So, the world’s media has now well and truly woken up to the potential of the Indian motor industry, thanks to the high-profile arrival of TATA’s fantastic new Nano – officially the world’s cheapest car right now at around £1500 all in and on your drive. It’s clear that costing is impeccable on the Nano, but what impresses me even more than this is that TATA has managed to create a four-seat five-door hatchback which occupies a footprint which is only a gnat’s whisker longer than the original Mini…
The rear mounted 600cc engine might not deliver bags of performance, but it’ll be more than enough for crowded cities – and those tiny dimensions will be a positive boon. The warm welcome that’s greeted this car across the globe has genuinely heartened me; it’s clear that the world’s media has finally identified that the car industry has reached a tipping point regarding the environment, and it’s finally taking the issue seriously indeed.
Okay, so the Nano’s raison d’être is all about motorising the masses rather than saving the environment, but it’s clear that in the future, whether we like it or not, an increasing number of us will be driving cars like this sooner rather than later. So, it’s a people’s car that may well end up selling like hot cakes for all manner of other reasons. Because even at £3000 with a tiny diesel in the back end, and with a few more home comforts, I could well see there being a willing market in Europe – and that includes badge-conscious 4×4 loving Britain…
I can’t help but also see a number of parallels with what we’ve been doing in the UK in days gone by. It’s a redefinition of the Mini-car; it’s just over ten feet long; and it’s a questionable profit-maker for its company. Also, as you’ll see, Rover was thinking along these very same lines (technically, as opposed to marketing-wise) way, way back in 1994/5 with its plans for a Mini replacement. The car that eventually appeared as the Mini Spiritual Too on the 1997 Show circuit was powered by a rear-mounted three-cylinder 600cc engine, and weighed in at just over three metres in length.
Because even at £3000 with a tiny diesel in
the back end, and with a few more home
comforts, I could well see there being
a willing market in Europe.
The concept had originally been shown to BMW’s management in November 1995 (just to put that timeframe into perspective, it was the same day as the Rover R3 200 was launched at the London Motor Show) as one of the MINI proposals – but was turned down by Bernd Pischetsrieder for being way too far ‘ahead of its time’. Many Mini enthusiasts reckon that was the wrong decison, and the TATA Nano’s appearance may well make them feel vindicated, but the truth is that the world was a very different place back then, and perhaps we genuinely weren’t ready for mould-breaking cars like this then. Maybe the radical MINI could have forced the issue sooner, and gone on to be another Mini breakthrough, but BMW wasn’t in the mood to play it fast and loose.
But it’s clear just how prescient those chaps (most of whom may well soon be working for TATA via Jaguar/Land Rover) who came up with it were.
However, the appearance of the Nano (and indeed the Mitsubishi i-Car) clearly shows that the time may well now be right, and car buyers are ready for something truly radical. Or maybe, just maybe, we’re loving the Nano because it’s compellingly cheap and we can’t resist a bargain.
Time will tell…
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.