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jueves, enero 10, 2008

India And the $2500 Tata Nano


Delhi Rush Hour (NY Times photo)

This week Tata, India's largest car manufacturer, unveiled the Nano, a $2500 car, at the biennial Auto Expo in Delhi. Of course, environmentalists are justifiably enraged and distressed by the idea. But anybody who has actually driven in a car in India is probably just shaking his/her head at the prospect of thousands of additional cars in the already insane traffic. Look, for example, at the photo.

The Times alludes briefly to what driving in India is like:
On his first driving lesson this week, Mr. Sharma had more immediate worries in mind. Sharing the roads with him was a bicyclist with three cooking gas cylinders strapped to the back of his bike, a pushcart vendor plying guavas, a cycle rickshaw loaded with a photocopy machine (rickshaws often being the preferred mode of delivery for modern appliances).

There were also a great many pedestrians, either leaping into traffic in the absence of crosswalks or marching in thick rows on the sides of the road in the absence of sidewalks. At one point, a car careened down the wrong side of the road. Then a three-wheeled scooter-rickshaw came straight at him, only to duck swiftly into a side street. At least this morning there was no elephant chewing bamboo in the fast lane, as there sometimes is.
This description is inadequate by far.

Listen to the police and look at the numbers:
“My concern is not with cars. My concern is with drivers,” said Suvashish Choudhary, the deputy commissioner of police. “Every new car will bring new drivers who are not trained for good city driving.”

With a population of nearly 16.5 million, Delhi now adds 650 new vehicles to its roads each day. At last count, there were 5.4 million vehicles in all, a more than five-fold increase in 20 years; scooters and motorbikes still outnumber cars two-to-one.

Mr. Choudhary was reminded of the remarkable fact that the sharp rise in the number of cars in Delhi had not been accompanied by a sharp rise in traffic accidents. He scoffed, and went on to list his grievances: no one gives way; everyone jostles to be the first to move when the traffic light goes from red to green; a lack of crosswalks prompts pedestrians to frequently jump out into traffic. He called it “a lack of driving culture.”
That doesn't quite capture the issue, either.


The Classic Ambassador

When I was traveling in India about 7 years ago, I traveled by car, an Ambassador with a driver, from Benares to Bodh Gaya and back on the Grand Trunk Road, India's largest highway which runs from Calcutta to the Pakistani border, west of Delhi. The ride was an utterly unbelievable experience and unlike any driving I have done in this Hemisphere. Guidebooks for very good reason uniformly urge foreigners not to drive.

Why? There were gigantic traffic jams that materialized from nowhere and utterly stopped all traffic for hours. And then mysteriously disappeared. Vendors emerged to sell drinks and ice cream to stranded motorists. Tata trucks, beautifully and individually decorated with movie stars and deities and gold and bright colored cloth, blared Hindi rock. It was 115 degrees and the wind was like hot onion breath. Cars drove on the wrong side of the road. Cattle wandered in the road. Lines of traffic drove off the road and through fields to avoid obstructions. Trucks and cars that had broken down were repaired in the stream of traffic, barricaded by rocks. Broken trucks that were in crashes the night before lay empty, on their sides, dead carcasses on the road way.

In India the large vehicles have the right of way; small vehicles yield to large ones. The most important part of a car or truck is the horn. You have to use the horn as a constant means of communicating with other drivers. You have to swerve out of the way of oncoming trucks piled high with objects. The trucks will not stop no matter what because they have the right of way.

When driving a night, it is entirely possible that other vehicles in traffic will have no lights at all. You can drive into them whether or not you are not entirely awake. You can also drive into people who walk in the road without lights, or animals, water buffalo, camels, elephants, cows, that wander into the road.

And now introduce a $2,500 car which is probably made of tin foil and will crush its occupants when it runs into the oncoming truck, or cow, or person. This is not what anybody needs in India. This car will make driving an even more bizarre cultural experience. It will make riding on the Indian roads akin to a very deadly, very real bumper cars event.

But, alas, this new $2,500 car appears to be precisely what people want. When this takes hold, you won't even be able to walk on urban, Indian sidewalks safely.

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6 Comments:

Blogger laks said...

Well I lived in india for 24 years and have to disagree with your post.

Here are the advantages of the car:

1) Less number of two wheelers on the road--> less accidents --> less deaths.. you have given the example yourself

2) the road infrastructure in suburban india is growing at an unprecedented rate. This would mean the cars would be used by people to commute to and from the city. AND that city centers would be spread out... this would mean less congestion and therefore, contrary to the "froth in the mouth" environmentalist claim, would REDUCE emissions :). This may not corroborate your travel plans made 7 years ago, and that too one of the OLDEST highway going through the heart of the poorest region of India. You sound like a tourist who has landed up in New Orleans and decided that america was poor and racist :). And that too you went to india 7 years ago and travelled in a car, the gas guzzling ambassador, that was DEAD already (except in delhi and calcutta)

I would assume that the "froth in the mouth" environmentalist would love india to remain poor, because thats the only solution that they have ever given. Its neither constructive nor productive and resembles more or less a communist mentality

Now obviously you have not seen the india that i am talking about, or well maybe you seen it but you dont get it... typical of someone who is alien to the land commenting about the issues of the land :)... Iraq, Sudan anyone?

8:55 p.m.  
Blogger david seth michaels said...

I appreciate your comment. I won't delete it. I note your willingness to attempt to attack me and my posting. This being the internet, I guess you subscribe to the view that no disagreement will be taken seriously unless it is accompanied by gratuitous ad hominem attacks. I don't ascribe to that view. But not to worry. I'm not deleting you, as I said. Others can read your comments and decide if I'm a as big a jerk as you suggest.

9:08 p.m.  
Anonymous Lakshm said...

Either ways sir...
There are two things i am fed up of:

people generalizing entire India as poor, which is like saying the entire US is racist. But thats the typical western view of the world (Us & Them).

And second: People who are obviously experts at a particular field commenting on India with one or two visits there. you need to understand that there are a LOT of things happening out there. your statistical sample of one event (travel through grand trunk road, 7 years ago, on a dead vehicle) is NOT enough to draw a conclusion about what this car would bring to india. Its not enough on three fronts : Its statistically inaccurate, Its outdated, and the sample is biased. This is the typical naivety that someone shows when he lands in India from say Europe.

The "froth in the mouth" was directed against all the environmentalists who do not seem to agree on a solution rather than creating a ruckus of anything and everything thats coming out. (It was not directed against you as a person, my apologies)


I hope i have reasoned on why i wrote that up :)

9:17 p.m.  
Blogger laks said...

I posted one comment do not know whether it went through or not.

anyway.. the gist of it "froth in the mouth" environmentalist was directed against ALL the environmentalist.. who seem to see only problems.. and to this day have been crying fowl and NoT giving solutions. I did not intend to attack YOU personally and I apologize if my rather poor english reflected that.

Your analysis is incorrect because of the following: You are forming an opinion on one travel, i.e. one sample, in an OLD car (check ambassador market in india now and you would know what i am talking about). And you travelled through an area which is the poorest region in india.. which will introduce a bias in the sample.
So your opinion statistically reflects nothing on the impact of this car, it is biased for all it is, and you have not done enough research to study the impact.

Enough reasons to attack your post

again pardon my poor english. Its an alien tongue

9:27 p.m.  
Blogger laks said...

I am sure you would have deleted the previous two comments :)

Let me know if you have not..

meaningful debate can pursue.. and we can educate each other.. if you keep your mind open to ideas that is

9:29 p.m.  
Blogger david seth michaels said...

No, I did not delete your posts.

"The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

11:18 p.m.  

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