Monday, October 1, 2007

Tatas' Rs 1 lakh car to sport rear engine

Many may find it difficult to digest that Ratan Tata’s billion-dollar empire is getting its biggest buzz from something as mundane as the Rs 1-lakh car. However, for Mr Tata, the last few years have been spent personally overseeing the project which will turn the Rs 1-lakh car dream into a reality.

It’s a project that the entire auto world — from Detroit to Japan — is watching keenly, for it could change the dynamics of the global car market. Not much has been forthcoming from the Tatas so far, and the details of the project are a closely-guarded secret. Every time the management of Tata Motors has been asked about the car, all it has said is ‘wait and watch’.

Now, for the first time, ET has unearthed details that show there are many surprises in store beside the price when it comes to Tata’s small car package.

If you are dying to get your hands on the cheapest four-wheels in India (possibly globally), then be ready to change the way you drive in city traffic and load up the luggage while going on weekend getaways.

For starters, the base model of the car will be fitted with variomatic gears — which means it will be gearless for all practical purposes — instead of the standard manual gears on conventional cars. This is a radical departure, given that typically in India auto-transmission variants are priced higher than manual variants.

More surprisingly, the engine will be mounted in the rear of the car, pushing the luggage compartment or dickey to the front — a trend that is common in the international markets. The changes apparently have been made to improve its fuel efficiency and ensure that the price tag is kept to a lakh.

The higher-end version will feature manual gears and frills such as air-conditioning, power windows and power steering, among others. Most component manufacturers working on the car seem to believe that the basic version would find acceptability. “It is for price-conscious consumers and they won’t mind little less functionality as long as the price is okay,” said a component manufacturer working on the small car.

Given the stakes and the fact that this is a project which is being personally overseen by Mr Tata, full details are hard to come by with suppliers preferring to keep mum. “It’s a Ratan Tata project and a top priority for the company. Around 55 prototypes are already being tested in varied conditions around the country and the first car will arrive in the show-rooms by September next year,” says one of their vendors.

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