India-based officially launched its much-anticipated Nano minicar today amidst production delays and doubt about the solvency of the company. The Nano is being heralded as a "people's car" thanks to its basic, stripped-down design and a base price of just $1980, making in the cheapest new car in the world.
"The Nano represents the spirit of breaking conventional barriers," said Tata Motors Chairman Ratan N Tata at a press conference. "From the drawing board to its commercial launch, the concept, development and production of the car has overcome several challenges. It is to the credit of the team at Tata Motors that a car once thought impossible by the world is now a reality."
The Nano made its first public appearance in January 2008 in New Delhi and has captured the world's interest despite being aimed primarily at the Indian market, where many people rely on motorcycles or animals as their only transportation. At just 10 feet long by 5 feet wide, the Nano is the world's smallest car, though it does provide accommodations for five passengers.
Basic transportation takes on a new meaning with the Nano. The base model Standard edition comes with a fold-down rear seat and little else. Heat, air-conditioning and power brakes are available on the mid-level CX edition, while the Nano LX offers such luxuries as power locks and windows (front only), cloth seats, fog lamps, a cup holder and a rear spoiler, though the luxury comes at nearly double the base price. Power comes from a 625 cc twin-cylinder engine making approximately 35 horsepower, mated to a four-speed manual transmission. The Nano can reach speeds approaching 65 miles per hour, while achieving roughly 61 miles per gallon. The cheap price and reasonable performance does come at a cost; while the Nano meets crash-standards and safety requirements for India, items like airbags and anti-lock brakes are not available.
In the wake of a massive global recession, the concept of a brand-new $2000 car has gained momentum around the world, and Tata seems keen to capitalize on the demand. The company is already planning to launch a European-spec version of the car called the Nano Europa, which will offer slightly more room, a larger three-cylinder engine and necessary safety equipment such as airbags, advanced restraint systems and anti-lock brakes. Considering that Tata is affiliated throughout India with Fiat -- now also a partner with -- an American Nano or possibly a rebadged Nano with a Chrysler nameplate could be a distinct possibility.
In the meantime, Tata Motors is betting very heavily on the success of the Nano in its primary market to help the company manage its outstanding debt, which includes a $2 billion dollar anchor in the form of and , which the company purchased from Ford last June. Tata Motors took another hit last year when disagreements on the location for a new production facility delayed the Nano's launch by roughly six months. As a result, first-year production will be limited until the new facility is up to speed next year, at which point Tata can build upwards of 350,000 cars annually. And Tata will need them, as buyers have been swarming the company for a chance to get behind the wheel. Demand is so great in fact, that the company recently established a random lottery system that will select who gets dibs on the first 100,000 units.
"I hope it will provide safe, affordable, four-wheel transportation to families who till now have not been able to own a car," said Chairman Tata. "We are delighted in presenting the Tata Nano to India and the world."