• Jan 15, 2010
Tata Nano – Click above for high-res image gallery

The Tata Nano has power windows for the driver and front passenger. Anyone sitting in the rear seats, though, will have to make do with manual controls. Of all the things we learned about the world's cheapest car during its official North American unveiling in downtown Detroit yesterday, the way Tata Motors' engineers split the difference between feature and basic functionality with its windows best exemplifies how this car got to be so inexpensive.

In person, the Nano doesn't exude cheapness. It doesn't look or feel expensive, to be sure, but there is a bit of heft to the doors and the Nano gives off a vibe that this it is, in fact, a real car – if a truly small and simple one. While the Nano on display at the Detroit Science Center was static, Tata did let us sit inside, and as it turns out, the interior is surprisingly roomy – bubble roofs do a lot to reduce claustrophobia. The Nano isn't a car we'd want to go cross-country in, but to move four people around a city, it could work quite well. Especially at the absurd price – maybe – of around $5,000 once it can be manufactured to U.S. standards and tastes. Find out more after the jump.

Photos by Sebastian Blanco / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

While seeing the car in person on U.S. soil for the first time was good, the company sponsoring the event – Tata Technologies – couldn't really help us with detailed information on when and how the Nano might come to the States. See, the Tata Group is made up of 99 companies that operate all over the world, including 12 companies and 16,000 employees based in the America. Tata Motors designed and builds the car, while Tata Technologies just provides help to Tata Motors. Therefore, the Tata Technologies representatives on hand couldn't speculate on what their client has in store for the car in the future.

A short history of the Nano

The Nano was unveiled at the New Delhi Auto Show in 2008, almost exactly two years ago, and the first delivery took place in India in the middle of 2009. It's been confirmed for Europe and talked about for other markets, but this is an Indian car, first and foremost.

Ratan Tata, the chairman of the Tata Group, came up with the idea for the Nano because he kept seeing entire families – upwards of 6 or 7 people – riding together on little scooters. Packing them into a car, he thought, would be safer and better for the environment. The challenge, undertaken in 2003, was to develop a real car that the average Indian could afford, and he wanted to keep the cost down to one lakh (which is 100,000 rupees, about $2,188 U.S. at today's exchange rates). This difficult task has proven popular. Patrick McGoldrick, the managing director at Tata Technologies, said that Tata Technologies wanted to have the Nano's U.S. unveiling at the Detroit Science Center and hopes to one day display the car there because that would inspire the children who visit the center to "do the impossible."

Is having a cheap car available in India a good thing for the environment? Sure, Tata is quick to point out that the car gets well over 50 miles per gallon, but is the practice of making cars easy to afford an environmental benefit overall? David Good, who heads the Tata corporate office in the United States, says yes. He told AutoblogGreen that:
If all the cars in India were Nanos, India would be a lot better off. India is not a country that has too many cars. It has too many cars for the state of the roads. If you look at the cars-to-people ratio, it's very, very low. I think India needs to improve its infrastructure, then it would be able to handle all the cars. If all the cars were as fuel efficient as the Nano is, India would have a lot better future.

So, what about the Nano in the U.S.?

This week in Detroit, there was a lot of nothing specific to be said about the Nano coming to the U.S. market in the future. No detailed price estimates, no talk of potential powertrains – really nothing, even though we're heard about a hybrid Nano (and rumors of an all-electric and air-powered versions) for some time. A U.S. Nano would need a top speed of somewhere between 80 and 90 miles an hour – the India-spec version only goes 62 mph – Warren Harris, president and COO of Tata Technologies, told AutoblogGreen, and that would require an upgraded engine to match. He also said that if the Nano does come to America, it "would obviously be more" than $2,500 and that the company would try to make the same kind of pricing splash here as it did in India, where the Nano is about half as much as the next-cheapest competitor. Does that mean we're looking at a $5,000 Nano for America? Maybe, but no one would say anything specific.

A U.S. Nano would also need to be nicer inside to be attractive to buyers, Tata representatives told us. They drove the car around Judson College in Alabama recently and quickly learned that they need to bump up the comfort level in the car. Students all asked where the iPod connector was and why there weren't any cupholders. Those sorts of features would be a part of the program if the actually gets the official green light. Thankfully, Tata Motors designers have time to iron out these details, because any potential U.S. launch is likely to be years away.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      Thats one detailed article. Thank you autoblog!
      Its funny that most of the commentors only got criticism without taking sense inspite of reading your entire article, oh wait they even criticize toyota which sells in huge number in US.
      • 5 Years Ago
      what is the weight limit on that? sorry, Americans are to fat, If they can wedge in there, the engine would have to haul their 800 pounds of fat up to speed. Also, they can't be asked to lift their foot, or move their arm for every shift, It would interfere with their mobile phone texting or eating, so it would have to have an auto gearbox. And what about the cup holders? It has to have big gulp holders for every passenger. Oh and it needs to hit sixty in 5 seconds, even though most americans take about 40 seconds to get up to sixty. Then there is the ego thing...
      • 5 Years Ago
      For what it is, the Nano is a great car, but there is no place for it (or an higher content/larger version of it) here in the US.

      There was a great quote on TopGear a few weeks ago when they went to Vietnam. They were tasked with buying a really cheap set of wheels and Clarkson pointed out that they, as a country, are so new to having cars that there simply aren't any used ones for sale yet there. That's one of the reasons that the Nano is great in places like India, but worthless in the US - we have an enormous selection of really good used cars.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This would be the ideal car for me and my spouse!!! At our age we don't look for flash, we can use our own portable speakers for our I-pod. We have only the two of us and do a lot of to and from work driving so the gas milage is a definite plus. Around and how we both drive its top speed of 62 MPH is ideal. I would buy us both one and put the present older Kia out to pasture at over 100+ K milage and keep my under 100K Bonneville in the garage for cross country vacation driving only. Tata Keep going as there really is a market in America for your cars in those of us Geritol agers. We are really starting to hate having gas guzzling SUV's and sportsters shoved down our thoats as the only available options in new cars. Why should we be held ransom by the established auto makers and petroleum czars by being given zero choice in getting a new car that is good on gas and easy on the wallet?
      • 5 Years Ago
      I love how they didn't even remove the licence plate.
      • 5 Years Ago
      What a lot of people aren't getting with the used car theory is that there is no warranty and the financing rates are crap.
      A lot of people just need some transportation and do not give a damn about fancy features or 0-60 times.
      If tata can sell this @ $5K and it is decently reliable and readily repairable (and not exceedingly death-trappish) then it will be a big deal in the market.
      Of course if the quality is horrible or customer service is horrible then it will end a laughing stock.
      All the arguments about how an SUV would crush it our relativistic drivel.
      This would mess up a motorcycle.
      An 18 wheeler would obliterate an SUV.
      All these vehicles commonly ply the roads.
      • 5 Years Ago
      not too shabby for $2k, if I get one, I'll probably "upgrade" the wheels by gettin' some spare tires on there.

        • 5 Years Ago
        "not too shabby for $2k,"

        Except this article says $5K. I've read other articles that go as high as $8K.

        The US version will be heavily modified from the Indian version.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I do not see what all the fuss is about. You can get Hyundai Accent or Nissan Versa for 2K more.

      It's not like Tata offers a loaded car that is sold at a big discount.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I read the top speed was 65 mph. That's the TOP speed, so probably near redline...if it comes with one. I can only imagine the leaf-blower sound it makes in the high rpms. The estimated sales price in America is $8000. If so, do everyone on the freeways a favor and buy a Hyundai Accent instead, or get a quality used car. I don't want to see this car bouncing off my hood, or struggling up an on-ramp like a Roomba.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yep, that's what is happening here in India. Due to production constraint's they are producing something like just 3000 cars a month, which is a joke, even by Indian standards. As far as India goes, Suzuki/Hyundai are the small car king & queen, if you can call it that. One's got to buy a form for $5 to buy the Nano and pay full upfront and wait for a few year's to own one, that's the situation here, and no one's really prepared to wait that long and go thru' such a meandering process to buy the cheapest car in the world. Process for owning a Bugatti Veyron would be less meandering than this, period.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I still think they need to get rid of the two headlights to be replaced by a single centered huge one, and then it will look correct. Remember the Cyclops of R & T.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I don't see this selling well here in the US. The Nano is too small, has no Trunk, no automatic, It lacks any luxury features down to the passenger side mirror.

      Most people would buy a good used car over this.
      • 5 Years Ago
      For $5000 you can buy a decent used car. Why would anyone choose this?
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