I was recently reading about the Tata Nano, which was the cheapest car in the world when it came out about a decade ago. Offered mainly for India, where Tata is headquartered, the Nano’s starting price was around $2,500 — for a new car! It was initially hailed as a great success for bringing personal mobility to India, but then people started to realize just how terribly compromised the Nano actually was.
What were some of its ridiculous compromises? Here’s my favorite: Even though the Nano looks like a hatchback, it isn’t. The Nano has a hatchback design, but it didn’t have an opening trunk until the 2015 model year, a full seven years after it went on sale. Instead, the only way to access the cargo area was through the inside of the car.
Of course, other cost-cutting measures are just as hilarious. For instance, it had only one windshield wiper. Fine, you might say — so did some Mercedes-Benz models in the 1990s. Well, how about this: It had only three lug nuts. I bet there weren’t any 1990s Mercedes-Benz models in that situation. The Nano also came standard with manual steering, no radio, no air conditioning and no passenger-side mirror. The Nano was also never offered with airbags, in any trim level, no matter how much you paid.
Then there’s the fueling. If you look at pictures of Nano models, you’ll quickly realize that there’s no external fuel door. So, uh, how exactly do you fill this thing up? The answer is … under the hood. That’s right: When you pull up to a gas station, you have to open up the hood to find the fuel-filler cap. This was apparently cheaper than sticking it on the outside.
The Nano had other obvious "incredibly cheap car" features, too, like 12-inch wheels, 4-wheel drum brakes, and a 0.6-liter 2-cylinder engine that made just 37 horsepower and 38 lb-ft of torque, resulting in a top speed of just 65 miles per hour.
I’d love to review a Nano, if only just to point out all of its comical inadequacies — shortcomings that were actually bested by other Indian-market cars that weren’t that much cheaper. Unfortunately, the odds of someone importing a Nano to the United States are low — but maybe, someday, I can drive around in one, pushing the top speed of 65 mph to give those drum brakes a real workout.
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