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The $2500 Car Answered

From a NYTimes article, a story about a new $2500 car hitting the market in India. It won't pass US or European emissions or safety standards, but still- how neat is this?

For Tata Motors of India, which will introduce its ultra-cheap car on Thursday, the question was, what could it take out?

The company has kept its new vehicle under wraps, but interviews with suppliers and others involved in its construction reveal some of its cost-cutting engineering secrets — including a hollowed out steering-wheel shaft, a trunk with space for a briefcase and a rear-mounted engine not much more powerful than a high-end riding mower.

The upside is a car expected to retail for as little as the equivalent of $2,500, or about the price of the optional DVD player on the Lexus LX 470 sport utility vehicle.

The model appearing on Thursday has no radio, no power steering, no power windows, no air-conditioning and one windshield wiper instead of two, according to suppliers and Tata’s own statements. Bucking prevailing habits, the car lacks a tachometer and uses an analog rather than digital speedometer,


Ehm... I think I'll pass and go for a used. On all those little bumpy roads I bet the lack of power steering makes for an interesting ride...

Naw, ride a car that has mechanical steering :) It's really doesn't require any more effort (but may take an extra turn to go full lock) :) Trying to force a power steering - that's just terrible :p

Very true. I grew up learning to drive with everything manual, and when rack and pinion (without power) came out, it was like heaven. LOL Does anyone remember those awful original power brakes ?

You mean the ones where it says "Power Brake" on the brake pedal? :p

Yeah, rather then the current "power assist" which are nice. One could loose teeth using the old power brakes (steering wheel meets mouth). :-)

I was driving an unmaintained grain truck last year when I worked at a feed yard. I believe it was a 44 ford dump model, all manual, even the windshield wipers had handles. You could only see the ground underneath you threw the floor in 4 different areas. quite fun backing up!

Yeah, I remember my grandpa on my Mom's side had an old p/u truck, no key, just a metal push button. Ah the good ole days :-)

More likely than not the PU had a keyed ignition switch or one that was replaced by a simple toggle switch. The old ford products came from the factory with a locking ignition switch, and that push button to operate the starter. GM vehicles used a foot pedal to operate the starter, and had a locking ignition switch as well.

I could have been a replaced switch, I don't know, I was young at the time (1960's sometime). I do remember wonding about the push button however.

Yeah, the good ole days, but this was a year ago! Sometimes I wish vehicles were made as durable now as they were then.

After listening to old timers who where honest with themselves, and everyone else. Along with reading old DIY magazines, and repair manuals, I have come to the following conclusion in the '70s already. I glad today's cars aren't as durable as the old cars. Because the old cars weren't that durable, nor easier for the back yard mechanic to repair properly.

Old vehicles weren't durable. They were just easier to fix. You could do most of it yourself. 

I had an 89 VW Jetta that needed the radiator fan replaced. The bolt heads are on the inside of the fan shroud so you have to take it off to remove the fan. That's a lot of work and you run the risk of losing or breaking bolts and clips. 

The catch was there was plenty of room between the fan and the engine to have the fan unbolt on the outside so an owner could do it themselves. There was no reason for the way it was designed except to make work for mechanics.  

''There was no reason for the way it was designed except to make work for mechanics.  ''

I can think of a few reasons... DFM being the first :p

You make a valid point here. Designing for manufacturability is a reason. But having the cooling fan I mentioned going in the other way would have made no difference.

I remember American cars from the 1960s that you could literally stand in the engine compartment with the hood open and work on the engine. That had to be easier to install the engine while assembling.  

.  I am a big fan of older cars - especially those from the late-1960s. I even have a '67 Mustang sitting in the garage that I'll get running "one of these days," BUT ...
.  Older cars were/are not very safe nor efficient nor reliable. No crumple zones, no padding on the dash, a stab-me-in-the-chest steering wheel/column, dual-brakes didn't become common until after the mid-'60s, disc brakes were very rare, since few ppl are mechanics most older cars were seldom in tune, carburetors are not as precise as fuel injection, spark plugs wore out faster, engines in general wore out faster, seat belts were an option, handling standards were much lower, HP/CID was much lower, &c, &c, &c.
.  Except for looks and ease of maintenance, old cars really suck. :(

American car's from the 1960's also had terrible efficiency by comparison. All cars from that era also had fabrication reliability issues - not a design problem, but an assembly one as they were assembled by humans.

A human misses a couple spot welds on the line because he was talking to his friend of line manager - you've got yet another squeak :p This was a case study back in college :p Robots do it tighter, more reliably and for approximately the same cost.

Don't get me wrong, I love the sounds, squeaks and rattles of cars from that period :p Call it romantic :)

As far as the cooling fan goes -it makes complete sense to me - having it go the other way would require a additional assembly operation and you wouldn't get the same shroud clearance due to assembly constraints...

I think the modern German and Japanese cars are part of a grand scheme to punish England and the U.S. for WWII.  Every time I skin my knuckles on a little, cramped Honda/Toyota/Nissan, I suspect that Hirohito is laughing at me (from his grave).

You're right.  The materials and construction process have improived such that getting 200,000 miles out of a vehicle is super common.  Back in the day, lots of engines needed a rebuild after only 80K miles. 

If they could just make them with modern materials and tolerances, but still as simple as an old MG or '55 Chevy!!!!

Well, there is the landfill problem and cost of recycling, but its also the safety issue, if that truck it a wall it stopped. and so did you. Where as now if you hit a wall these tin foil cars have no rigidity (if thats a word), making much more safe. You slow down like your driving a sponge, not a rock.

Cars today are much more rigid where it counts - but they are designed to deform (in specific zones) like crazy... As you said - much more safe... That's why I'm very wary of driving a car with any sort of frame damage.... I'll gladly take a hit with a higher survivability rate over a car that looks pretty after hitting a wall :) Alas, for safety, cars have become bloated with weight... The amount of energy in even low velocity crashes is much higher... The damage appears to be higher (it is) despite the slower speeds but people may think it's in fact weaker (not always the case)... What sucks is... If you hit a wall (and not another car), that extra "Safety weight" is working against you rather than in your advantage :/

They are built like that for a reason too.

If you are inside a "sturdy" car, and hit so as to crush part of the car, and the car is rigid, the occupants of the car will suffer greatly. If the car takes some of the impact and crumples, the occupants are less likely to be injured. It is a game of statistics. There are fewer "crush the car" accidents then there are "taking a pretty hard hit" type. So, they go with the odds hoping to keep "injuries" down, even if "deaths" increase a little. *shrug* Big business thinking, really.

Chances are the truck was delivered with wipers powered with a vacuum motor. and the manual wipers installed, when the motor gave out. JC Whitney carried maual wipers into the '70s.

Mmk, I'd be willing to bet the shocks on this car aren't the best either LOL. I wonder what the load capacity is?

Couldn't tell you... Whatever the load capacity is - it's likely to be exceeded :p

If you do that, the weight capacity will be exceeded, and the suspension will fail!

I drove a 1966 VW for a few years. Some said it rode like a buckboard LOL

Overall yes. yes it is.

Car's spontaneously catch on fire here in the US. It's an inherant risk of utilizing an internal combustion engine with an onboard fuel source. Is a $36,000.00 dollar that catches on fire because of an issue with a fuel line worth more then a $2,500.00 car? The answer is no. In the end, they both end up as burnt out shells.  

That said, the Tata was tested as a possible canidate for a compressed air car. I don't know if this was ever developed, but i know for certain it was heavily investigated. Compressed air as a fuel source would negate the tendency of the car to ignite it's 'fuel' source, and that seems like it'd put the Tata one step ahead of any other car (western or otherwise).

Finally, The Tata is manufactured for a different market. Just because it lacks many features we, as western consumers, have grown accustomed to doesn't mean it's necessairly an inferior product. It's important to note that selling a Tata for 2,500.00 dollars in India puts the car far out of reach for your average indian worker, who earns something like $1-5 a day.

Aaahh, petroleum, can't live with it, can't live without it!

Coming from a third-world country myself, I know the market that Tata's going for and it can work.

This is probably just a teething problem that will be sorted out fairly soon.

All that said, I do carry a fire extinguisher in my boot...

Learning on a car that doesn't have power-anything may enhance your ability to drive, as learning to 'feel' how a car responds is a large part of driving. Though credible evidence suggests that some of the modern luxuries in cars offer a life saving benefit, I believe some hurt our ability to drive.

By way of comparison, may pilots swear by the "fly by wire" method of aircraft construction (actual cables to maneuver vs. wires and motors). I suppose, like pilots, it depends on what kind of driving you want to do: an engaged feeling where you are in control, or autopilot.

I don't know about these litle gracker boxes, but Tata used to make some great trucks.  They were Indian made copies of the old heavy Mercedes trucks.  Simple, easy to service, and fairly reliable, not to mention AFFORDABLE!


10 years ago

Soo, how much will a second-hand car cost? plus it will most likely have a radio, power steering... etc.. maybe it's the fact people love losing a (few) thousand $$$ as soon as they buy a (brand)new car.

I guess I don't see the value in this invention?

A $2500 used car is likely about 10 years old. That means you'll constantly be repairing it. So it'll be costing probably a couple of hundred a month extra. 

As for this car, in India, you'll probably not going to be driving anywhere where power brakes would really be needed. Here in the west, they'd be nice to have and are fairly cheap. All they are is a vacuum line to the engine that opens when you depress the brake pedal slightly. All gasoline engines produce vacuum. Air conditioning would probably be mandatory here. It would be nice in India too, but not affordable.

If you were to exempt this car from DOT standards in exchange for banning it from interstates, expressways and parkways, added power brakes and A/C, you could probably sell a bunch of them here for $3000. Especially if you could limit insurance costs to like $500 a year.

anymore, a second hand car can cost MORE than a new one, if it is not in really good condition. Fix, fix, fix, fix, fix it. And a pricey used car is just a money pit (BMW, Mercedes, etc. )

Depends on how good it is on gas. If it is extremely harmful to the environment, then it isn't worth a penny. I would rather go with a green car.

being green is a luxury often only affordable by the affluent

There's this thing called the SMART car (I think it's called that), and it is relatively affordable, coming in about 15k. It is a small two seater, but all the tax benefits and the gas benefits will eventually become evident. And (I have a feeling), that as the popularity goes up, the price will go down. To my knowledge, they aren't in the states quite yet, but I definately want one. And no, not really (affluent comment). If you have a little smarts, and a little time, you can easily convert a truck into a biodiesel machine for a relatively small amount of money. You don't need green to save green. (bad sentence).

The Smart ForTwo, which will be on sale in the US, is not really very efficient. It could be, if they hadn't tried to make a sports car out of it, but they ended up with a cramped car that is vastly underpowered (not by typical US consumer standards, but by my standards, which are very low) and still gets less than 50 mpg. A nice used Honda Insight will cost about the same ($15K-$20K), get as good of mileage, if not better, especially if you learn to drive to maximize the electric power, and it will be able to get up to speed and have a gas tank big enough to get you somewhere. Easier and cheaper still, get an old Honda CRX for under $5K. It's by no means underpowered, but can still easily get 40 mpg.

The problem with the Smart is that it took so long to make it to the market, especially here in the USA, that it's been surpassed engineering wise by it competitors. You can now get  a subcompact that has room for four that has almost the same mileage.

Most people only buy a small cramped car because they'll save money on operation. If you can get a bigger car that is close to it mileage wise, they'll go with that. 

Smart fortwo is in the US for '08 starting at 12.5K IIRC :) In any case -- this is not for the US... It's for India... In any case - the "greenest" option is most likely sitting in your driveway (or parked where ever you left it) right now... The resources necessary for manufacturing far outweigh the increase in FE for the current vehicles available...

Clearly if you're in a poor economic situation you don't have the time nor the tools to convert your diesel engine (already more expensive than a gasoline engine) to accept biofuel. This also assumes you are in an area where biofuel can be obtained easily. I don't think you understand what being poor in India is. A top paying job in India such as a software engineer pays about $5K a year. While most of the country is making much much less, including the laborers who would do well to make about a dollar a day.

You must have grown up with money, a little saving for someone like me is maybe 20$ a month. Anything more and I'm skipping meals because I don't have the cash, I drive a 200$ used saturn sl1 that has a drivers seat broken in half ( I don't have the tools or money to fix it for another 5 months or so) it would take me forever to save enough for a green car. Imagine the insurance cost of one of them 15k cars whew!

The car is really cheap in price, but without having any nice features, obviously it was to reduce the cost.. This car has been specially targeted for the lower middle class, the people who can't afford a full fledged car and have to use bike 12 months of the year. Hence, for that class - its a dream come true to drive a car with more safety and luxury than a bike! Some facts - - The image denotes only the basic car, but the radio/AC/power staring options are available at extra cost! - this car has passed norms Bharat Stage III and Euro III - Almost 80% of the cars in developing countries do not have safety features like air bags in India. ( I drive $20000 car which does not have air bags) - The manufacturer is TATA - one of the top 5 companies in India. - TATA SOFTWARE is also the largest software exporter company in Asia. - TATA STEEL has acquired CORUS another steel company which was 5 times bigger than TATA - TATA is buying Jaguar and Land Rover - All FORD cars worldwide have 25% of parts manufactured by TATA After launching this car, other manufacturers (NISSAN, SUZUKI, TOYOTA) also announced the similar plans.

Its a bug with none of the good stuff!

I don't see how this is really such a big deal. It is a basic car without all off the luxuries that Westerners have been brainwashed into needing. You don't REALLY need a V-8, power steering/brakes, satellite radio, etc. This doesn't look like it would really be very effective in the crowded streets of New Delhi, Calcutta, Beijing, or Hong Kong. If you look at videos of a typical day, you will notice mopeds and bicycles zipping along at normal speeds, and the one car sloooowly lumbering through, trying not to crush anyone.

That's really awesome :) I'll bet the market in India for this is HUGE. I'm curious of what the material cost is - and how much people take home from actually building this car... This actually sounds like an earlier year Honda CRX - it didn't have a lot of powered features (it did have a/c though).... and got 57mpg according to the EPA (with proper driving technique, you can beat that number ;) ).

Carry on everyone, continue driving in tanks of giga-sized proportions... Your way of life is not threatened by other material objects (only things like.... our non sustainable use of resources)... Carry on.

To quote Daryl Hogue:

SUV's are named for the exotic places we'll never go, like the Dodge Durango or the GMC Yukon. There should be truth in advertising like calling them the Dodge Dubuque or the GMC I'm going to 7-Eleven for a Moon Pie.

...There should be truth in advertising like calling them the Dodge Dubuque or the GMC I'm going to 7-Eleven for a Moon Pie.

LOL. A case where owners resemble their vehicles; like old married couples...