World’s cheapest car ‘Nano’ launched by Tata Motors

By Arvind Padmanabhan, IANS

New Delhi : As the global auto industry and millions of aspiring Indians watched in awe, the $29-billion Tata group, the country’s largest business house, launched the world’s cheapest car – the little ‘Nano’ – that will cost all of $2,500 at the factory gate.

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Ratan Tata, the 70-year-old soft-spoken chairman of the group, drove in the 624 cc “people’s car” to the Tata Motors pavilion at the Auto Expo show here to unveil the new car that will be commercially launched later this year.

As journalists and TV crews jostled to gain entry into the pavilion, Tata lifted the covers off what had been the best-kept secret of the company, which analysts say will transform the car market not just in India but also globally.

“Let me announce today that the dealer price for the car will be Rs.100,000 only,” Tata said, standing in the front of the new automobile, which he had promised to deliver four years ago and which he had made it a personal project.

“It is a proud moment for India. The car demonstrates India’s technological and entrepreneurial ability,” Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath said at the Auto Expo. “The car will help people move from two-wheeler to four-wheeler.”

Nano – which has no air-conditioning, no power windows or motorised steering – will be manufactured at the company’s Singur facility in West Bengal. A diesel version and exports to other countries are also planned later.

“It’s a safe, affordable and all-weather transport – a people’s car, designed to meet all safety standards and emissions laws and accessible to all,” Tata said, seeking to dismiss fears over its being environmentally unfriendly.

“I observed families riding on two-wheelers – the father driving, his young kid standing in front, his wife seated behind holding a baby. It led me to wonder if we could conceive of a safe, affordable transport for such families.”

The four-door, five-seat car has a small 33-bhp 624-cc engine at the rear and is targeted at the strong middle class population of Indians who aspire to trade their two-wheelers for a safer automobile – at an affordable cost.

“A promise is a promise,” he said, and sought to drive home the point he had delivered the car at the same price at which he had said four years ago, despite major escalations in input costs.

“It is a car most people said could not be manufactured at that price,” he added.

“It’s a good product,” said Jagdish Khattar, former chief executive of Indo-Japanese car venture Maruti Suzuki, which has been dominating the small car market in India for over three decades.

Tata also said “Nano” fully meets safety and emission standards and had passed the full frontal crash test, besides meeting the Euro-IV emission norms.

Absolute chaos and mayhem marked the launch, with at least 1,000 members of the media corps struggling to enter the Tata Motor’s pavilion and see the machine that will cost less than a branded DVD player of a BMW or a Mercedes.

At a press conference later, Tata spoke at length on a wide variety of issues including comments from the global automobile industry, which he said watching the new launch “with disbelief and not with expectations”.

“In the marketplace, the best wins. I am quite willing to fight in the marketplace. I also urge all players to fight in the market,” Tata said while expressing displeasure over the controversies behind the new project.

“The concept started as a social issue and not as business or philanthropy. There will be a base model and several variants for upmarket consumers. All this will add up as an attractive business prospect.”

With a length of 3.1 metres, a width of 1.5 metres and a height of 1.6 metres, with adequate ground clearance, it can effortlessly manoeuvre on busy roads in cities as well as in rural areas, Tata officials said.