Tata NANO-Style Icon or Not?

23 06 2009

By now you’ve heard and seen the next big thing to come out of India: the Tata NANO.  While the advent of new Indian autos somehow goes unnoticed the rest of the time, the NANO made a splash with its intended base price of 100,000 rupees, or about $2,200. So, as you can guess, it’s not just inexpensive, it’s dirt cheap. And slow. And ugly. And it could be on U.S. roads in a few years, albeit with more power, safety features and a higher sticker price. So, just how desperate are you for a new car?

Before the Tata NANO comes to the States, the plan is to modify it for European sales. That’s right, it isn’t even ballsy enough yet to be a European city car. Its 624cc (yes, 0.6-liter), 2-cylinder moves with all the urgency of an auto rickshaw, summoning its 35 horsepower to clack from 0-60 kmph in 10.12 seconds. Zero to 100 kmph gradually occurs after 32.6 seconds, with a terminal velocity of 105 kmph. A four-speed manual transmission, four-wheel drum brakes and manual steering are all you get in the basic model, but with a curb weight of 1,397 pounds, it’s no big deal.

To be fair, we can bellyache about the NANO’s “performance,” but for its price target and driving conditions in its home market, it should fare well. In Europe or the U.S., it’s totally out of its league in its current form.

Some see the Tata NANO as a modern Ford Model T/Volkswagen Beetle/Citroen 2CV/etc. — and it’s uglier than all of them combined. It’s commendable to further mobilize a nation, but it’s a shame to do so with a bad mimic of a first-generation Prius.

Once inside the NANO, you’ll realized how your mom’s old Toyota was luxurious in comparison. Nothing you see or touch feels greater than the admission price. There’s no standard air conditioning — or even a heater (we realize it’s India, but still…). Much oddness awaits: To access the rear-mounted speck of an engine, you have to spin off six wing nuts and remove a cover. The jack is under the passenger seat, the battery beneath the driver, with the gas tank and spare riding Beetle-style under the front hood.  The Tata NANO may work well for India, but that’s probably where it should stay.



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