Like lots of car guys, I have a very specific weakness for one particular class of automobile. For many, that weakness is for fast, powerful, luxurious, high-end exotics; for me, as a side effect of a condition known medically as "being a bit of a moron," it's cars at the extreme low end of the spectrum.
Making cars fast and luxurious and gadget-filled is pretty well explored; the real last new frontier in the car industry is making real cars as cheap as possible.
These are pretty exciting time for bottom-feeders such as myself. Where in previous years I had only offerings like the Dacia/Renault Logan to scrutinize, India has been making some big advancements in ultra-low cost automobiles, first with the Tata Nano and now with the recently unveiled Bajaj RE60, which is expected to sell for even less than the Nano, at a planned $2200.
Bajaj is normally known for making the ubiquitous tuk-tuk 3-wheelers that form the backbone of India's motorized fleet. The RE60 is their first foray into 4-wheeled transportation, which they are oddly reluctant to call a car. In fact, the managing director of the company was quoted as actually saying "This is not a car." Frankly, that's absurd. It's a car. I understand they are likely wanting to avoid direct comparisons between the RE60 and more traditional vehicles, but that doesn't make it not a car. It's an incredibly inexpensive car, and built to cut nearly every possible corner, but come on, Bajaj, have some balls. Besides, I really like that thing you don't call a car.
Let's scrutinize the design with way, way, more attention than any rational person outside of India would give, how about? Click through the photos above to see my thoughts.
The design of the RE60 is very similar to the Nano: essentially, a tiny, rear-engined microvan. And it's tiny in every way: 200cc/20hp engine, about a 45 mph top speed, and a tiny thirst: about 70+ mpg. The Nano has a sleeker, more refined look, but I think in terms of achieving the very specific goals of a cheap car for lower-income Indian people, the RE60 has a better design. In some ways, it's a bit more traditional, as it adds a hood to the Nano's one-box design, which is used to provide an extra amount of much needed luggage space. It's a bit more squared off, to maximize interior volume, and, while arguably homely, nevertheless has a certain quirky, almost Gallic charm.
So far there has been almost no information on the details of the construction, so I'm going to make some guesses. I think it's likely to have a very compact powerplant, integrated very tightly with the transmission and mounted right on the rear axle. The rear load floor is above the engine, and engine access is through the floor, VW Type III style. Based on the fuel filler door location, I suspect the fuel tank will be right below the rear seat. I'm speculating on the size/location of the spare and front luggage compartment, but I bet I'm pretty close.
My one big complaint with the design has to do with the headlights. The general design theme of an angled-corner sort of vaguely circuit board trace-inspired look – not unlike the design vocabulary of a Kia Soul– I think generally works to tie all the elements together, but on a vehicle this narrow, the wide headlights are a mistake. They just make the whole car look even narrower. I'd replace them with similar shaped but vertically oriented units. Look at that drawing; I think it works better. I'm not even going to pretend that anyone at Bajaj is going to give this even the slightest rat's rectum about this, but maybe some of you will appreciate it.