IN February 2007, Kevin Freiberg visited India and was pleased with the conversation he had with Ravi Kant, the then Tata Motors’ Managing Director at Bombay House. Their discussion focused on what had become the most exciting automotive news in the world – the unveiling ceremony of the Tata Nano in January 2008. So fascinated and intrigued was he by this, that Kevin left India with a burning desire to write a book on the incredible journey of innovation behind the ‘people’s car’ – called it the Nano’s story.
This book is the authorised story of how a little car has taught the world to think big; the story of an incredible team of engineers, designers and business people who decided to develop a safe, affordable, all-weather mode of transport for a vast and growing market – middle-class India and solve a problem that was holding it back – how to get around. The more the authors of this book learned of Tata Motors and the vision, leadership and legendary culture behind the design of the world’s least expensive car, “the more we were convinced it was a story with lessons for leaders at all levels and businesses in any industry anywhere.”
Nanovation is not a book about cars; it’s a book about people, about thinking big, being brave, acting bold and accomplishing the impossible.
Travelling in India is not for the faint-hearted, particularly in the cities where traffic is more than heavy – “it is nuts!” say the authors. Open-sided autorickshaws belch smoke and fumes as they inch forward – a sea of black-and-yellow beetles clawing towards progress. Two-wheel scooters weave through the traffic, carrying families, delivering milk, lunch and anything else. A camel pulls an overloaded wagon in danger of keeling over any minute. “A sacred white Brahma bull stops in the middle of an intersection to take it all in. Amid the chaos, horns blare. During the monsoon, the condition of the roads deteriorates, making driving treacherous,” describe the authors.
Once Ratan Naval Tata, Chairman of the Tata Group, is driving during the rains and he sees an entire family travelling on a scooter – “I think that’s when the whole thing started in my mind. Looking at what is now a pretty familiar sight in India – an entire family travelling on a scooter, with three or four family members.” Ratan Tata instructs his driver, “Watch those people. In this rain, they could slip. Be careful, slow down.” No sooner has he said the words, when the scooterist loses control and goes slipping down on the pavement, “the scooter sliding one way and the family members tumbling in all directions.”
That was the day when Ratan Tata realised he had been given a wake-up call. On that rainy afternoon, he conceived a big dream to the service of a noble cause – he would find a way to put safe transportation within the reach of India’s emerging millions. Though conceived on the spur of the moment, it took nearly seven years before the keys of the first Nano were handed over to its owner.
On reading the book from cover to cover, one find it tells the story of how Team Nano, comprising chiefly Jay Bolar, Senior Manager for Development at ERC and who later became the chief coordinator on the Nano project, Narendra Kumar Jain, responsible for the engine and something of a legend around the Pune plant as an engine design pioneer, Ravi Rajhans, body systems experts who was in charge of the body and interiors of Indica, Tata’s best-selling large car and Nikhil Jadhav, in charge of exterior design, pushed itself to find an elegant solution to seemingly impossible problems. When experts said the one-lakh-rupee car was impossible, the people behind the scene pressed on. When budget constraints, design restrictions, rising costs of materials and political agitation threatened to derail the project, they dug deeper. “And when the Nano was revealed to an astonished world, they started a cultural renaissance in business thinking.”
The book explores the making of the Nano car and shows how encouragement helps employees to overcome adversity, to take risks despite the fear of failure and to innovate beyond expectations. More than that, it shows if Team Nano could take 85 per cent of the cost of a product as complex as a car, everybody else can to maybe more to transform the price-to-performance paradigm and deliver great products and series at a fraction of their previous cost. It also proves that a movement is capable of challenging management dogmas and outdated systems, by asking ‘what if?’ and ‘why not?’ to solve the world’s toughest problems.
This book proves that today a new culture is emerging which values quality more than luxury; practicality more than prestige and efficiency more than extravagance.
(Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi – 110 017; www.penguinbooksindia.com)