Elon Musk might’ve been busy making the world’s best electric cars at Tesla, but seems to have had an eye on automotive industries in distant India.
Elon Musk had called Ratan Tata a “scholar and a gentleman” in a 2009 interview with Charlie Rose. Rose had attempted to ask Musk about the Tata Nano car, which had just been released. “Take for a moment Ratan Tata, what he’s doing in India — developing a little sedan for $2300. Where do you put that in the whole equation of where the future of cars is?” Rose had asked Elon Musk.
“I know Ratan Tata. I think it’s a good idea to have affordable cars,” Elon Musk had replied. But he seemed to have his reservations about project. “The problem with something like this — I wouldn’t say problem, because Ratan Tata is a gentleman and a scholar — it’s a good idea. But where it’s going to become challenging in the future is when price of gasoline rises, the cost of acquiring the car is much less of an issue than the cost of running the car,” he’d added.
Musk seemed to be hinting that while the Tata Nana was priced very competitively, high prices of petrol going forward would mean that much of its cost advantage would be lost over the long term. As it turns out, Musk was right — oil prices are significantly higher in India compared to a decade ago, and have roughly kept pace with inflation. The Tata Nano, though, failed for entirely different reasons. One of the vehicles caught fire right after launch and dented public confidence in the product, and Tata Nano’s marketing didn’t help — its billing as the “world’s cheapest car” backfired, and many Indians, who bought cars as a status symbol, were hesitant to buy it.
And while Elon Musk had called Ratan Tata a scholar and a gentleman, the feeling of respect and admiration seems to be mutual. In 2014, Ratan Tata had spoken glowingly of Elon Musk’s Tesla. “The Tesla owner buys a car, but he gets different experiences when the car is plugged in (and so on),” he’d said in an interview.
“The car can be diagnosed over the internet, software glitches can be fixed when the car is in the garage — in the customer’s garage,” he’d added. “Tesla allows for loaner cars to be given to customers, and if they like it they can pay the difference and buy it. There are a whole host of things Tesla have done that they didn’t have to. It could’ve been just another electric car. Going beyond the product to the overall experience and (they) give the customer more than what he expects. Products should also have other things packaged with them which makes the experience different,” he’d added.
Both Elon Musk and Ratan Tata are business legends in their own right — and both have tons of admirers in India — but it seems that they’re pretty fond of each other’s work as well.