Back in the late ’90s, Maruti didn’t provide power-steering systems on their small hatchbacks. “They don’t really need them,” said a spokesperson. But Korean upstarts Hyundai and Daewoo knew better and gave the Santro and Matiz the power-steering advantage.
Though technically, you’d only need power steering if you were parking a fully loaded hatchback, Indian car buyers appreciated the extra convenience and as a result, the Hyundai and Daewoo showrooms were flooded with prospective buyers. You no longer needed to exercise your arms when driving at low speed, you could swap lanes at the lights easily (something all of us do very often) and women especially gave this feature a double thumbs-up.
Maruti soon followed suit with electrically assisted steering systems in November 1999, and power-steering systems rapidly took their place on the list of must-have features, right alongside air-conditioning, power windows and central locking.
All small city cars sold in India today have power-steering systems on at least one model. Except for the 800, already on its way out, and Tata’s Nano. Now I’m aware that most of the rear-engined Nano’s weight sits on its back tyres, and its slender 135 tyres offer very little resistance to the wheel, so you don’t really need power steering. Problem is, you want it.
You want a lighter and easier-to-twirl steering wheel, you want to expend less energy driving across town and your sister/wife/mother wants this feature even more. Tata says a power-steering equipped Nano is in the pipeline, and it is, but that car is almost a year away. Problem is, Tata can’t just pluck a system from one of its other cars and adapt it easily. It has to be low-cost and well-built, and that takes time. Only then are we likely to see Nano numbers rise dramatically as customers begin to fully appreciate its otherwise brilliant low-cost engineering. Power steering, it’s not an option anymore, it’s essential.