tailpipe emission performance also exceeds tough European regulatory requirements, making it a lot less of a polluter than the oil-burning two-cycle two-wheelers it's expected to displace in the market, so hand-wringing by environmentalists over the introduction of affordable transportation for the masses seems a bit misplaced, unless one buys into the notion that only rich elites and Westerners should enjoy the comfort and convenience of private automobiles.

dashboard of Tata Nano 'A Real Car'

Reception by the automotive press has been generally positive, with Automobile Magazine's Ben Oliver, who has ridden in a Nano, giving it thumbs-up for interior room, standard of finish, respectable acceleration, and handling performance, making the cut as a "real car," and suggesting the Nano could become the Ford Model T of the 21st Century.

Apple's iPod nano

Thus far, Apple has only applied nano branding to its mid-range series of iPods and no computer models, although some of us hold out hope for a netbook-type MacBook nano laptop.

iPod nano 1G - Aluminum and Bright Colors

iPod nano The iPod nano was rolled out September 7, 2005, the second iPod based on solid state flash memory rather than electromechanical hard drives for storage (the iPod shuffle was the first, released on January 11, 2005). The original iPod nano had a 2-inch QVGA (320 x 240) display, a downsized clickwheel (introduced with the earlier iPod mini), and was available in black and white with capacities of 2 GB or 4 GB for $199 and $249 respectively. On February 7, 2006, a 1 GB model was added at $149.

The first generation iPod nano got off to a bit of a rocky start, some early adopters reporting premature display surface scratching and/or screen cracks. Apple eventually confirmed a very small percentage of early nanos had shipped with faulty displays and agreed to replace any nanos with cracked screens.

iPod nano 2G - Aluminum and Bright Colors

A second generation (2G) iPod nano was launched on September 12, 2006, featuring a scratch-resistant anodized aluminum enclosure similar to the earlier iPod mini's design and available in several color choices - silver, green, pink, blue, and black. A (Product) Red version was added later.

The 2G nano also got "a brighter, more vibrant display", a battery life upgrade (from claimed 14 hours to 24), and doubled storage at 2, 4, and 8 GB with gapless playback support.

iPod nano 3G - Form-Factor Divergence

3G iPod nano The third-generation iPod nano was rolled out on September 5, 2007 to decidedly mixed reviews, due to its abandonment of classic iPod nano proportions for a shorter, wider, heavier form factor accommodating its horizontal 2" QVGA screen displaying the same resolution as the larger iPod Classic's 2.5" display at a smaller dot pitch.

Functionally, the 3G nano got Cover Flow support, a new user interface, and video playback. It was available in silver, turquoise, mint green, black, and (Product) Red. A pink 8 GB model came along the following January.

iPod nano 4G - A Return to Tradition

Keeping with Apple's clockwork annual nano revisions, the fourth generation iPod nano debuted on September 9, 2008, reverting to the slimmer, "traditional" iPod nano form factor of the 1st and 2nd Generation nanos, but retaining the 3G model's screen size and resolution - only oriented in "portrait" rather then "landscape" mode. The 4G nano is able to shift between portrait and landscape display modes by tilting the iPod to the left or right.

The 4G nano comes in silver, purple, blue, green, orange, yellow, pink, (Product) Red, and black "nano-chromatic" colors. New features include an accelerometer, which goes into shuffle mode when you shake the iPod, and iTunes 8 Genius technology, which automatically creates thematic playlists from your music library with just one click. The 4G model is the first nano that does not support FireWire charging. (All nanos use USB for data and charging.)

Products for the Masses

Like the iPod nano, the Tata Nano is targeted as a product for the masses, selling for a low price but offering a decent inventory of features and capabilities, albeit with some compromise necessary, but with luxury features like air conditioning and electric window lifts available.

Will we ever see the Tata Nano in North America?

That seems to be part of Tata's mid-term game plan. They already have a distribution and dealer network in place with their June 2008 purchase of Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford. The combination of increasing consumer interest in small-footprint "green" transportation solutions and a snake-bit economy make prospects promising for market acceptance of an economical, utilitarian, minimally-polluting little car like the Tata Nano, although developing it to meet North American crashworthiness and emissions standards will inevitably jack the price well in excess of $2,000.

rear view of Tata NanoThe Nano Europa, slated for launch in Europe in 2010, will get a larger 3-cylinder all aluminium multiport fuel injected engine, a 5-speed automatic transmission, and electric power steering and provide CO2 emissions of less than 100g/km. Fit and finish has been enhanced over the India-market Nano, and the Nano Europa has ABS, ESP, and air bags.

As for Apple's iPod nano, it continues to be a popular product, so a fifth generation nano come September should be pretty much a certainty.

As for that MacBook nano - we can continue to hope.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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