By on April 18, 2012


The Tata Nano, touted as the world’s cheapest car, did put India on the world map as far as automobiles go. I have frequently read comments on various American blogs where readers are hoping that Tata Motors launches one in the States. Be careful what you wish for.

The Tata Nano is the cheapest car in the world, it retails for around Rs. 2.18 lakhs for the top-level variant (with all taxes, registration and insurance charges paid). This amounts to US $4,230. You get an air-conditioner, electronic trip meter, 3-spoke steering wheel, front power windows, body colored bumpers, full wheel covers, and rear spoiler for this price. While this might not sound much, the Nano is at least $1500 cheaper than its nearest rivals, which offer less space.

Step inside the Nano and there is a good amount of leg and head room. Dashboard quality is decent, nothing spectacular but not so bad either. The Nano can seat 4 passengers in utmost comfort and the AC is quite a chiller too. There is space on the dashboard to keep stuff. hat’s good. because the Nano lacks a useable trunk. The engine is mounted in the rear, the space under the hood is used for the spare tyre and tool kit. The instrument cluster is centrally mounted and there is only one wiper on offer.

Start the Nano and it starts with a noisy roar. The exhaust sounds more like of a Rickshaw and is not pleasing to the ear. The 624cc gasoline engine is a 2-cylinder unit which produces 38 PS of power at 5500 RPM and 51 Nm of torque. This might look very underpowered for a car, but remember the Nano weighs just 615 kgs. 100 kmph are reached in 27.5 seconds. And that’s it: The top speed is limited to 105 kmph. The Nano decent enough grunt for city driving but is not the vehicle you would want to take out on the highways. Tata Motors claims a mileage of 25.4 kmpl, which would be 60 miles per US gallon, if the standards would be the same. Which they are not.

The Tata Nano has a rear-wheel drive layout which gives it go-kart like characteristics. Even with no power steering or disc brakes, the Nano is fun to drive, just like a go-kart. You can chuck the Nano into corners and it goes with the rear sliding out. The small turning circle of 8 meters makes it a breeze to maneuver the Nano in crowded city traffic. Brakes could have been better though. High speed stability is good if you can call 105 kmph high speed!

The Nano is a budget car, which aims to get people from point A to point B on 4-wheels. It does this job very well and there is little taking away the fact that it makes for a splendid replacement for a 2-wheeler. But as a car it does not offer what one would expect from a modern day vehicle. The brakes are below average and the performance is unfit for the highways. Tata Motors is developing a more feature rich and powerful version known as the Nano Europa for first world countries and that should do the trick. After having extensively driven the Nano in India, I can comfortably say that the Nano does live up to the hype with the fantastic cost engineering pulled off by Tata Motors.

Faisal Ali Khan is the owner/operator of MotorBeam.com, a website covering the auto industry of India.


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51 Comments on “Review: Tata Nano, Driven In India...”


  • avatar
    kuman

    it would be interesting to drive one of those… i love suzuki wagon R.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    “The top speed is limited to 105 kmph”

    So… no one has figured yet how to crack the ECU to remove the limiter?

    • 0 avatar
      HerrKaLeun

      what, crack the ECU so you can reach 107 km/h the engine is capable of? :-)

      what is passive safety compared to US/EU cars? I mean does it reach a star?

      “various American blogs where readers are hoping that Tata Motors launches one in the States.”
      Are those the same readers that wish for a manua-stationwagon-diesel to be sold, but end up buying a Corolla because of what they can afford or want for safety?

  • avatar
    redav

    Didn’t it have issues with catching on fire? Or was that every other car?

  • avatar
    Garak

    I want one right now. Crash safety is not a priority for me, and I doubt the Nano is any worse than most of the cars i’ve owned.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      “crash safety is not a priority for me”

      Save that quote for the Darwin awards. Crash safety is not necessarily important to anyone…until it becomes absolutely critical. The time interval between these states of mind is usually less than one second.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        I would feel safer on a motorcycle wearing crash gear than I would in this tin can wearing street clothes.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Gordon

        Crash safety should not be a consideration at all in anyone’s purchasing decision. There is something a bit warped about a consumer having to and moreover being able to choose what level of safety they would like.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        “There is something a bit warped about a consumer having to and moreover being able to choose what level of safety they would like.”

        That’s the most troubling thing anyone has written on this forum. Someone has to decide what level of safety is economical. It should be the person whose money and safety is at stake, not some deviant bureaucrat that believes she knows better than engineers or consumers do.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        “It should be the person whose money and safety is at stake”

        Prospect theory indicates that most consumers would pick a cheaper, less safe vehicle, preferring a risk of economic loss vs. a certainty of economic cost up-front. Systemic costs of increased vehicle injury would then be borne by society as a whole. Read up on Kahneman and his work on loss aversion. H. Sapiens is not a “rational economic actor” nor does he fake the part particularly well.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Who is to say what constitutes economic rationality for anyone else? Progressives need to realize they are not gods, but quite the opposite.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        Your entire economic theory is based on rational self-interest, CJ; you can’t go and claim that there’s no such thing now.

        The obvious second part of that story is that then the general public, seeing the societal costs of endemic vehicular accidents, demands that their elected officials do something, which they do, which is why public opinion is not arrayed against crash safety requirements. You’re an outlier. Ride a motorcycle.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        You are particularly young or ignorant if you don’t know that people had to be herded and manipulated to become afraid of their own shadows and receptive to government ‘safety’ regulations. Only 35 years ago, there was active resistance to nannyism.

        I didn’t say that rationality didn’t exist, only that it is predominantly subjective and that nobody is qualified to take up its mantel for another responsible adult.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        Right, right, the general public is being manipulated into accepting crash test standards deliberately, specifically in order to keep people from purchasing and owning new cars. Only you (and people who agree with you) are capable of withstanding this manipulation and everyone else needs to face their own inferiority to your enlightened superiority, which I’m sure we all are thankful for. I should have realized it sooner; after all, you display your self-superiority quite clearly!

        Your conspiracy theories aren’t even self-consistent anymore. Letting GM collapse into bankruptcy would have done far more towards preventing Americans from buying new cars than mandating side air bags. Or was that just part of the bigger master plan? Quick, link me to InfoWars where they lay out the whole thing, from the starting point of seat belt laws to the logical endpoint of FEMA death camps.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Letting GM fail would have been a step towards economic liberty. It would have been the preservation of the rule of law and the removal of the tyranny of organized crime.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        “Crash safety should not be a consideration at all in anyone’s purchasing decision. There is something a bit warped about a consumer having to and moreover being able to choose what level of safety they would like.”

        Do you propose that all vehicles be of the same size, weight, and crash-worthiness?

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        “Prospect theory indicates that most consumers would pick a cheaper, less safe vehicle, preferring a risk of economic loss vs. a certainty of economic cost up-front.”

        Yet, somehow, the roads are full of unnecessarily large and expensive vehicles with one of the primary justifications being that they’re safer for its occupants.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      The Tata Nano passed European front and side impact tests:

      http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/15/video-nano-passes-european-crash-test/

      • 0 avatar
        tonycd

        “Deviant bureaucrat”? Really, CJ?

        What’s with the pathological hatred of government regulations that some people have around here?

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Fully formed people don’t farm out their thinking. Politicians are not a master race, and their bureaucratic lackeys are less than that. The existence of people that want someone else to take on their intellectual burdens is what should trouble everyone.

      • 0 avatar
        pdieten

        It may come as a surprise to you that “fully-formed people” will actually come to the conclusion that there is a positive cost-benefit of mandating a minimum level of safety equipment.

        Conventional wisdom is frequently conventional for good reasons. You aren’t a hero for holding contrary opinions. For every 100 people who think they’ve had a insight, approximately one of them actually did. The others, well………

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Do you want an insight that you’re missing now? The driver of arbitrary safety requirements isn’t safety or societal cost. They exist to elevate the barrier to new car ownership. Chances are that most people would be safer in new cars that they could afford than they are with old ones or by using alternative forms of transportation. Your puppeteers don’t have your best interests at heart. I can understand the vehemence that you hang onto their arguments with, as the alternative is that you face your own inferiority.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    I think this thing would be quite successful in other developing countries besides India. It seems that it has all the basics covered. So far, however, Tata’s plans to sell it outside India seem to have come to nothing. Forget advanced countries like America, Europe, they aren’t the proper place for this car. Their standards are already way too high.

    • 0 avatar

      They are trying to export it to other Asian countries.

      • 0 avatar
        Eddie_515

        What about Turkey? I know Fiat, Ford, Benz, Hyundai and Toyota have production there (maybe Peugeot too?), but I wonder how something cheap like Tata would fare. Last time I visited the cabs were all previous-gen accents, which probably cost twice the Nano.

      • 0 avatar
        MrWhopee

        They have been saying that (about the export) from the beginning, yet still nothing came out of it today. I think it could succeed here in Indonesia, where incomes are low and there are still many families with two, three kids with only a motorcycle for transportation.

        Are they still production constrained? That was their excuse then, they’re busy serving their home market, none left for exports.

      • 0 avatar

        MrWhopee, they don’t have production constraints at all. They are operating at 50% capacity currently.

  • avatar
    Herm

    by the time it complied with all the US regulations it would be a $10k (and 1000lbs heavier) car and no one would buy it.. A WAG of course..

  • avatar
    aristurtle

    I’d much rather have an honest motorcycle than The Cheapest Car In The World.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      With two kids sitting on the tank and your wife holding the baby pillion?

      • 0 avatar
        MrWhopee

        That’s like Marie Antoinette saying “Let them have cakes instead!” The Nano isn’t really designed for those in rich countries who already had a Suburban for family transportation, a M3 for the daddy, and maybe a superbike for “fun”.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    You can already buy this in the US; it’s called the Mitsubishi i-MiEV.

    Seriously, the Nano is perfect for its intended use and market.

    • 0 avatar
      Contrarian

      Except the MiEV is approximately 7 times the price. I just saw one in a Canadian dealer for $35,000. That’s a darn pricey golf cart. I’ll take the Nano and all the change to hit the links in.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    Find a market, fill a need.

  • avatar

    So it’s actually fun to drive? As much as I fondly recall the truly small cars of the 1980s, this wasn’t expected. Though I suppose a 42/58 weight distribution should bump the possibilities for entertainment. What have they done to prevent steady state oversteer?

    By “no discs” you mean no rear discs, or none on the front wheels, either?

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      According to the Tata FAQ, it indeed has 4-wheel drums. Given mass production and mass adoption of discs, I wonder what the real price differential is?

      • 0 avatar

        Particularly when you think about how complicated a drum brake setup is compared to a disc, plus you have to build in automatic adjusters to take up the slack as the shoes wear. I suppose that a caliper might be more expensive to make than a wheel cylinder but the total difference in cost can’t be that much by 1st world standards. However, when designing the car, Tata was working very hard at taking out even very small costs so they could meet their original price point of 100,000 rupees (one “lakh”). They even reduced the number of wheel lugs to three, to save on the cost of the lug, drilling and splining for it, and the nut.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I think the worst cost cutting decision was going with a type of wheel bearing that limits the recommended cruising speed to 70 kph.

        http://www.yx-bearing.com/bearings_news/8040801.htm

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        Drums are cheaper to maintain, and this car is really light.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    This car resembles nothing so much as the Citroen 2CV, 60 years later + air conditioning (obviously something close to essential in a hot, humid climate). Plastics technology having advance a lot in the last 60 years, the 2CV has lots of painted metal instead. I imagine the performance statistics of the two cars are very similar. The 2CV is front engine, front wheel drive; the Nanon is rear engine, rear wheel drive, just like many early European mass market cars (Fiat 500; VW Beetle). Without a governor of any kind, the Beetle was good for probably 110 Km/H; the lower-powered 2CV would probably be lucky to make 100 Km/H on anything less than a downgrade with a following wind.

    Its interesting that the solution to a particular market’s needs is so similar, even after 60 years.

  • avatar
    cmoibenlepro

    A decent car, except when it catches fire.

    • 0 avatar
      MrWhopee

      Well, at least it didn’t costs you much in the first place if it catches fire. Now if you were in a Rolls Royce Ghost or BMW 7 series or exotic supercars… You can probably buy several Nanos for the repair costs alone. BTW that would be a great defense for TATA, they could say, hey, Rolls Royces and BMWs catches fire too! And look how much they cost. What’s their excuse?

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    In many ways I like cars that others would find ugly, and hate cars that others consider ‘lookers’ (I’m looking squarely at anything Cadillac for the latter), but this is too ugly even for me. That’s a Pokemon face only a mother could love.

    As a car though, it seems to be a step in the right direction.

  • avatar

    Faisal,

    Do you know what the latest sales figures are for the Nano?

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    Great review… I really like the Nano… an awesome, clever, well-designed vehicle, which could succeed in North America, especially with gas over $4 a gallon and rising… it reminds my of my first car: a 1958 VW Beetle! But the Nano, unlike the Beetle, is a 21st Century design, and quite amazing. As for the motorbike comparison: bikes SUCK in the rain, cannot carry groceries, and you are SEVENTEEN TIMES more likely to be injured or killed on a motorcycle than in an automobile (according to NHTSA statistics). So, yes, I would take the Tata Nano before considering a bike.

    • 0 avatar
      protomech

      I suppose the Nano must be as safe as the average automobile NHTSA tested.

      I can load 1 person-week worth of groceries into a motorbike saddlebags. Certainly, beyond that point the Nano will hold substantially more cargo.

      Proper gear makes weather more tolerable. Most bikes are sold without ABS though, and especially panic braking is much worse in the rain.

      A cheap India-produced motorbike with similar performance to the Nano would cost likely < $1000.

      The 2006 NHTSA statistics for fatalities are 35 times as many motorcycle rider deaths per mile traveled as car driver deaths. However, the following groups are disproportionately represented:
      * intoxicated riders
      * riders who elect to ride without a helmet
      * unlicensed riders
      * infrequent riders

      That's not to say that riding a motorcycle is not a risk, but a sober, helmeted, trained commuting rider probably sees injury and fatality rates approximately 3-5x as high as cars per mile traveled. I imagine it's in the same ballpark as a Tata Nano.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I’d rather buy an old used rust bucket, I’ll still have a few grand for repairs.

  • avatar
    kuman

    I’ll take it, its better than motorbike :)


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