words Freddie YaunerOn Monday in Mumbai, India's super-industrialist, Ratan Tata, launched a "car for the people": the Tata Nano.
The predictably pod-like Nano will be the cheapest car in the world. Despite current economic climates, Tata stuck to his promise to make a car for Rs130,784 (£1,366). There are three versions of the Nano, with the cheapest being strictly no-mod-cons: it does just 65mph, has no airbags, no air conditioning and just one windscreen wiper.
Those who have experienced the congestion and chaos of Indian roads will wonder how the Nano, which does not meet safety regulations for Europe or the USA, will survive. However, Ratan Tata points to the everyday phenomenon of whole families cramming themselves onto motorbikes as evidence that the Nano is not only needed but will increase safety for many more people. Tata hopes the Nano will "live up to people's aspirations. The challenge will also be to have people understand that the Nano is not a Honda, not a Toyota. It is a low-cost car."
In the future, the company hopes to follow the Ikea business model, delivering the cars to retailers as a flatpack commodity to be assembled on site.
By global standards, the number of cars per person in India is very small, but that is set to change as the Nano is launched to the world's second largest population. The car is also set to unleash a host of cheap imitators, with many already in the pipeline by other manufacturers.
Charles and Ray Eames wrote in their Design Report that India had three advantages in the face of change. One was that "She need not make all the mistakes others have made in the transformation". Hopefully, Ratan Tata, who has the trust of the nation, will look at systems and infrastructure as well as encouraging a billion people to aspire to car ownership.
top image The world’s cheapest car costs £1,366 and can be bought in India from July
image This is the luxury model of the Tata Nano with airbag, air con and radio