Ratan Tata is due to give an eager world the first glimpse of his “one-lakh” small car on Thursday.
The quest for a people’s car is an old one. In the 1930s, Adolf Hitler pushed for the Volkswagen. Then there was the Fiat 500 that helped post-war Italians move from scooters to cars. Will the Tata car—and the one planned by Bajaj Auto —do the trick in our times?
The car’s engineering and design will be tested and commented on in the months ahead. It’s hard to guess right now how good they will be. However, a comparison with the other people’s car—the Maruti 800 —tells us a lot about how many can afford it.
The Maruti 800 hit the road in 1984. It was priced at Rs60,000—or around Rs2.4 lakh in today’s money. Real incomes have more than quadrupled since then. The Tata car is thus relatively far more affordable. If their engineering is good, the new people’s cars could create a bigger motoring revolution than the Maruti 800 ever did.