India's Tata Motors brings its mega-cheap microcar to Geneva.
What it Is
Tata Nano Preview – 2008 Geneva Auto Show: Introduced earlier this year in New Delhi, the Nano is Indian automaker Tata Motor’s mega-affordable people’s car, starting at a base price of $2,500. Company Chairman Ratan Tata decided his country needs a small, affordable car to replace the motorbikes he often sees transporting families of four. While New Yorkers and Angelinos aren’t known for riding four to a moped, a microcar could be just the thing for Manhattan or Westwood, where parking can be scarce and the traffic congestion scary. Nano, as in nanosecond, means something really, really small, and the car and its price are aptly named.Why it Matters
The Nano is the least expensive production car in the world, with the base model – no air conditioning, radio or power steering – starting at about $2,500. Its closest domestic competitor is about twice as expensive and a little less roomy. Most important is the Nano’s ability to safely carry four people in a compact vehicle that pollutes less than the current motorbikes – what we would call a moped – that fill the streets of the country’s cities. Will this microcar ever come to the U.S.? Not without a lot of work and a lot more power. Suffice it say that nano also describes the odds that this vehicle will be federalized.
What’s Under the Hood
The Nano uses a rear-mounted, two-cylinder, 623cc engine – about one-third the size of the Toyota Corolla’s powerplant – and a four-speed manual transmission. The small drivetrain and rear mounting are designed to maximize interior space. Performance estimates include acceleration of 0-43 mph in 14 seconds with a top speed of 65 mph. Fuel economy is predicted to be 47 mpg, and the fuel tank holds four gallons. Not the kind of performance that would make it in the U.S., but probably all those 12-inch wheels and tires can handle, along with similarly tiny brakes.
What It Looks Like
Even smaller than microcars of the past, the Nano has a short front and even less body structure behind the rear wheels. Height is the only dimension that matches a typical subcompact; otherwise its short, narrow stance is obvious in photos. Sitting on 12-inch wheels, it’s cartoonish and homely. The one interior photo at the Nano Web site shows a typical low-cost, modern design, including carpeting. Despite being a four-passenger design, there are only two seatbelts. Good luck to the rear seat passengers.
What Tata Motors Says
With five years of development time invested, Tata is clearly proud of the Nano and eager to emphasize the relative safety and overall low emissions and small carbon footprint the microcar produces. Ratan Tata, the U.S. educated company chairman, sees the Nano as a solution to having less-well off Indian families overloading mopeds. The company plans to bring the car to Latin America, Southeast Asia, Africa and, with improvements in safety and emissions, Europe.
What We Think
The Nano redefines the term “low-priced car” in a way that will have a significant impact on the markets where it’s sold. But if for any reason you have a deep desire to own an ugly car, with one windshield wiper and not enough power to get out of its own way, better book a one-way ticket to New Delhi. While it’s about the same size as the Smart fortwo, the Nano has less than half the power and would probably fold faster in a crash than a deck chair on the Titanic.
By Bob Beamesderfer
MyRide Road Test Editor
Photo credit: Tata Motors