Indian maker Tata has revealed its bid to get the country’s growing middle class off their motor scooters and into cars. For a mere 100,000 rupees or about $A2850 (plus charges and taxes - where have we heard that before?) it will offer them the Tata Nano.
A rear-mounted 623cc two-cylinder 25kW engine, an overall length of 3.1m, a four-speed gearbox and manual steering may not be the sort of specification CarAdvice readers drool over, but imagine you’re an Indian office worker sick of riding a scooter to work in the monsoon and taking your whole family out on it on weekends. For the record, the body is sheet metal - it was going to be plastic - and air conditioning and an airbag will be optional on the luxury version.
Speaking at the unveiling ceremony in New Delhi, Tata chief Ratan Tata said,
“I observed families riding on two-wheelers – the father driving the scooter, his young kid standing in front of him, his wife seated behind him holding a little baby. It led me to wonder whether one could conceive of a safe, affordable, all-weather form of transport for such a family."
One statistic tells why ordinary Indians are likely to snap up the Nano: New Delhi alone has an annual road death rate of 1800 - only 5 per cent of them are car occupants.
The Nano promises a revolution on Indian streets, still the domain of the ox-cart, the bicycle and the motor scooter in many parts of the country. Initial production will be 250,000 a year but Tata hopes to eventually sell about 1 million Nanos a year in India - that’s about as many cars as the entire Indian market buys now. But in a country where per capita wealth has doubled since 2000 - and is still growing - that doesn’t seem an outlandish boast.
Tata claims fuel consumption of 5 litres per 100km and says the clean sheet design will meet international standards for safety and emissions. The engine meets the Euro 3 standard and will be able to meet Euro 4, it says.
The Nano will go on sale in India later this year. Is there a chance of it coming to Australia? Don’t hold your breath, we say. After a difficult time selling Telcoline utes here in the late ‘90s Tata Motors was investigating launching its conventional Indica and Indigo cars here about two years ago but nothing came of it. And despite $1.50 a litre petrol there probably isn’t a market yet for a car with a top speed of 105km/h.
The effect of the Nano in first-world markets is likely to come from the rethink in manufacturing strategies and costs it has already sparked among rival manufacturers.
Volkswagen, leading Indian motorcycle maker Bajaj Auto, Renault and Ford have all said they are looking at building new cheap cars for India.
It’s likely the Nano’s formula of light weight, and rear engine will come here, either as Mitsubishi’s iCar, the production version of Volkswagen’s up! - or something else we haven’t even heard of yet.