Opinion: Revenge of the Pods

    Distilled down but well-equipped, can small EVs be the new volume players?

    Published on May 07, 2023 08:00:00 AM


    Tata Nano EV, MG Comet EV

    Tata’s Nano started a revolution. A revolution that never really took off, but it was a revolution all the same. The dream, as it were, was to provide mobility and protection to a class of two-wheeler owners looking for an upgrade. And truth be told, the final product delivered on many levels. It was affordable, it was spacious, it protected its occupants from the elements, the aircon worked and it was even sort of comfortable to sit in. Still it wasn’t a success. Production delays, politics, marketing messaging, enemy action... or a combination of all drove the cute little car into a corner. And then there were the increases in material costs and the need to add more equipment to make it acceptable. 

    However, a big reason Nano didn’t connect with owners was running costs. The jump from two-wheeler running costs to that of the Nano was too big, from roughly 65kpl to around 17kpl. And then there was the fact that the Nano sat at the bottom of the pyramid, where most first-time buyers are looking for a ‘safe’ bet, not an unknown and unconventional solution. 

    Things, however, are very different today. The Nano is a well-known quantity, the high running costs of a petrol can be replaced by the subterranean home charging costs of an EV and with the price of automotive lithium-ion batteries likely to settle at around USD 160 per kWh, we could see a shift from petrol hatchbacks to small EVs. The thing is, how much below the price of Tata’s Tiago EV can carmakers go? The key question, of course, is just how much demand exists, at what price point, and importantly for what type of car. 

    While Maruti and Hyundai have stayed away from this unknown corner of the market, for now, MG Motor has shown huge commitment. And what’s clear is that the Comet is a very different car. A two-door to begin with – which changes the equation – it is more comfort-oriented and well-equipped than practical. It has something of an upmarket feel and, unlike the Nano, will make owners feel good about driving it. What’s clear is that MG is targeting two car families, and there’s little doubt that the Comet would make a convenient and cost-effective second car. But just how many will bite? Will Indian car buyers evolve fast enough? And can MG inject enough cool? 

    It’s time we evolved and lowered our footprint. Around 85 percent of all journeys inside cities are carried out by just a single driver. Modern pods can be half the size of a regular four-and-a-half-metre car, two pods can park in one space and modern versions can have better performance and much better safety. Just look at Gordon Murray’s T-27. Sure, that is an extreme example that will need heavy modification and even heavier cost-cutting for the concept to work here, but as the man said, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” And what’s clear is that the age of the pods is all but upon us. Wouldn’t every two-wheeler commuter want one? Time for another Maini Reva?

    Also see:

    Opinion: Why Gen Z is shying away from buying cars

    Opinion: The case for the Jimny 4X2


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