Posted by Paul Horrell at 4:53 pm on Monday March 23, 2009
Today the world’s cheapest car goes on sale. Avoid all the options (like a brake servo, lighter socket or parcel shelf) and it comes in under £1,400. Small wonder its home country, India, is going berserk for the Tata Nano.
You won’t be able to buy it anywhere outside India yet. At the Geneva show they unveiled the Euro version, which has the legal necessities like airbags, plus a bigger three-cylinder engine instead of the feeble two-pot of the base Indian version. But that won’t be on sale for two more years and the expected price is over £4000.
For £1,400, the Tata Nano Standard comes with a 35bhp 624cc engine, mounted in the rear. It’ll top out at 65mph. But it is a real car, with four doors, four seats and a steel body. The shrunken price comes from its simplicity and tiny size – it’s only 40cm longer than a Smart.
The Nano is meant to be the car that puts ordinary Indians onto four wheels. Like the Fiat 500 did for Italians, the 2CV did for the French and the Beetle for the Germans. Apparently company chief Ratan Tata decided to build such a car after he saw a family of four wobbling along on a motorbike.
Of course if all the two-wheelers and auto-rickshaws in Indian cities were replaced by cars, there’d be a congestion nightmare. But it won’t happen any time soon.
That’s because, low price or no, the Nano is a very hard car to buy. Tata hasn’t yet got the factory ready. The plan was to build it at a brand-new plant in West Bengal. But the local farmers rioted at the price they were being given for the land, and the plant was abandoned when 95 percent finished.
So now Tata is building a new factory in Gujarat. It will be able to make 350,000 Nanos a year. Trouble is, that’s two years from being finished. In the meantime the cars are being built in small numbers on hastily modified current Tata production lines.
Result is that for the moment anyone who wants a Nano for the has to enter a draw. It’s like the mad old days of limited-run supercars — I remember there being a similar process to get hold of a Ford GT.