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CAR confidential: A car for the price of a TV? It’s reality

Ever wondered how cheap a really simple, back-to-basics new car could be? The eponymous boss of Asian manufacturer Tata has.

Ratan Tata is the driving force behind the ‘one-lakh’ car, the firm’s upcoming bargain-basement vehicle that’s designed to mobilise India.

It’s an intriguing prospect. One lakh is the local lingo for 100,000 rupees, or £1,400. For a car.

That’s a brand new vehicle for the price of a widescreen TV or week-long holiday (in western terms). “It will be a rear-engined, four- or five-door car with about a 30 horsepower engine,” says Tata, the chairman. “It will not be a scooter, three-wheeler or an auto-rickshaw made into a car, and its cost will be between a motorcycle and a car.”

How will he do it? Everything about the one-lakh car is simple. The gearbox is a stepless CVT, body panels are plastic and glued together, while the engine is a basic two-cylinder. If equipment or technology isn’t strictly necessary, it will be dumped. But Tata is adamant the newcomer will meet contemporary crash and emissions standards; it won’t be totally rudimentary.

The engineers are studying technology from motorcycles, adapting cheaper engine management and injection systems from two wheels to be used on four. And the car will be built by dealers, not in factories.

Why is the one-lakh car important? Because the global market for ultra-cheap cars is booming. By the end of the decade, they will account for 13% of the global car market, and western manufacturers are developing cheap ‘n’ cheerful cars too: VW is readying a basic car to slot under the Fox, Toyota will launch a sub-Aygo model and Renault is preparing a £2,000 car for India.

Don’t expect UK dealers to sell cars for a grand, but the know-how garnered in emerging markets should make European cars more profitable in the long run.

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