Girish Wagh, leader of a 500-strong team of engineers that worked to bring Ratan Tata’s dream car to fruition, shares his thoughts on the journey of learning with the Nano:
What were the main goals you wanted to achieve when designing the Nano?
Everyone knows, one big challenge was the cost. But that was not the only challenge. Right from the onset we set ourselves the challenge that the car will meet all present and future regulatory requirements. The third, and perhaps the biggest challenge, was to meet customer expectations. While regulatory requirements and the cost were fixed goals, customer expectations went on evolving during the programme.
How did you arrive at a rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout, a first for a Indian car?
Initially when we were brainstorming as to the kind of vehicle the Nano should be, we looked at an autorickshaw as it was one of the lowest cost transportation available. So, based on the rickshaw, we started comparing front-wheel-drive (FWD) and rear-wheel-drive (RWD) configurations and found that to meet all regulations and also to give good interior space, RWD was the best option. Also, with RWD we were able to reduce the overall footprint for a given space. This reduced weight and hence cost.
The styling was very crucial. So how did you approach that?
We first made the ergonomic layout of the car for four passengers and concurrrently Justin Norek (chief designer of Trilix) was doing some renderings. As you know, internal space has to be the best in class; so once the interior packaging was done, it was easier for Norek to style it. It was a continuous give and take relationship between packaging and the layout engineer, and Justin who was doing the styling. Of course, the chairman gets personally involved in the styling and was driving it all along and totally involved in all the details.
Why a two-cylinder engine and why a capacity of 624cc?
The two-cylinder design was decided by cost but on the capacity front we actually started with 543cc protototype which developed 27bhp but performance was not up to the mark. We decided to increase capacity further and finally arrived at 624cc which gave us 35bhp. We were then satisfied because we had achieved our targets for driveability, acceleration, and cruising speed which were benchmarked against the Maruti 800.
What was the single most important driver behind this project?
Right from conception to the final product, the design went through a lot of iterations. For example, the floor was redesigned over 10 times. The wiper also went through many changes before we ended up with this solution of a single wiper design, which fulfilled cost as well as regulatory requirements pertaining to wiping area. And you would appreciate that when a designer, like a painter, has to do so many iterations of a design or painting, you would certainly not like it and in fact after some time there would be a lot of intellectual fatigue that would set in. More the fatigue, more the quality of output goes down.
Despite all this, what kept the team motivated was the involvement of Ratan Tata and Ravi Kant. Through their continuous participation in project meetings, they created an atmosphere which was devoid of any fear. In fact, in this project there were more failures than successes, but this created an environment where there was no fear of failure and people were absolutely at their highest level of motivation to deliver. People didn’t mind doing a wiper design several times, the floor design again and again, or redesigning the engine. This in fact was the most important driver of the programme.
Hormazd Sorabjee is editor of Autocar India. This is part of a series of interviews in The Untold story of the Tata Nano, a special issue within the October edition of the magazine.