by J Kraus
The Tata Nano at long last has gone on sale across India. Orders have been received to the extent that Tata shares are trading up 23%.
Designing a minimalist car is always a challenge and when a designer is up to the task, the result can be much more than the sum of its parts. It has been said (I believe rightly) that an engineer often produces his best work when toiling under the most constraints. There is no more constricting design brief than building a car to a low price point and doing a good job of it.
Some of the most intriguing car designs of the 20th Century were minimalist cars: the Citroën 2CV, Fiat Topolino, 500 and 600, the Volkswagen and the Mini immediately come to mind.
Since I have no plans to visit India soon, I will have to withhold judgement on the Nano at this stage. It does seem to incorporate some interesting design solutions. However, I fine it amusing that some members of the press report that the single windscreen wiper, the three-lug wheels and the battery located beneath the front seat are examples of fresh thinking.
The single windscreen wiper was utilized by numerous models from Citroën and Mercedes Benz, the Fiat Panda and the Volkswagen Scirocco (among others) from the mid-seventies onwards. The single wiper presents a valid design alternative whenever the windscreen width to height ratio is close to 2:1. The downside is that is has to travel twice as fast to produce the same wipe rate.
Both generations of the Smart have used three-lug wheels, as have numerous Citroëns, Renaults and Peugeots. There is less precedent for the battery under the front seat; but that is where it was located in the Volkswagen 411 and 412 from 1968 to 1974.