In the market for a new automobile? Didn’t think so, even though it’s the “world’s cheapest car” that I’m talking about here, reported on by the Dutch De Volkskrant. But the Nano, manufactured in India by Tata Motors and finally ready to be offered for sale starting today, is not really targeted at the vast majority of this weblog’s readers in any event: only a 625cc engine, hand-cranked windows like in the days of yore, not even any power-steering option. The price is $2,000 apiece (that’s presumably US dollars), and the whole idea is naturally to position the Nano as an “entry-level” vehicle for those parts of the world where vehicle-ownership levels still lag behind Western standards.
Reading the Volkskrant article, it’s hard to escape the impression that this whole project has been a bit star-crossed from the beginning – quite apart from the larger, and highly-debatable, question of whether the world in the year 2009 really needs a new variety of mass-produced, internal-combustion-engine-powered vehicle. Sales were supposed to start back last October; no, it wasn’t the storm of international financial chaos raging back then that held up the Nano’s unveiling, but rather the unexpected closing of a factory in East India that was supposed to assemble the things, as local farmers protested against the loss of agricultural land its existence entailed.
As things stand, the replacement factory – over in the west of India now – is still gearing up, so the supply of new Nanos is going to be limited for a while. Industry analysts quoted in the article estimate that it will take five to seven years before this new line will be profitable for its parent company. While even the presumed sales by that point will still account for only a small part of Tata Motors’ turnover, you have to admire the audacity of Ratan Tata, the Indian industrialist behind the Tata Group conglomerate: again, neither the short-run (in view of the world’s current economic condition) nor the long-run (environmental concerns over the burning of fossil fuels) would seem to favor this initiative.