The $2,000 car you can't buy

[via msn]

The much-anticipated Tata Nano -- at just half the price of the next-cheapest car in the world -- will be sold in India beginning in April. You won't find it in the US, though.

The cheapest car in the world is expected to begin rolling off assembly lines March 23, seven months behind schedule.

India's tiny Tata Nano, priced at 100,000 rupees, or about $2,000 at current exchange rates, will not be sold in the United States. Cars will reach dealerships across India in April, and production for the first year is expected to reach 250,000 vehicles.

The Nano's unveiling in January 2008 caused a stir worldwide and especially in India, where there are fewer than 10 cars for every thousand people, compared with 40 per thousand in China and 450 in the U.S.

Indians bought about 1 million cars in 2007. Far more middle-class Indians buy and transport their entire families on scooters.

Despite the frenzy of enthusiasm that ensued, production of the ultracheap car stalled when protests from farmers forced Tata Motors to abandon its West Bengal factory. The car will be built in small numbers at several current Tata factories until a dedicated factory is finished.

Tata, India's leading producer of trucks and third-biggest carmaker, last year bought Ford Motor's (F, news, msgs) Jaguar and Land Rover brands for $2.3 billion. While India's relatively small passenger-car market hasn't collapsed nearly as much as North America's, sales of passenger trucks, buses and other large vehicles tumbled 51% in January, a big blow to Tata.

35 horsepower, millions of fans

The company's Nano Web site has seen more than 30 million hits, and social networks such as Facebook have thousands of interest groups and communities around the car.

Why the fuss? The Nano -- its working name was the "People's Car" -- is just half the price of the next-cheapest car in the world, a Chery Automobiles QQ3 sold only in its domestic market of China. The $5,200 Suzuki Maruti is the current least expensive option for Indians, where per capita incomes are nearing $1,000 after years of explosive economic growth. In the U.S., the cheapest option is the Nissan Versa, which, at $9,990, is about five times the price of Nano.

With a snub nose and a sloping roof, the world's cheapest car can hold five people -- if they squeeze. And the basic version is spare: There's no radio, no air bags, no passenger-side mirror and only one windshield wiper. If you want air conditioning to cope with India's brutal summers, you need to get the deluxe version. Analysts estimate taxes, delivery and extras will add 30% or so to the car's cost.

At 10 feet long, the Nano is about 2 feet shorter than a Mini Cooper. Its 623-cubic-centimeter, two-cylinder engine is estimated to produce about 35 horsepower, good for a top speed of 75 mph.

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