The Tata Nano, India's equivalent of the Ford Model T a century later, finally went on sale on April 9th. And while it may not seem like much of a car to US buyers, more than 200,000 eager Indian buyers put down deposits for cars that won't be delivered for as long as two years.
And that should be a relief to Tata, whose $2 billion purchase of Jaguar Land Rover from Ford Motor Company last August couldn't have come at a worse time, just weeks before the global auto market began to implode. Deposits of roughly 90 percent for confirmed Nano orders have added $500 million to company coffers (though of course they'll have to spend most of that money to build the cars).
And in a first for any Indian car, roughly 4,000 were ordered and paid for online, via the Tata Nano website.
According to Tata, in just two weeks, it received 203,000 paid orders and sold another 600,000 booking forms for the car. The first year's production of 50,000 cars from a factory in Pantnagar will be delivered starting in July. They and another 50,000 Nanos from a factory--which had to be relocated from Singur to Gujarat after protests over land seizures--will be allocated among paid-up buyers by lottery.
Proving the allure of optional equipment, just one of five Nanos ordered are the bare-bones Nano Standard model, costing $2,000. Another 30 percent are the mid-level Nano CX, which adds air-conditioning and power brakes, but fully half the buyers paid for the top-of-the-line Nano LX, which tops out at $3,300. That model has electric windows and door locks, nicer trim, body-colored bumpers, and more.
The Nano has gotten good reviews, from a first ride report in December to more recent full road tests. They pretty much add up to: "Yep, it's a real car. Handles decently, not that fast, fits four adults. Gee, that's pretty amazing, isn't it?"
While Tata will have its hands full with home-market orders for a couple of years, it's moving ahead aggressively with plans to sell the Nano in Europe and perhaps even in the United States. For reference, the Nano is 10 feet long, longer than the two-seat 2009 Smart ForTwo but shorter than a 2009 Mini Cooper.
Tata Nano Europa at Geneva Auto ShowEnlarge Photo