By on July 11, 2018

Image: Tata Motors

While our Ace of Base series delights in revealing just how bargain basement a mainstream vehicle can get, none of those rides hold a candle to the spartan purgatory that was the Tata Nano.

Billed as the world’s cheapest car upon its release in 2008, the Indian-market four-door was tailor-made to lure that country’s growing market of would-be vehicle owners off motorcycles and into a car with two cylinders, 37 horsepower, and a rear hatch that didn’t open.

Not unexpectedly, the vehicle quickly developed a stigma.

Cheap? Yes it was. Oh so cheap. Roughly $2,000 a decade ago, but now $3,500. New features, like a working hatch, found their way into the Nano over the ensuing years. And how about that automated manual transmission? No more four-speed stick for some buyers…

Image: Tata Motors

As the country’s GDP grew, and along with it the Indian middle class, Nano sales rose accordingly, but not by as much as Tata Motors had hoped. Initially pegging demand at a quarter million vehicles per year, Tata saw the Nano’s sales peak at just under 75,000 in the financial year 2011-2012. In FY 2016-2017, just 7,591 vehicles rolled off lots.

Frankly, India’s “people’s car” was just too cheap, too bare bones, and not aspirational enough. Safety on India’s notoriously congested and relatively lawless highways was another concern. Germany once crash tested the Nano and found it warranted zero stars.

As Bloomberg reports, the market has spoken. Tata built a single Nano in June, despite new car sales in the world’s second most populous country growing by 38 percent. The automaker, parent company of Jaguar Land Rover, said the Nano in its “present form cannot continue beyond 2019.”

However, it seems the company still feels some sort of future could exist for the little runabout. Tata told Bloomberg that the Nano “may need fresh investments to survive” — an understatement, given the model’s nonexistent sales.

[Images: Tata Motors]

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34 Comments on “World’s Cheapest Stripper Bites the Dust; Disinterested Public Barely Mourns...”

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Demonstrating how perception and ‘prestige’ often trump utility in vehicle purchases.

    Families in India still riding on motor scooters rather than inside a car. Sure the car meets no modern safety standards. But it is still inherently safer and more comfortable than balancing on a scooter or the top of a bus or train.

    And even the Hindustan Ambassador, nothing more than a 1956 Morris Oxford is considered to be more ‘prestigious’ than a Nano.

  • avatar

    No, the Nano is not the world’s cheapest stripper. That honor fell to a lady in a dive bar in Milwaukee in May, 1993.

  • avatar

    I have seen footage of the testing on this car. It is cataclysmic. Emerging nation or not it is immoral to put such a vehicle on the market, especially when many of the required components are available off the shelf. I read recently that India suffered over 140,000 traffic deaths last year. I wonder how many were in Tatas?

    • 0 avatar
      FWD Donuts

      Oh, please. Immoral? Have you ever been to India? Do you know what the roads are like? Any idea how people drive? Any idea what they drive?

      There was nothing wrong with the Nano. Ratan Tata cares deeply about the Indian people — and has donated billions out of his fortune to help them. If he felt the car was dangerous — he never would’ve made it.

      The strategy for the Nano from day one was to provide lower income people with an alternative to a scooter. That’s it.

      Think the Nano’s crash standards are poor? Try riding a scooter into a brick wall and see how you’d do.


      • 0 avatar

        If Ratan Tata withdrew a billion dollars from the bank and distributed it evenly among every man, woman and child in India, he would give each person 75.5 cents.

        Thank goodness he’s doing his part to solve poverty among his countrymen.

        • 0 avatar
          FWD Donuts

          He and his companies give back in the form of education, medicine, and rural development. What have you done besides leave a 10% top at Denny’s?

    • 0 avatar
      Carroll Prescott

      It is immoral?

      By what standards?

      This imposition of Western ideals onto third rate cultures is repugnant. Not every country has a standard of living that can force people to pay outrageous prices for safety standards that are so unapplicable for their world. It is laughable to think that being moral means that they should have vehicles that can withstand 50 mph crashes or even 35 mph one when they barely get over 25 mphs. There will be a time when their culture and standard of living rises above their intense class system; until then, it is not immoral to build a vehicle that gets them from point A to point B with a roof over their heads and doors to keep them out of the rain.

    • 0 avatar

      Motorbikes, typically in the 100cc class, were far and away the dominant personally owned vehicles in India when the Nano was developed. It was (and still is) common to see entire families getting around on one of these bikes. Imagine dad driving the thing, son is straddling the tank sitting on his lap, mom is riding side-saddle on the b**** seat holding baby in her lap, and none of them wearing helmets. Such a state of affairs existed because even basic four wheel cars were out of reach to middle income Indians. The original design brief was to build a full-on 4 wheel car that price-matched these 100cc bikes.

      Tata intentionally omitted “modern” safety features, like air bags and ABS, to minimize the selling price, recognizing that doing so would compromise the safety of any individual example of the car. But their calculus was that the car yielded a significant safety improvement over the bikes, just by being an enclosed four wheel vehicle, and that higher sales of the more modest design would yield a greater net reduction in traffic deaths than a safer, but much more expensive car.

  • avatar

    Oh, Nano, we hardly knew ye.

  • avatar

    Truth be told, I’m a bit sad about this.

    I’m really frustrated this thing never came to the USA.

    I know.. I know.. many of you like hamish are going to be thinking “How awful… this in the USA?” but I’m talking as a LSV. I can’t buy a dang 2 WD ATV or Golf cart for $3500. a 4 seater go kart… with a 5 HP lawnmower engine and tube frame costs more than $3500. No matter how I slice it, for an LSV / light offroad vehicle, this is perfect!

    It can’t be more dangerous than a polaris GEM… but the GEM costs $13,000. Wh not pay $5,500 ($3500 + transportation + everythings more expensive in america) for something that serves that need for campuses, tours, etc. where they are used in LSV situations.

    Why not offer it as an alternative to golf carts. The average golf cart costs between $5000-7000. While a golf cart is better for golfing, it might not better for a lot of other uses… like carting around campuses and old person communities.

    I really do wish the nano was available here as an LSV.

    • 0 avatar

      The Nano would never make it in the USA. For starters, it had no airbags and no real safety features other than a seat belt. The Nano also had no emissions equipment whatsoever, which resulted in a sizeable contribution to the smog and pollution throughout India.

      Im pretty sure the US makes a similar car that meets US regulations and has proper emissions equipment (would add $2500 to the price of the Nano) and proper safety equipment (would add $3000 to the cost of the Nano). that car is the Nissan Versa Note.

      • 0 avatar

        The Nano was compliant with the Indian Bharat Stage 4 emission standard from launch. BS4 has the same emissions limits as the Euro IV standard, with the caveat that BS4 does not test at vehicle speeds above 90 km/h, whereas Euro IV tests up to 120 km/h. For gas powered cars, BS4 and Euro IV both have lower caps for both CO and NOX emissions than the Carb ULEV standard, which is the most stringent standard any car is held to anywhere in the US.

      • 0 avatar


        Neither do ANY LSVs, golf carts, or aTVs, so I don’t understand what your response is. My argument was that the Nano should be here as an LSV..

        The Mahindra Roxor is an indian car that is now here as an ATV… kind of the same idea. It won’t be legal as a car, doesn’t have airbags etc. but why couldnt the Tata be an LSV? Put a speed limiter on it at 25 MPH and I think it would be perfect for many of the use cases I suggested.

        Again, GEM and the other LSV manufacturers do not have airbags, safety features… many don’t even have seat belts!

  • avatar

    I had a mini bike with 3.5 hp Briggs & Stratton that would dust a Nano.

  • avatar

    I live in the middle of my SW Florida city, everything including my job and congested beaches within a mile from my house. This, like arach said above would be a perfect neighborhood car. Too bad regulations wouldn’t allow it to work in the US for that.

  • avatar

    Tata was trying to repeat the “people’s car” success of the Model T and Beetle, but those cars were actually very durable, well-built, and good performing for their time and just happened to be low priced because of massive scale economies. The Nano was a very poor car that was designed to be cheap to build – quality and durability were not considered – only a cheap price. The Nano also faced competition from much more desirable cars with “name” brands, which as used cars were cheaper than a new Nano.

  • avatar

    “the company still feels some sort of future could exist for the little runabout.”

    Spec Nano race series. Make this happen, Tata. You know you want to.

  • avatar
    Carroll Prescott

    In the US there are equivalents to the Nano being sold as “bicycles”. They have doors and roofs and three wheels and pedal power with electric assist – they have far less structure than the Nano has and the greenies love them.

    To each his own. Let’s stop moralizing over safety when we have worse being sold here and these people are in traffic with the monster CUV/SUV’s that are all the rage these days!

    • 0 avatar

      Please name each new vehicle being sold in the U.S. that has a worse safety rating than the Nano.

      • 0 avatar

        Every motorcycle
        Every Neighborhood Electric Vehicle

        As a sidenote, in the EU we have these horrid 500cc diesel “moped cars” (light quadricycles) sold for the kids and the elderly, which weigh about half a Nano and have no structural integrity whatsoever. They’re used in regular traffic among all the trucks and buses. Every European complaint about the Nano was hypocritical, as we were selling much worse vehicles to children every day.

  • avatar

    It’s hard to throw stones at potential charcoal briquettes like the Tata Nano when we’ve produced toaster ovens like the Pinto and the Explorer, one of which set itself to broil while parked with the ignition off.

    • 0 avatar

      Much better to buy a Dodge, never a fire risk there. only 500k trucks there, no biggie.

      But, at least MOPAR will sell you a fire extinguisher that doesn’t work.

    • 0 avatar
      Tele Vision

      That happened to a friend’s Discovery, too. It self-immolated in a parking garage in VanGroovy hours after he parked it. The security footage showed smoke start to billow from underneath the firewall, then it lit up. It damaged both cars on either side as it burned. He had another Disco after that one, too. He’s a kept man, though, and had no say in the new vehicle.

  • avatar

    I always liked the Nano, and I was genuinely fascinated by the cheapness of the thing. People who own dedicated commuters, like me, are probably more likely to be fascinated with the vaingloriousness of maximum cheap.

    It’s unfortunate the Nano didn’t work out for India as they need something to improve nationwide mobility. Also, I commend Tata for undertaking the project considering the incredible risks. The margins were nonexistent from the get go, and the possibility of backlash against the Nano in status-conscious India was always a real possibility.

  • avatar

    I suggest you look up “disinterested” vs “uninterested”.

    Yes, they are two wildly different things. No, a millenial declaring otherwise out of thin air doesn’t change that.

  • avatar

    Part of the Nano’s problem was Tata’s own Magic Iris commercial vehicle. It sells for about the same price as the Nano, has a 12.5 hp diesel engine, and can carry more people. It also doesn’t have the stigma of being the world’s cheapest car.

    Also, Ratan Tata underestimated the aspirations of Indians to whom he hoped to sell the Nano.

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