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Cold Start: Meet One Of My Heroes

Cs Nano

Earlier today in our Autopian Slack channel, in between the shared pictures of various rashes and desperate questions about what may have caused them, Mercedes and I had a little interaction about the Tata Nano, and how much we respected the once-cheapest car in the world that is now considered something of a failure. Well, not to me. I drove a Nano back in 2018, and I’m having trouble thinking of a car that impressed me more than this humble little rear-engined Indian lump. Only $2,500 new. That’s still an engineering triumph.

The enormity of the Nano’s achievement only gets more impressive wen you compare it against other popular, inexpensive cars for the masses and convert their prices to modern dollars. I did this back in 2018 when I wrote up the Nano, so I’m just going to copy-and-paste that here, because I want to make this point yet again:

The Nano is even cheaper historically than pretty much every other people’s car, too. Take the Volkswagen Beetle, for example, likely the closest spiritual ancestor to the Nano. In 1968, the biggest year for Beetle sales in America, a new Beetle would cost you $1699, which is about $12,156 in today’s money.

A Nano cost right around $2500 in 2008, which is equivalent to $2891 today. That’s astoundingly cheap. A Ford Model T, to cite another famous example, was $825 back in 1909; that’s about $21,748 today.

Incredible! I hope somebody takes another stab at an absurdly affordable car one day. In fact, I hope that the creation of absurdly affordable cars would somehow gain the same status that carmakers try to grab when they build absurdly expensive supercars.

The cheap one is the harder goal to hit, I’m sure of that.

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34 Responses

  1. Too bad they never sold it over here 🙁

    We need more cars that are affordable. If we ever got it, the Nano would instantly become ever Uber car

    1. Imagine a gearhead Uber where someone picked you up and took you for a ride in something classic, antique, exotic, obscure, modded to hell and back, that sort of thing. Random too. One day a ’56 American LaFrance fire truck. The next a BMW Isetta. Then an Audi Quattro in rally spec. Maybe there’d be an extra fee and you could drive.

    2. I didn’t realize these were *that* cheap. I always thought they were in the $8-9k equivalent range, and in that bracket, they’re competing against a gaggle of used cars with better features that still have a lot of life left in them. But at $2.5-3k? Even used cars in that price range are a hot mess. That makes the Tata a lot more appealing.

      And I hadn’t even thought about Uber and their arbitrary model year cutoff. I would much rather get picked up from the airport in a 1999 Panther platform than the 2012 Prius that I seem to always get, but Uber’s rules incentivize their drivers to find the cheapest (to purchase and operate) vehicle made within the past 10 years. An ultra-cheap ride would be a game-changer for Uber drivers.

      This, of course, assumes that decent safety and environmental requirements can be met at that price point, which is a big assumption.

        1. Right, you are! I looked it up, and Uber requires vehicles that seat 4 passengers, so that disqualifies the Nano. Surprisingly, though, the Mirage has three seatbelts in the back and is listed on Uber’s approved cars list.

  2. The problem with the Nano is that nobody wanted to be seen in the cheapest car. In theory, it should have sold millions in the Indian market.

    1. Bingo. This is exactly why it failed. Nobody wants to be seen in a cheap anything, especially not in a status obsessed modern society. It’s not an aspirational vehicle in any sense, and Tata being an Indian company should really have understood their own market better.

    2. Not picking on you, but i do get tired of hearing this repeated everywhere.
      It’s a deeply flawed argument.
      It’s more true to say they built it far cheaper than they needed to! They had to really cheap-out the car to achieve the promised price target.

      With the same amount of engineering effort they put into the Nano they could have made a compelling car that would still be cheaper than the competition

      TL/DR they made the car way too cheap , just to achieve a number

  3. It would be really tricky to get anywhere close to that price while complying with developed-world safety and emissions regs. I would still like to see someone give it the ol’ college try, though. Could they keep it below ten grand?

    1. Probably, but the profit margins would be so slim that no manufacturer in its right mind would bother. That’s why there’s barely anything under $20k these days.

  4. Which is safer, more functional, and better built, a Nano or the ChangLi? One may be imported as a neighborhood vehicle and driven on many US streets. The other is illegal.

    Free the Nano!!!

  5. Related: anyone know how the Ford EcoSport does in India?

    Despite the attempts of the type of people who congregate here to like it (and we really tried), it was a total failure in the U.S. I’m curious how it’s perceived in its home market.

    And unrelated, sharing pics of rashes/discussing causes is in fact the best episode of 2 Broke Girls. “I thought taking pics of your food was weird, but okay…”

  6. Tata needs to make a new Nano… but as a BEV. I would be interested to see how cheap they could make it based on their experience with the first Nano.

  7. As much as i love small cars, i can’t get very enthusiastic about the Nano.I respect the amazing engineering effort they threw at it, but they aimed too low.
    And it looks wrong.Way too fragile looking.Awkward even.
    They built it to a mythical number rather than trying to compete with competitors. If they’d thrown the same effort into making a car *slightly* cheaper than the competition they could have killed it.

    I dont buy the oft quoted aspirational argument at all. If that was true there would be no cheapest car sold in india! Yes,the argument is that idiotic

  8. Could you buy a Nano in America? Was it street legal? Because I think that’s the main holdup, all the safety and (so-called) environmental gubbins car manufacturers are forced to bake into anything sold here

      1. well there’s still that *Unsafe at any speed* thing…
        The Nano was probably safer than the *unsafe at any speed* ones… at the speeds it could reach.

    1. It was street legal in India… and technically it was also supposed to be street legal in Europe ( with a 0 star Euro NCAP but at that price you couldn’t be finicky )

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