Tata Nano, the cheapest car in the world was launched in 2009. The rear engine, rear wheel drive hatch was Ratan Tata’s dream who at the time of the launch of the Nano was the Director of the Tata group. The hatch uses a 800cc petrol engine and in 2012 the manufacturer will be launching a diesel version of the Nano as well.
For $2,000 a pop, the Tata Nano city car is about as affordable as any production car you can find on the planet. And given its relatively cheap price tag, nobody will ever mistake the Nano for one of the fastest and sturdiest cars out there.
These days, the Nano has been on-fire in the news lately, and we mean that literally. After three separate incidents were reported last year of a Nano going up in flames, we now bring you episode number four.
According to an Indian news report, this Nano inexplicably burst into flames for no apparent reason. The owner of the car, insurance agent Satish Sawant and his chauffeur – don’t ask us why a Nano needs a chauffer – escaped the incident without any injuries, although they were as dumbfounded as the rest of us as to how the Nano – a car that was only recently purchased – caught fire just like that.
Given that we’re all living through one of the worst economic times since The Great Depression, it seems that money pinching and budget tightening has become the new fad these days.
So when the topic of purchasing a cheap car surfaces, there aren’t a lot of manufacturers that can offer more for less than the Tata Nano.
With a price tag that comes up to only $2,200 in India, including taxes and fees, the Tata Nano – not to be mistaken for the Macintosh MP3 player - is becoming the latest must-have car of the cash-strapped man.
While it doesn’t look the least bit imposing, the Nano is still less than a quarter of the next set of cheap cars you can find anywhere.
After all, when you strip down the essentials of a car, the most obvious need is for you to be able to get to Point B from Point A, which after all is what we’re all looking for, right?
Tata was not messing around when it said that the protests at the Nano plant may make it go elsewhere . Yesterday Tata announced that is was stopping construction on the plant in Singur, a farming community in West Bengal state in India. The company said in a statement, “This decision was taken in order to ensure the safety of its employees and contract labor, who have continued to be violently obstructed from reporting to work.” The center of the problem is the 400 acres of farmland that was taken for the factory grounds, and the farmers that want it back. This represents a large setback to the world’s cheapest car considering the plant construction was near completion and employed about 4,000 people so far.
Now the Nano is now shopping for a new home. There is no word on how this setback will effect production schedules or possibly the price of the $2,500 car.
Tata Nano was supposed to be the cheapest car in the world. People should have been thrilled about it, but not everyone is so cheery.
Tata was supposed to build the Nano at the plant in the Singur area of India. That was before it has been blockaded by farmers who have decided not to cede 162 hectares of terrain destined for factory expansion. The West Bengal government hasn’t reached an agreement with the workers, and it decided not to use force to prevent the protests. Given the situation, production has been stopped. Tata has threatened the local government with moving production to other areas if a solution cannot be reached in the near future.
Rumors and even some confirmed reports are going around tying together Chrysler, Fiat and Tata. Starting in the U.S., Chrysler may partner with Tata to sell Jeep Wrangler’s to the Indian market. What is alarming about this plan came from an investment banker watching the deal. "You could definitely see this evolve into something," the banker said. "It would make sense for Tata to buy Jeep if this partnership went through ... and Chrysler could really do with selling a brand and getting some cash." Jeep, America’s brand for sale! Say it ain’t so Chrysler.
Chrysler also has extra manufacturing capacity from the SUV sales slowdown, and Fiat may lease factory space to bring production to the U.S. This may also tie Chrysler’s dealer network into the possible return of Fiat brands including Alfa Romeo.
Fiat and Tata are already attached to a deal that will have Fiat provide
financing for Jaguar and Land Rover, In return, Fiat would possibly sell the Tata’s ultra-economy Nano in Europe.
In a way, this could set up Lee Iacocca’s “Global Motors” dream of over 30 years ago. Iacocca thought about bringing together an American, European, and Japanese car company to make a worldwide automotive conglomerate. The idea allowed for utilizing the U.S.’s manufacturing strength, European style, and Japanese knowledge of good economy cars. Although Tata is not Japanese, the Indian firm is looking to show the world it knows how to make an inexpensive car. So, if all this goes through, someone better build a chart to keep track of what car is coming from where.
It’s small, it’s cheap, and now it may carry a Fiat badge. The Italian auto conglomerate may sell Tata’s ultra-low price Nano outside of the car’s home market in India.
The partnership would likely be forged because Fiat’s strong international distribution, and Tata’s desire to keep the Nano’s price low through more sales. Both parties have shown interest in the idea, but it’s not a done deal yet. Fiat Chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo said the company was in talks with Tata about making buses and trucks. "We’ll see if there are the conditions for us to go forward." In India, Fiat already has a joint venture with Tata to make and distribute cars, engines and commercial vehicles.
If Fiat were to get a version of the Nano, it would likely have to add more safety features to meet the requirements of most Fiat’s established markets (not the U.S.). This could mean added weight and cost to the $2,500 Nano, but it will take a lot to get this microcar out of people’s price range.
Tata is taking steps to makes sure the little Nano won’t be short on power. FEV, a German engineering and powertrain firm, is right now actively working on the diesel engine for the Nano to debut later next year. The 800 cc, turbocharged CRDI engine would most likely be the tiniest engine with common rail technology in the world, taking the crown from Daimler.
The CRDI systems are being developed in conjunction with Bosch, while Honeywell Turbo India is working on the turbo charger. Originally the 700 cc CRDI engine, which Tata uses in its Ace mini-truck was considered for the Nano, but Tata has decided against it. The new FEV engine is cheaper and could also involve more progressive technology to battle emissions, redeem a better fuel economy, and achieve better engine refinement.
The Tata Nano continues to make headlines both for the right and wrong reasons since its unveiling at the Delhi AutoExpo in January this year. Land acquisition trouble and rising inflation which has past well over 11% in the country has created a new set of problems for Tata, although the manufacturer is hell-bent on retailing the base model at $2,500 and more importantly on the previously decided dead line of anytime between September and October.
The good news is that Tata is working on multiple variants of the Nano. No, not bumper colors or alloy wheels, by variants, we mean powertrain options. Sources say a battery powered Nano might roll out of the Singur plant in West Bengal very shortly along with air-powered and micro-hybrid (start-stop technology) models.
The compressed air technology would be borrowed from French company MDI, which uses compressed air to push the piston. An onboard compressor pressurizes air which is stored in a tank for use, a technology which works pretty well, and is one of the best alternatives to an electric car.
Otherwise, the Tata Nano uses a 2-cylinder 624 cc engine that produces a little over 30 hp. The tailpipe emissions are minimal and is less than what an average motorcycle in India would emit.
Hyundai has set its eyes on the micro car segment; it is planning to launch a competitor to the Tata Nano by 2011 with an estimated price tag of $3,500.
However, Hyundai has said that it has no intention to go head-to-head with the Tata Nano, which is believed to change the Indian car market forever. Hyundai’s managing director in India, Heung Soo Iheem said: “We do not have immediate plans to fight with the Nano. It is planned keeping in mind the Indian market conditions and the interest of the general public.”
The economy car is currently under development at Hyundai’s research and development center in South Korea, it would also be exported beyond India.
The competition in the segment is getting tougher as Indian company Bajaj has teamed up with Renault to create a similar low-priced car by the end of 2011. Time will tell which budget car will emerge as the lower-middle class’ favorite.