Cars or computers?

June 26, 2007 at 12:39 pm 1 comment

TATA’s latest announcement that they are producing an entry level Rs. 1 lakh car for the Indian market has raised some debate on the Indian lists.

My friend, Vickram Crishna, who often comments on this blog, has sent this fiery mail to the Bytes4All list – a development community list. With his permission, I am reproducing it below.

The move by TATA, while one can see its absolute necessity for the corporate org within its own parameters, is close to disastrous for the country. I don’t blame them alone – they are not the only industrial group to take advantage of very shallow politico-economic planning in ’emerging’ nations.

I disagree partly with the thesis that more personal transportation choices will enable the physically challenged to participate in the global economy. That will more likely happen when we modify the current crop of personal computing devices (or better still, redesign them from scratch) to be more accessible (together with making broadband free for all). These should be national priorities, not building cheaper cars.

This is at the very core of the development debate. The desire for personal ‘owned’ transportation is a product of two converging forces –

1. the lack of decent reliable public transport in both urban and rural areas, combined with the lack of informational infrastructure to support public transport (just look at how easy it is to get around anywhere, knowledgeably, in cities like London, New York and Amsterdam), and
2. the hyped up consumerist craze for yet one more gadget, that has led to ‘aspirations’- driven selling at any cost.

Actually vehicles are my pet peeve – the exceedingly poor engineering design concept of wheeled/tyred vehicles that depend on ‘superb’ roads – which are, as it happens, natural land destroyers, are a feature of the last 125 years of ‘development’ that have seen an explosion of foolish urban and national planning (such that it is).

How is it that the craze for personal transport is controlled in cities like Singapore? Quite easy – just charge an arm and a leg for the privilege, and make sure that the alternatives actually work, and the city functions quite well without massive traffic jams and ridiculously crowded roads. It doesn’t need ministerial visits* to find out how that happens – just search on wikipedia, google, or answers. But there are other alternatives – did anyone notice how, in the film I, Robot, everyone used identical electric vehicles that were clearly not ‘owned’ by their users?

*Visit season is just ending, and a parade of ministers returns to devil all our states from their factfinding tours abroad. This city, Mumbai, is set to be the new Shanghai, once every minister has paid his/her obeisance to Punta Arenas and Labrador on their way to finding out how Shanghai works (with a bullet and a noose, btw, in case you are also wondering).

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Watch out – growth doesn’t mean forgetting the rules Is he a hands-on chap or what?

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Vickram Crishna  |  June 26, 2007 at 10:14 pm

    There’s more to business ethics than good design – it must also make sense to the consumers. Take a look at this wonderful PDA for persons with visual challenges.

    Now look further below at its price tag – $1,395. Hello-o-o-o! Remember when we used to be told that the LCD accounts for half of the hefty price tag of PDAs and laptops? This gadget doesn’t have a screen! Can we see some sensible pricing options please? Or is this a new way to rob the customer blind – just rob your blind customers!

    Reply

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