India's Tata Motors on March 23 launched the world's cheapest car, the Nano, hoping to revolutionize travel for millions and buck a slump in auto sales caused by the global economic crisis. Company boss Ratan Tata said the no-frills car, slated to cost just 100,000 rupees (US$2,000) for the basic model, will get India's middle-class urban population off motorcycles and into safer, affordable four-wheelers.
"I think we are at the gates of offering a new form of transport to the people of India and later, I hope, other markets elsewhere in the world," he said, describing the launch as a "milestone."
Bookings for the tiny car -- just over three meters (10 feet) long -- start on April 9 and end on April 23, Tata Motors managing director Ravi Kant said. A ballot will then select 100,000 people to be the first to get the keys to the vehicle. Deliveries will start in early July 2009.
Even affluent Indians are eyeing up the Nano, which has a two-cylinder engine, four-speed manual transmission and a top speed of 105 kilometers (65 miles) per hour. It has no air conditioning, electric windows or power steering, but deluxe versions will be available.
Dealers say they have been flooded with queries about the car, whose debut was delayed after violent protests over the acquisition of farmland to build the Nano plant, forcing Tata Motors to shift from West Bengal state to Gujarat. But the new plant in western India will not be ready until late this year or early 2010. That means production must come from existing factories, reducing output and potentially increasing waiting times for deliveries. Kant admitted that some customers may have to wait more than year to take possession of their Nano. Tata, though, said not delaying the launch was the right decision.
Tata is hoping the Nano will also be a hit overseas in the long term. Earlier this month, the firm unveiled a European Nano sporting airbags and leather trim that will hit the market by 2011 but be costlier than in India due to the extra features. A U.S. version is also on the drawing board but requires redesigning to meet American safety standards.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009