The People's Car

By Jerry Garrett

April 4, 2008 5 min read


India's homegrown Nano is one for a billion

By Jerry Garrett

Copley News Service

This year's Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland provided an international stage for the unveiling of the Nano, the potentially revolutionary small car from Tata Motors of India. Dubbed "The People's Car," the Nano is scheduled to go on sale later this year for the world's lowest price for a car: $2,500.

Overall, the little Nano was impressive. It was designed in Italy, and its compact dimensions and short overhangs don't interfere at all with its sense of style. The interior wasn't as Spartan as expected, and it seemed to have ample room for four occupants.

The Nano, the subject of many patents for new design and manufacturing processes, features a two-cylinder 623-cc gasoline engine, producing 33 hp, with a top speed of 56 mph. It is said to be capable of 51 mpg city, and 61 mpg highway. A second generation of the car, due in about four years, has a target of 78 mpg fuel economy.

Two models were shown in Geneva: the basic version that will cost 100,000 rupees in India, which is about $2,497 at today's exchange rates, and a "luxury" version that gets an enhanced interior, color-keyed body panels, fog lamps and larger tires, and wheels with an additional lug nut (four, as opposed to just three on the base model). It should be on sale by October in India. But it is not scheduled for sale in other countries, as of yet, because the current model lacks air bags and other safety features.

Ratan Tata, the company's founder, said the second-generation model will be able to meet all European emissions and safety standards. But that car would not be available for sale in other countries until at least 2012.

Since its introduction, there has been a lot of speculation about possible pollution exacerbation, as millions in developing countries such as India and China become able to afford car ownership. Tata tried to alleviate those concerns by saying that the Nano is cleaner than most motorbikes that are running on Indian roads right now.

In anticipation of the Nano, India's new and used car markets have apparently tanked. Prospective Nano buyers see no reason to buy even the next cheapest car available there, the Suzuki Maruti, which costs $4,994, because it is smaller and less capable than the Nano appears to be.

Forbes magazine recently put together a list of the world's 10 cheapest cars. The Nano was at the top of the list. The others are:

2. The Chery QQ from China, which has potential trademark issues because of it similarities to the Daewoo-developed Chevrolet Matiz: $4,781.

3. The Suzuki Maruti 800, the so-called "smallest car in production", is also available in other countries, including South America and Europe: $4,994.

4. The Geely MR from China, which traces its roots to the mid-1980s Daihatsu Charade: $5,500.

5. The Geely HQ SRC, which is similar to the MR, and also based on the Charade, something of an enduring classic among econoboxes: $5,780.

6. The Chery A-1 from China is rumored to be headed to Mexico, where it will be sold as a Dodge. If it meets European emissions standards, it could also be sold there: $7,340.

7. Tata's Indica is already sold outside India. In Europe, it's the cheapest car available. South Africans also buy it, even if they don't like it much: $8,500.

8. Hyundai's i10 is formerly the Atos, the smallest member of the South Korean automaker's lineup: $9,096.

9. The Fiat Palio is truly a "world car" - designed in India, born in Brazil, and built in other Latin American countries, as well as Poland, Morocco, Turkey, India, South Africa China and Russia: $9,242.

10. The Renault Dacia (or Logan, in other countries) was designed with low-cost and modern features in mind. It shares components with the Renault Clio/Modus and the Nissan Micra: $9,477.

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