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Automobiles III - A Solution or a Disaster?

Introduced in January 2008, by the mammoth Indian conglomerate Tata, the "Nano" will be the worlds cheapest car and among the smallest when it goes on sale this fall. Meeting the design target of a "1 lakh (100,000 rupees) Peoples Car" the Nano will cost the equivalent of $2,400 USD or 1,554 euros at today's exchange rates. While a small car, the 4-door Nano is not merely an enlarged motor scooter but rather the result of some outstanding cost-reduction engineering.

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With the completion of a new manufacturing facility the Nano will go on sale in India this fall. The five seat car is powered by a 2 cylinder, 624 cc engine, producing 33 hp. It will meet all current safety and emission standards in India and the current Euro IV standard in Europe - but neither regulate CO2 output. With a top speed of 105 km/h (65 mph) the Nano will achieve 22km/L (52 mpg US) in city driving and 26 km/L (61 mpg US) in highway driving. While the basic car does not include such features as air conditioning, power windows, power steering or air bags it was conceived as a family car with the intent of replacing heavily laden two-wheeled scooters as the sole means of family conveyance.

The seems to be little reason to doubt that the Nano will become an economic success, introducing millions of families in the developing nations to automobile ownership. But whether of not the Nano is part of the solution to climate change or a climatic disaster is the subject of debate.

If the Nano replaces motor scooters with their dirtier 2-stroke engines it would appear to be a benefit; but the motor scooters usually get far greater mileage than even the high mileage Nano. And in the real world, it would seem likely that Nanos will be an addition, not replacement for a motor scooter.

In spite of being a small car, the Nano is considerably larger than a motor scooter, or bicycle, and will thus take up considerably more space on already congested roads. Increased congestion will result in increased idling, reducing effective mileage and increasing emissions.

While Tata is planing initial production of only 250,000 Nanos per year, there is great concern that the low-cost Nano, and its likely imitators, will hasten the introduction of carbon-powered automobile ownership to large masses of the emerging middle class of developing nations - a move that seems inevitable under any circumstance. To argue otherwise would imply that in a free-society prices should be kept artificially high to promote desire social benefits.

While it appears unlikely that the the Nano, in it present form, will ever be introduced in the developed nations, its influence will no doubt be felt in the design and manufacture of automobiles throughout the world.  If so, the Nano may ultimately be judged as as contributing to the solution of the climate change crises.

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