Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Tata's Nano Drives Into the US

Tata Nano
Source: Tata Motors

It's the small car creating big buzz.

And now the first one is here in the U.S.

The Tata Nano arrived Tuesday at the headquarters of Tata Technologies in suburban Detroit. The model is an actual Indian model Tata Technologies shipped over here to have on display at the Detroit Science Center for the next year.

But before it goes on display, I had a chance to drive the pint-size car.

So what did I think?

Overall, I was impressed. This car is not yet approved by the DOT for street driving, so my limited test drive was limited to an industrial complex outside Detroit. But even in short drive, the Nano impressed me with plenty of pep and responsive handling. Its tight turning radius will be an asset for zipping around in urban areas with tight spaces. For an entry-level car, it works. You don't get the feeling you are driving a compact car that lacks power and agility.

As for the interior, it's very basic.

There is a minimal instrument panel with a speedometer and heating/cooling controls.

The dashboard is basic molded plastic and the seats are covered in modest, not luxurious fabric. In short, it lacks the fit and finish American car buyers have come to expect. What may surprise some people is how much space there is inside the Nano. I'm 6' 1", and I was more than comfortable, in the front seat, while the back seat was a little tight.

Tata has said it will consider selling the Nano in the U.S. In 3-4 years. If and when that happens, there will be a market of buyers attracted to an entry-level car that gets 50 miles per gallon in city driving (70 highway). Keep in mind, many Americans clamoring for this car love the idea of buying new wheels for under $3,000.

America Meets the Nano

But if the Nano is sold here, the price tag could be substantially higher.

Some of that would reflect the added content so the Nano could meet U.S. safety and emissions standards.

And Tata may spruce up the interior fit and finish to meet American taste standards, which could drive up costs even more.

Bottom line: if and when the Nano goes on sale in the U.S. don't expect the price to be$2,500.

For all the questions surrounding the Nano and its future outside of India, there is no mistaking the widespread interest in this car. It's a pint-size ride with big time potential.



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