Monday, March 23, 2009

"World's cheapest car" hits the market

India’s Tata Motors will begin sales of the Nano - often billed as “the world's cheapest car” - this week, making the dream of new car ownership a reality for millions of Indians.

The Nano, which looks like the offspring of a golf cart and a ladybug, manages to reach its 100,000 rupee (just under $2,000) price point by cutting corners, a lot of them. The Nano doesn’t have any of the equipment now standard in just about any new automobile - no air conditioning, power windows, power steering or airbags. The Nano makes use of a lot of plastic for the body panels and is powered by what’s really a two-cylinder motorcycle engine tucked into the rear of the car.

The launch of the Nano has been controversial. Tata Motors is taking the optimistic view - they say that the low price means that many Indians will be able to finally afford their own automobile, Tata says the price is designed to get Indians to trade-up from motorcycles, which are a popular form of transit in India's cities - a change Tata claims will make the roads safer. Others say though that the last thing the chronically-clogged streets of cities like New Delhi needs is to have tens of thousands of new automobiles, many piloted by inexperienced drivers, dumped onto the roads.

Environmentalists are also concerned about the Nano, again saying that India’s cities need fewer cars, not more adding to the dense air pollution in urban areas. In fact the Nano, as currently designed, will only be able to be sold for the next few years. One way the Nano cuts costs is by leaving off any pollution-reduction equipment, meaning the car won’t meet India’s automobile emission laws, which are scheduled to become more strict in 2012.

Even the construction of the Nano caused controversy. Tata Motors abandoned a nearly-completed factory to build the Nano in India’s West Bengal region in the face of growing protests from local farmers who felt their land was unfairly taken by the state and given to Tata. The Nano is now being built at other Tata Motors plants around India until a new Nano factory is finished.

Still, Tata expects they can build 50,000 Nanos a year. The first cars should be delivered in July.
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