What is it?
This tiny, twin-cylinder four-door saloon represents a history-making attempt by Tata Motors, India’s biggest indigenous automobile maker (and the recent purchaser of Jaguar-Land Rover) to tap into an entirely new domestic market for cars.
The Nano is an amazingly spacious and simple car designed to be made at a rate of 450,000 units a year and sold to Indian purchasers for 120,000 to 150,000 rupees (roughly £1700 to £2200), only about double the price of the 100cc to 150cc motorbikes presently used to transport families of up to five people.
After expected strong Indian demand is met over the next two to three years, Tata plans a more powerful, better equipped Nano Europe as a city car. The company showed an airbag-equipped prototype at Geneva several weeks ago, which has extra length, weight and frontal crash structure to enable it to meet Euro NCAP standards, along with a 50-percent bigger three-cylinder engine to cope with the expected 150-200 kilogram weight gain.
What’s it like?
It’s a four-door one-box saloon, as short and narrow as an original Mini, but more than a foot taller, with its steel monocoque body mated to a tough bit light underbody space frame.
The semi-trailing arm, coil-sprung independent rear suspension and the tiny 625cc, 35 bhp water-cooled, twin-cylinder engine — with integral four-speed gearbox — are carried on a separate subframe, welded as a complete sub-assembly into the body.
The front suspension is also independent, by MacPherson struts, and the brakes are all drums because they resist fade efficiently enough in a car that weighs only 600kg, and don’t require a (heavy and costly) power booster, as discs do. The suspension is designed without anti-roll bars, also to save cost and weight.
Evidence of creative cost-saving is everywhere: flat side glass, a single wiper, no tailgate (you load the boot by folding the rear seat flat and loading through one of the big rear doors), no rear wiper, no passenger’s seat adjustment, three wheel-nuts instead of four, one door lock instead of two.