By on May 26, 2009

Who’d have thunk it? The New York Times reports that despite being designed to become the world’s cheapest car, the Tata Nano isn’t attracting as many budget buyers as you might expect. Only 20 percent of Nano orders (India market only) are currently for the base model, a $2,600 vehicle. Half of all orders are for the top-of-the-line model, which boasts such ameneties as cup holders and air conditioning but costs some 40 percent more than a base model. When the Nano was announced, its lowest possible cost was widely touted to claims that it would become “India’s Model T.” And though the low-cost-at-all-costs approach hasn’t been wildly popular, orders for the well-optioned model will help Tata stay out of a profit-draining battle on price alone. But that isn’t stopping competitors from planning ever-cheaper models. Renault/Nissan is planning a $2,500 model developed in conjunction with Bajaj Auto. Toyota is also rumored to be pursuing a low-cost car for the Indian market.

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25 Comments on “Nobody Wants the World’s Cheapest Car...”

  • avatar

    The title and ‘milleau’ of this story is puzzling.

    People want the Nano, they just want the higher specfied model.

    I can’t think Mr. Tata would be upset if his customers choose the model with a higher profit centre?

    In fact he would probably use it to subsidise Jaguar and Land Rover!

  • avatar

    But that isn’t stopping competitors from planning ever-cheaper models. Renault/Nissan is planning a $2,500 model developed in conjunction with Bajaj auto. Toyota is also rumored to be pursuing a low-cost car for the Indian market.

    I just hope that Maruti Suzuki gets in on the game, if only for the daydream of a car this size that comes GSX-R ready from the factory (dropping a ‘Busa engine in something this size would require a degree of power lust that would make Pinky and the Brain seem like mice of modest ambition).

  • avatar

    The uplevel model is still the cheapest car in the world with A/C, right?

    A similar price structure can be expected with any competitors. Offering a loss leader that isn’t expected to account for the majority of sales is far from new–it’s how cheap cars have always been done. Most Model T’s were sold with plenty of options.

  • avatar

    AuricTech> I’d be surprised if parts that handle power in that car wouldn’t bend/warp when give gsx-r or busa power.

  • avatar

    i wouldn’t be surprised if out there “in the real world” where people buy cars from Ford to BMW that only 20% want the barebones fleet model

    who wants a BMW 335 with basic audio and vinyl?

    sure you pay for the toys and you probably do add 40% to the base cost too!

    so there’s actually very little story. People are people, rich or poor. They want a little bit extra even in a 600cc car.

  • avatar

    Nobody wants it because they can’t take the ridicule that will come with being seen in it.

  • avatar

    Those wheels are comically small. I still want to try one out.

    I test drove some cheap Chery cars (eg, QQ/A1 which is similar in form), and they were quite acceptable city cars given the price. Sense of fatalism required to take them on the highway, though.

  • avatar

    Most people don’t want “cheap”, they want “value”.

    My brother leases a basic Nissan Murano for $600 a month, and was taunting me for shopping a lowly Hyundai Santa Fe which cost $400 a month. Solution: A $500 loaded Santa Fe with heated leather seats, power sunroof and $1600 cash back for a weekend in Vegas. Take that, bro.

    Indian consumers are no different. A $2600 car gives you one thing to brag about, but a $3600 car with air conditioning and cloth seats gives you three times as many things to brag about.

  • avatar

    there are plenty of people over there that want it. this is marketed to people that often now ride a moped with a family of 4 on it

  • avatar

    If I drove in India I’d want A/C too!

    Besides, $2,000 is still a lot to many people there who’ll still look at two-wheeled transportation or very used cars. I think the biggest market for a $2,000 car is moderately well-off people (by Indian standards) who don’t see the point to paying more for a car or already have one that they don’t want to use in all situations.

  • avatar

    you’ll find on youtube some reviews of this car by independent/non-indian journalists

    as yet i have yet to see a negative review

    it looks comical to western eyes but IMO it is no worse looking than a smart car or their gee whiz electric cars in the UK

    you’ll probably find the car is no worse than a Suzuki Alto or any of those sub 1,000cc city cars

    There’s also a fair bit of racism in that many people refuse to believe that Indians could engineer something like this or that poor people should forever remain poor as if you can’t afford a $10,000 US car then you should always remain downtrodden. Worse still people say that it’s ok for Westerners to pollute but if it’s poor people… that’s no good.

    I think the relative genius of Tata is kinda born out by the fact Toyota and Nissan are following their lead.

    And the Chinese? They are copying the Smart car. So what’s better? Copying other peoples’ work? Following someone elses lead? Or forging a new segment by yourself? The Indians deserve some respect for this.

  • avatar

    I dont’ think anyone’s disrespecting the Indians for the car per se.

    I’m torn though about the notion of a mass market for cars in a country with about 12 times the population density of the United States, and where the roads are already chaotic. I certainly wouldn’t blame Indians for wanting cars, but I think they will tie their poor country in knots that will make rush hour Los Angeles seem like a pistonhead’s paradise.

  • avatar

    The car is certainly a bit goofy looking, but no more so than any other microcar. I actually thikn it’s a decent piece of styling, except for that damn black thing along the lower rear part of the rear door, which ruins what is otherwise a nice outline of the doors.

  • avatar

    well i’m not singling out TTAC as racist but i’m saying in general… on many motoring sites and even print media

    it’s likely i will never visit india so i speak as an outsider… if china or india decide to motorise to the degree than the west has that is their decision alone and they take the consequences

    they will probably end up like the phillipines or thailand where the car has grown out of proportion to their infrastructure.

    From a pure engineering standpoint I find the Nano to be worthy of merit and study (such as it is). I am much more interested in test driving a Nano than boondoggles like the Volt and the Cruze. Those two are just different deckchairs on the Titanic.

    btw. i think you are pointing out the air scoop for the engine. The styling is difficult because they are constrained by the need to build a car that is ALL safety cell. And that’s pretty much what is it. A safety cell on wheels.

  • avatar

    And the Chinese? They are copying the Smart car. So what’s better? Copying other peoples’ work? Following someone elses lead?

    The reason I find for this is due to their cottage industries more interested in making a buck first than growing an industry (tho this often develops later).

    Also, it’s worth noting that the gov there took on the strategy of developing joint ventures with foreign companies instead of starting anew like japan or korea. That’s why most of the autos there are more or less exact VW’s or mazdas or whatever, except made on a chinese line. So it shouldn’t be shocking some podunk company/factory gets the idea to crank out unauthorized copies.

  • avatar

    the Chinese Smart Car is actually quite interesting in itself in that it looks like a Smart but they actually moved the motor to the front and gave it 4 seats.

    So I may deride the Chinese but they actually made it a better and more practical car!

    Here is the Nissan/Renault/Bajaj entry:

    it actually looks no different from any Japanese/Korean micro car and would gain more acceptance on looks alone.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    20% of the buyers choosing the most stripped model is very similar to what you see in higher priced vehicles as well. Move down buyers are a big force in today’s market, and they often go for a highly equipped lower end product as a way to get the goodies and save money at the same time.

    Back in 2003 when I replaced my Volvo 850 I did what a lot of people have done and “moved down” to a fully loaded Accord with V6, Navigation, etc. I still spent many thousands less than I would have for a less equipped new Volvo of similar size. Another friend of mine recently traded down from an Audi A4 when the Audi lease was up to a loaded Mazdaspeed 3 (bought for cash money). A year or so ago Honda added leather seating as an available option for the Civic because trade down buyers wanted leather. Previously the only way to get a leather Civic was to have an aftermarket company retrofit it.

  • avatar

    My old eyes may be deceiving me, but did Tata really put each wheel on with only 3 lug nuts?

  • avatar

    My old eyes may be deceiving me, but did Tata really put each wheel on with only 3 lug nuts?

    So? Mopeds have only one nut per wheel, that’s a great upgrade. I remember some old cars also having only one central lugnut…

    Also, many Citroens and other small cars had three lugnuts up to the 1990s, and I don’t remember anyone complaining about wheels falling off. It’s not a bad design decision on a small vehicle.

  • avatar

    the Smart car had 3 lugs for ages

    if Mercedes thinks it’s safe it must be

  • avatar

    My old eyes may be deceiving me, but did Tata really put each wheel on with only 3 lug nuts?

    One of the French marques did that in the 60s. One way that Tata met their cost objective was engineering the car to its needs and no more. Three lug nuts per wheel cuts lug nut cost by 25%.

  • avatar
    Kristjan Ambroz


    there is a GSX-R powered smart, so I’m sure one could do it in a Nano as well.

  • avatar

    In other news, people want nice stuff in their cars. And fire is hot.

    Sorry if that was a little inflammatory, but my point is that even in Europe, people are buying more and more heavily optioned cars. Epically American cars sold in Europe are lauded for their long list of standard features that American’s have come to expect. Motorists in India have (Apparently) come to want a little bit more than a couple of chairs, wheels, something that passes for an engine and some metally bits for a car. Who would have thunk?

  • avatar

    If the base Nano has no AC, I’m surprised that anyone is buying it, at all. Climate control isn’t an option in a tropical country… it’s a necessity. While you could make do with an AC-less car, such a proposition makes riding an open-air motorbike sound more palatable.

  • avatar

    no airconditioning on works in the more temporate parts of europe and scandinavia

    i’m surprised that many of the cheap low end mini cars sold in europe don’t come with a/c

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