13th March, 2008
‘This is the Indian dream!’ shouts Mohit, clutching a tattered plastic bag as he joins the impatient throng gathering at Hall A of the Auto Expo in New Delhi. Around us more than 100,000 Indians are aggressively jostling for space and a precious glimpse of the £1,200 Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest car. It is a vehicle that, put simply, costs less than the optional DVD player on the new Lexus LX470 SUV.
‘It is truly the people’s car,’ he says with tears welling in his eyes. ‘It is for all of us.’ As he speaks he drops his bag, which spills out its contents, a runny fusion of soupy lentils and dried up roti – his lunch. On the floor beneath Mohit’s torn and grubby sandals are dozens of black-and-white promotion flyers for the Nano. Each one bears the grainy but unmistakable image of the Model T Ford, a car that, in 1908, changed the world. History, as they say for good reason, has a canny habit of repeating itself.
The first affordable, mass-produced car in the world, the Model T retailed at a presentday equivalent of £2,000. Henry Ford’s ‘Tin Lizzie’ revolutionised work and economics as much as transportation. Ford used assemblyline techniques and standardisation of parts and tasks to create vast economies of scale in his River Rouge plant, then the largest in the world – creating a method of manufacturing we now call ‘Fordism’.
In present-day India we now have Tataism. Ratan Tata, the billionaire Indian industrialist is, in his own words, about to revolutionise the car industry and, in...
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