Cars should be made greener, not cheaper

It was a long time coming, but the Tata Nano finally saw daylight this week when the US$2,230 car was officially launched.Dubbed "the people's car", the 624cc-engine vehicle is the brainchild of Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata, who aspired to build an automobile costing 100,000 rupees (roughly US$2,000), making it affordable to more Indian middle-class.

It was a long time coming, but the Tata Nano finally saw daylight this week when the US$2,230 car was officially launched.

Dubbed "the people's car", the 624cc-engine vehicle is the brainchild of Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata, who aspired to build an automobile costing 100,000 rupees (roughly US$2,000), making it affordable to more Indian middle-class.

It's a great achievement for India's engineering, and underscores the country's ability to leverage technological innovation and further secure itself a place on the global IT map. With the Nano, India has done what the German, Japanese and American auto giants had thought impossible.

But, as I read the multitude of headlines that screamed "world's cheapest car", I wondered if cars had become a "need-to-have" rather than remain a "want-to-have" luxury item?

Despite my frequent grumblings that being a car owner is making me broke, I'll be the first to acknowledge that it's a luxury item and I should pay the price for the added convenience it provides. After all, I have the option to and can still survive on public transport, just like the majority of the global population already do.

Unlike water, food or education, cars aren't a life necessity--we can exist just as well without it. In fact, because more of the world's resources are required to build and sustain cars, they shouldn't be made accessible to the masses and ownership should come at a price.

And rather than focus on making cars cheaper, shouldn't we direct more attention on making them greener?

Critics of Nano have questioned the amount of pollution the car would exert on Earth's already-dismal state. In response, Tata had pledged to deliver eco-friendly models of the vehicle, including possible plans to use compressed air as an energy source and build an electric version of Nano.

But, a vehicle that cheap would spark massive production demand, consuming more of the world's already-diminishing resources to build something that should remain a luxury item.

I think it's great that India has further cemented its status as a leading IT innovator, and is helping to champion Asia as an important technology hub. It would, however, be more momentous if Tata could do the same in the realm of green IT and fortify the region's contribution to humanity.

Let us all ponder over that in the dark for 60 minutes tomorrow, as we mark Earth Hour.

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