Six years after promising Indians the world's cheapest car that meets both their aspirations and budgets, the Tata group commercially launched the little Nano here Monday despite roadblocks, with bookings for the first set of 100,000 vehicles slated from April 9-25 and deliveries from July.
"We are keeping our promise," the soft-spoken chairman of the group, Ratan Tata, told the army of media teams from India and overseas that converged at the Taj Mahal Palace and Towers hotel, which was at the centre of world attention when terrorists struck last November.
"We had never conceived the Nano as the cheapest car but as a vehicle to enable Indian families own an affordable, all-weather mode of transportation," he said, as the hotel came alive again with journalists jostling to hear the 71-year old chairman of India's largest business house.
Tata kept the announcement on the actual retail price for later. But company officials said they were planning the price for the base model at Rs.100,000 ($2,000) at factory gates.
Nano will be available in three variants - standard, deluxe and luxury. The base model will have no air-conditioning.
Tata also said the car had been delivered despite "somewhat trying circumstances", referring to the days just five months ago when the group had to shift its upcoming factory out of Singur in West Bengal, following protests by some farmers over the acquisition of their land for the project.
"You really don't want to wait too long for the car, because it is like waiting for a pretty woman - you wait for too long and she becomes fat and old," he said. But on a serious note, he said the group would try to bring down the waiting period as much as possible.
"All we set out to do was find a safer way to move Indian families at an affordable price," Tata said, while complimenting the 500-member Nano team at the Pune centre headed by their engineer Girish Wagh.
Asked what he would like to tell the Trinamool Congress chief, who had led the protests at Singur, Tata, responded with his usual understated style: "My only statement to Mamata Banerjee is, 'Good afternoon'."
He also said that Nano was being commercially launched some nine months ahead of the commissioning of its new project site at Sanand in Gujarat, some 45 km from the state's commercial capital Ahmedabad.
The first set of cars is being manufactured at Pantnagar in Uttarakhand and Pune in Maharashtra. Some 100,000 cars will be initially allocated through a system of lottery. "This will be price-protected," Tata said.
Application forms will be available for Rs.300 across some 30,000 centres, including the existing dealers of Tata group vehicles, as also Westside apparel stores and Croma appliance chain promoted by the $62.5-billion group.
The down payment for the car, for which forms will also be available from Titan stores and select branches of the State Bank of India, will be Rs.2,999, and the company will pay an interest of 8.5 percent to those who don't get firm allotment.
"We are aware that the demand is most likely to outstrip the supply in the near term, because this is an interim launch, until the Sanand facility becomes fully operational," Tata said.
He said this facility will be able to produce 250,000 vehicles per annum initially and production would be scaled up to 500,000 units in the near term. It will be ready by end-2009, officials said.
Tata said that the group was also developing a Nano variant for the US market. That would hit the roads in 2011.
The four-door car has a small 33-bhp engine at the rear and is targeted at the strong middle class population of Indians who aspire to trade their two-wheelers for a safer automobile.
With a length of 3.1 metres, a width of 1.5 metres and a height of 1.6 metres, Nano also has adequate ground clearance and can effortlessly manoeuvre on busy roads in cities as well as in rural areas.