Today in Automotive History: Tata Announces Plans to Build World’s Cheapest Car

Tata Nano

Tata can build a small car but can’t yet master Photoshop

Five years ago today, Indian automobile manufacturer Tata Motors announced plans to build the world’s most inexpensive new car. The Nano microcar would cost roughly $2,000 and be initially sold only in India, where most people use motorcycles, motorized bicycles, or scooter as primary transportation (cars are normally prohibitively expensive for most families). The diminutive size (barely over 10 feet long and less than five feet wide) made the four-seater perfect for navigating the many heavily congested areas in India, such as Dehli and Mumbai. In fact, the car is ideal for India, as 11 of the top 25 most densely populated cities in the world can be found scattered throughout the country.

A rear-engined, 624cc 2-cylinder drives the rear wheels and produces 32hp, which is enough to theoretically take the pocket-sized family hauler to 65mph. A four-speed manual is standard, as are wheels, seats, and a wiper blade. The seats are made of vinyl, the windows are manual, the steering is unassisted, and air conditioning and a stereo are optional extras.

While the Nano received significant global press coverage leading up to the release of the Nano in 2009, Tata has largely been unable to convince the majority of Indians to switch over from cheaper motorbikes. Nano pre-orders exceeded 200,000, far more than Tata was able to produce at the time of release, and roughly 100,000 people were chosen by lottery to purchase the car during its initial production run. To date, a little more than 325,000 units have been sold, not nearly enough considering chairman Ratan Tata’s vision to have an inexpensive car for the masses.

Tata does plan on bringing the Nano to European and North American markets over the next few years, however, and at a higher price to compensate for more standard features for customers in these areas. Tata’s acquisition of Jaguar Land Rover Ltd. in 2008 has proved to be a great move, as Jaguar is experiencing a successful overhaul of their lineup, and Land Rover’s new Range Rover and Evoque models have been met with critical acclaim.

While the Nano didn’t prove to be the automotive solution for a billion Indian citizens, Tata Motors still has plenty in the pipeline, and we may see proper Indian cars in the U.S. before too long.


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About Cameron Rogers

Cameron Rogers is the founder and lead writer at Downshift Autos, the only automotive blog on the Internet*. Born in the back of an AMC Gremlin, Cameron vowed to never let this extraordinarily embarrassing detail define him, so help him God. He drives a GTI but absolutely will not shut up about it if somebody asks. He will not hesitate to let people know that no, they shouldn't get a Porsche 911 when a Morgan 3 Wheeler is so obviously the superior choice. He is obsessed with the seats of a Carrera GT and the steering wheel of a Fisker Karma. He once sat in the driver's seat of a Tesla Model S, his greatest accomplishment to date. He is just now realizing that writing an autobiography, however miniscule, in the third person is odd and unnerving. *As of this writing, Cameron has been informed that there are, in fact, many websites and blogs centered around cars and car culture. He regrets his grievous error.

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