It seems that the relative success of the Fiat 500 and the Chevy Spark is causing some soul-searching at Tata Motors: we hear that the company is again considering an American market version of its itty-bitty Nano.
The Tata Nano has been a mixed-bag--while it earned plenty of press back in 2009 when it debuted as the world's least expensive new car, it hasn't exactly been a sales success. The Indian Express reports that Tata sold just 74,527 units in Fiscal Year 2011, which is respectable but below original expectations. It doesn't help that the Tata Nano suffered some growing pains in the form of electrical/exhaust fires in 2009 and 2010. The problems have reportedly been fixed.
Which leaves us with one very big, very ambitious idea: selling a Tata Nano in the United States. To begin, the Nano cannot be approved for U.S. sales in its current form, as it doesn't have any airbags, offer any traction or stability control, or come equipped with two wing mirrors. It doesn't help that the car has no power steering and only 37 hp from a 624-cc two-cylinder Bosch engine.
If any Tata Nano can make it to the states, it'll probably be a production car fashioned after the 2009 Nano Europa concept, which uses a three-cylinder engine mated to an automatic transmission and adds electric power steering, ABS, stability control, and airbags. While the Europa was supposedly made with passing European emissions standards in mind (which means it could easily get certification here), we do wonder what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or Insurance Institute for Highway Safety would have to say about it. The final American Tata Nano would probably cost at or below $10,000, which would give Tata plenty of money to add safety and comfort features to the diminutive hatchback.
At this point Tata chairman Ratan Tata says he has no fully formed ideas on how the Tata Nano would be sold, seeing as Tata has no U.S. sales outlets; however, the automaker does have plenty of American sales outlets in the form of Jaguar Land Rover dealers. Perhaps Tata is considering a low-volume minicar with a luxury brand name a la Aston Martin Cygnet? Only time will tell.