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Nano goes on sale

Editorial Staff

India's TATA, which has had all manner of problems in getting factories set up due to local opposition, yesterday brought the Nano to the market. The eagerly anticipated "one-step-up-from-a-motorbike" car will sell in India only. It's price a jaw-dropping low of under GBP2,000 (equivalent). And everyone wants to know more.

The Nano is more than four wheels and a body shell with a basic motor. It is a proper car. In some ways, it is the spiritual successor to the VW Beetle (the original one), the Fiat 500 (again, the original one) and the Citroen 2CV (the lamented, and only, one). It's an inexpensive vehicle that does what it needs to do: get people from A to B over poor quality roads, through city traffic and keep them dry and their possessions locked out of sight.

The engine is at the back - and it's rear wheel drive - in the style of the Beetle and 500. It has a small engine (as did all of the above) and it makes use of modern materials to both simplify design and production and to lighten the car. Like those listed above, it is a four seater - although it's more like the Fiat in that the four people are going to have to be tiny to be comfortable.

There are all sorts of grand plans for the Nano including an EU version that will meet EU regulations: that won't be a cheap car - and so if it intends to be successful, it will have to deliver something more than cuteness. TATA says that governments from around the world have approached it to see if they could licence production.

For now, the car that is designed to sip low grade petrol and to reach a top speed of just under 60mph (as if one can ever reach that in most cities these days).

The exterior design is nothing special: indeed, most of it seems suspiciously reminiscent of parts of other cars - almost as if it's an identikit composite. Inside, there is lots of bare metal - again, harking back to the days of the classics mentioned above.In fact, the rear seats look remarkably similar to those of the 2CVs of the mid 1970s. That's not a bad thing as anyone who has ever travelled in a 2CV will tell you.

But, aside from the rather ugly pressed steel wheels (it's made by TATA remember) on some models, it does not scream "cheap."

It's a four door (don't be confused by the photo on the NANO website that has no centre pillar nearest the camera: look through the car - it's there in real life).

But, for cheap, there is one fascinating factor: the Nano website is built on the free software Joomla. That's a good thing: it shows that every aspect of this venture has been considered to reduce cost.

And yes, they have cheekily described it as "The People's Car."