13 Years Ago Today, India Released The World's Cheapest Car

Illustration for article titled 13 Years Ago Today, India Released The Worlds Cheapest Car
Photo: MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP (Getty Images)

On January 10, 2008, Tata Motors introduced the “People’s Car,” the Nano. Impressively small and impressively cheap, it immediately grabbed the award of being the world’s cheapest car. Where else can you find a family car for $2,500?

(Welcome to Today in History, the series where we dive into important historical events that have had a significant impact on the automotive or racing world. If you have something you’d like to see that falls on an upcoming weekend, let me know at eblackstock [at] jalopnik [dot] com.)

The Nano debuted at the New Delhi Auto Expo in India. And, honestly, it was kind of cute. Shaped like a bubble, it clocked in at a whopping five feet wide and 10 feet long. It was designed for all the Indian families who hadn’t been able to afford a car but who frequently traveled together—in some instances, with everyone packed onto a single bike.

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To cut down on price, though, Tata had to make some sacrifices, which included:

  • No air bags
  • One windshield wiper
  • A trunk accessible only from the inside of the car
  • No air conditioning on the base model
  • Three lug nuts per wheel
  • No power steering
  • No power windows on base models
  • Plastic and sheet metal body

Its specs were about as bare-bones. You got a two-cylinder, four-stroke engine paired to oa four-speed manual gear box. The engine was stored under the rear bench, which meant the front passengers were pressed up to the very front of the car. To add more space, there were no CD players or fancy tools. You got some storage instead. Its 32 horsepower 38 lb-ft of torque were so minimal that it took 30 seconds for the thing to go from 0 to 37 mph—not even 60.

Basically, this was not a car designed with creature comforts in mind. Its sole purposes were to go places and be cheap.

That said, not everyone liked the Nano. There were some complex social responses to its release. It was still more expensive than a motorbike, and it was viewed as a “poor man’s car.” Yes, you could have a brand new machine… but there was also a fair amount of status associated with buying a used car from a more prestigious brand, even if it was slightly more expensive.

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Not everyone was a fan.
Not everyone was a fan.
Photo: STRDEL/AFP (Getty Images)

And, unfortunately, there were other problems plaguing the release of the car. From History:

The Nano was originally scheduled to go on sale in October 2008; however, production delays arose because of a land dispute in West Bengal, where the car’s production plant was being built. The company opted to move its production facilities to another part of India and the Nano officially went on sale across the country in April 2009.

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Despite all the chaos and the criticism, Tata received over 200,000 pre-orders for the Nano. But… the company could only produce 100,000. The eventual purchasers were selected by a lottery system.

It wasn’t a good looking car by any means, and it wasn’t a performance hound. But with the Nano, Tata aimed to build a car that could serve the widespread needs of the Indian people without forcing them to break the bank.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.

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Dubblewhopper- now in dubblevision

A Yugo is a Rolls Royce compared to the Nano.