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Indian Automaker Launches World's Cheapest Passenger Car

Amid tremendous fanfare and expectations of a transportation revolution for millions of Indian families, the world's lowest-priced production automobile has been launched in India.

The world's cheapest passenger car is one of the most eagerly awaited product launches in India's history.

In front of a giant glowing sphere, a pair of Tata Nanos - each barely longer than three meters - rolled onto a stage on the grounds of an elite Mumbai sports club. It was an event broadcast live on many Indian TV channels.

The little car, with a 624-cubic centimeter 35-horsepower gasoline-powered engine, is being touted as the start of a socio-economic revolution. The Nano will potentially be transporting hundreds of millions of of people around India, where it is not uncommon to see a family of four riding a scooter or small motorcycle.

Tata Motors chairman, Ratan Tata, says that was his goal in building the Nano, rather than making the world's most affordable passenger vehicle.

"It was never conceived of as being the cheapest car," said Ratan Tata. "It was conceived of as being a car that would give the people of India an opportunity to own a car that had not been within their reach before. I hope that is what we will achieve."

Despite almost no conventional advertising, preliminary interest has been huge. The company says the Nano's website has been visited 30 million times.

Tata Motors on April 9 will begin taking orders - both at retail outlets and on the internet. Demand is predicted to wildly outstrip supply.

At a price of little more than 100,000 rupees, that is $2,000 - the Nano will be about half the price of models offered by the nearest four-wheeled competitor. Commentators predict Tata will have little difficulty eventually selling millions of the cars

Ratan Tata says a lottery system will be used to select the first lucky buyers.

"That is truly a challenge," he said. "We are aware that the demand is most likely to outstrip the supply in the near term even more so because this is an interim measure we are doing to get the product out."

Tata is referring to the troubles faced in West Bengal where the automaker had originally intended to turn out several hundred thousand vehicles annually.

Violent land disputes with farmers and threats by their supporters to never allow a single car to come out of a factory there forced Tata to move the factory from the communist-governed state to a more capitalistic friendly environment in Gujarat. That has meant a delay of many months rolling out the car and a small production run at an interim factory.

The standard model Nano will be very basic - no radio or air conditioning and just one windshield wiper. But for many Indians just having four wheels and a roof will be more than enough luxury at this price.