I’ve never made a secret of my status as a Mahindra-stan and more generally, as an Indian cars-stan. I really admire the enthusiasm and creativity that the Indian auto industry puts into building really usable, really cheap cars. I’m not sure any other country in the world manages to approach the very bottom end of the car market with as much vigor as India does, and a great example of this is Mahindra’s new electric car, the Atom.
Technically, the Atom fits into India’s quadricycle category, a market segment similar to the European quadricycle/old sans-permis cars, or maybe even the American category of Low-Speed Electric Vehicles. Or perhaps more important, vehicles kind of like the Chinese Changli, which you may have heard about.
What’s important is that this will be the first electric quadricycle sold in India.
It’s a low-speed city car, the kind of thing that people would use for a huge portion of their basic transportation needs in town, commuting to work, running errands, visiting friends, all that sort of thing. Less so for long road trips.
Technically, it looks like the Atom will have a 15 kW drivetrain, which comes to about 20 horsepower, and that seems plenty for this segment. Top speed should be just over 30 mph or so, with a range of roughly 55 to 65 miles.
Based on what I’ve seen, it looks like the target price is about three lakhs, which comes to right around $4,000.
I’m getting a lot of these specs from this walkaround video. It’s in Hindi, but with enough English words sprinkled in to get a sense of what the narrator is talking about:
What’s most interesting here, of course, is the obvious: the design of the Atom, which I think is very well executed. It’s essentially a box on wheels, but, as we know, that’s the formula for maximizing interior volume, and I think Mahindra pulled off the box design here with some style.
It feels modern and pleasingly like a background vehicle in a sci-fi movie. The black front fascia works especially well, with the asymmetrical air intake grille and stylish lighting equipment.
It doesn’t look cheap, it looks modern and advanced in a straightforward way that doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard.
There seems to be a version shown that is a more upmarket variation with silver-colored front and rear fascias, but all the videos I’ve seen of production ones have the black front and rear.
Speaking of rear, I think this large rear panel opens to a trunk area, though I haven’t seen it open yet in any of the videos or pictures. Based on the dual latch setup, I wouldn’t be surprised to find it’s a removable lid as opposed to a hinged door.
I wonder if it can drop down to form an extended load tray like on an original BMC Mini?
The interior is as basic and spartan as you’d expect, but is well-designed and isn’t afraid to have a bit of fun, like this charming city-skyline pattern on the rear seatback. That’s great!
The dash is pretty basic, but there are multiple USB and 12-volt charging ports, a dock for a phone and an optional infotainment screen. The windows are roll-up, but there’s actually an air-conditioner! Really, it’s all you need.
There’s an English-language review where it’s actually being driven.
I know I have an idiosyncratic fetish for ultra-spartan vehicles like these that many don’t share, but I think on some level everyone can appreciate the raw, honest functionality and utility of a little car like this. Really, for many of us one of these for basic day-to-day stuff and then something bigger for longer trips would cover our car needs really well, and likely be far more efficient, too.
Plus, this thing seems like it’d be genuinely fun to drive! Light, tiny cars can be a blast—there’s no reason these kinds of vehicles have to be tedious punishments.
This feels very much like a more refined and usable version of my silly Changli, and after seeing how surprisingly useful that goofy thing is, I bet this Atom would be even better.
I doubt Mahindra will bring these to the States, but I’m gonna try to get in one, somehow. Weirder things have happened.