Wednesday, March 25, 2009

So little (time)

Hey, after a few weeks off, I hope to have time to blog once again. So much to say, and so little time. Speaking of little... just a few days ago was the official launch of the long awaited Tata - Nano on a very nice ceremony. There have been many negative comments about it on the western press... but in my view, it's just western propaganda to put a bad reputation on a quite good idea.

We all know that the american car industry is already shaking... and many experts expect that one of the three piglets will become roasted ham before the end of this year. And that's all because they didn't adjust their products to the expectations of their customers... or to the environmental concerns in the last years. They expected to be rulers and dictators of what the people should have... but we all know that story. The point is, that just like any other tyrann, I guess they are manipulating the western media (and probably governments too) to suit their interest. That's perfectly understandable. If they want to keep the status quo, they don't want any new alternative ideas to be on the minds of the customers.

There are a couple of adverts from the NZ government urging people to buy only cars with side-airbags and electronic stability control. Of course, they are rating and endorsing cars from certain manufacturers, and brain washing people instead of letting them think and make a decision by themselves... not even when you take a shower... that's what we call now "the NZ nanny state". But anyway, if a whole government is shooting propaganda to suit certain manufacturers (usually the expensive models) because it brings revenue when importing those vehicles... can you imagine the amount of pressure on the western media which basically depends on advertising from the big companies. So, don't trust everything you hear or read.

Strictly from the design and design brief point of view, I think that the nano is just as it should be. Forget your preconceptions about other cars, you have to start from scratch when you intend to be innovative. You must be ready to dare, and make the difficult questions on a design brief... and put literally every bolt, every screw under scrutiny:

  • Does it really need airbags? no
  • Does it have to run from 0 to 100km in 0.5 milliseconds? no
  • Do you really need a V6 or V4 engine? no
  • Do you really have to use hundreds of screws on parts that are not going to be removed? no
  • Can you just glue or clip on those parts? yes
  • Will the car work the same if you put manual (mechanic) window cranks instead of electric windows? yes
  • Is it more environmentally friendly if you put 1'000,000 nanos on the roads than if you put 1'000,000 american style SUV's on this planet? yes

I will respond to the air-conditioning matter with 2 arguments: first, in this case is not about if you actually need air-conditioning in a car or not... the fact is that when the air conditioning is on, the engine has to compensate that energy and thus contaminates a lot more. So that's the green fact for the design brief. And second, the cost of installing a luxury item... will only make the car expensive.

So, in summary, the tata-nano may not be what we would expect from a western car... it just proves that cars as we know them, may not be the perfect solution for everyone. People around the world are (luckily) not part of the (same) american melting pot, and it is time that we start thinking about localized solutions that are feasible, and well suited to the local needs. One size fits all, does not fit everyone! It's such a basic ergonomic principle, and we forget about that. Good that someone dares to stick to the point when it comes to making design that is appropriate.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

No doubt the Nano is an artifact that enhances people mobility in a more democratic way, reducing the mobility gap between the poor and the rich. However, from my point of view, I think that it holds more social problems that solutions (and I'm not considering here the environmental dimension)...Nano is a vehicle designed for developing countries where the car is a social aspiration. In this countries society can be divided in two groups: those who use private car and those who use public transportation....then guess the result, everybody wanting to be on the "upper" group, detonating agressive and chaotic motorization wich increases at a pace that traffic infrastructure improving simply cannot follow...For m, Nano is a new vehicle with innovative technology, but containing the ways of thinking of previous century (made in Detroit). The future is not in individual mobility, the future is in PUBLIC MOBILITY! (I mean a better future)

1:15 AM  
Blogger Fernando Vallejo said...

I agree, you are right on many levels. However, I'm looking at the nano just from the design methodology perspective, they did a great job nailing the design brief.

On the other hand, I'm also not a great fan of private transport... at least not as we know it. But, a system with ONLY public transport, wouldn't work either. People don't go to the same destinations at the same times, and having a system to suit every possible mobility option wouldn't be sustainable either.

In my view, the future will be a combination of small personal "capsules" for short distances and the medium and long distance public networks. How to power those systems? well, that's the mystery.

Then, regarding the cultural impact... again you're right, that's something that so called "developed" countries experienced before, and it wasn't good. Unfortunately, until new transport paradigms are found, there's no other option. You can't stop people in developing countries from getting their first cars until you give them a good alternative that is consistent with the economic development that comes from private transport.

It would be like prohibiting people from isolated tribes to learn how to read, because their culture might get "spoiled".

Yes, the challenge is to develop useful and sustainable alternatives. And yes, those alternatives will most likely put more emphasis on public transport, rather than the americanized way of favouring the private cars, even the urban planning is made to promote the use of cars and discourage public transport. Have you ever tried to take a bus to buy groceries in a US city?


1:13 AM  

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