Ratan Tata set his engineers the task of building a car under 100,000 rupees to put his countrymen on four wheels. This and other highlights from the New Delhi Auto Expo.

The other Nano
You've undoubtedly heard of the iPod Nano, and may even have the tiny music player tucked in a pocket or hanging from a lanyard around your neck. You can't tote the Tata Nano that way, but New Delhi-based Tata Motors is hoping its new subcompact has as powerful an effect on the automotive market as Apple's iPod did in media gadgetry.

The most striking thing about the car, though, isn't its size. It's the price: about 100,000 rupees, or about AU$2,900. Tata's goal is to get the Nano in the driveways of Indian citizens who otherwise couldn't afford four-wheeled transportation. Hence the company's preferred description of the vehicle: the People's Car.

Photo by: Kyodo

The man behind the Nano
Ratan Tata, chairman of parent company Tata Group, stands with the Nano after driving it on stage at the New Delhi Auto Expo on Thursday. He explained the motivation behind the car this way:

"I observed families riding on two-wheelers -- the father driving the scooter, his young kid standing in front of him, his wife seated behind him holding a little baby," he said at the unveiling ceremony, according to Tata's press release. "It lead me to wonder whether one could conceive of a safe, affordable, all-weather form of transport for such a family."

Photo by: Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images

What do you get for AU$2,900?
The cabin of the car seats four people "comfortably ... with generous leg space and head room". The five-door hatch is taller (1.6m) than it is wide (1.5m). From front to back, it measures 3.1m -- that's half-a-metre shorter than the current Mini.

Motivation comes from a two-cylinder, 623-cc fuel-injected engine. Tata says that this marks the first time that a two-cylinder petrol engine with a single balancer shaft is being used in a car. The model pictured here is the standard version.

Photo by: Tata Motors

Aiming high and aiming low
This is the deluxe model, though Tata didn't specify how it qualifies as such. The company emphasised that despite its size, the People's Car meets safety requirements. The car has an all sheet-metal body, crumple zones, seat belts, and tubeless tires. Tailpipe emissions are within regulatory bounds, and the fuel-efficient Nano "has a lower pollution level than two-wheelers being manufactured in India today," the company says.

The cars will go on sale in India later this year. According to

Photo by: Tata Motors

Coming soon to Australia
Small cars were a common sighting at the New Delhi Auto Expo, as too were European and U.S. automakers looking to catch the eye of Indian auto buyers. This is the Fiat 500, which has won a swag of awards overseas, including European Car of the Year. It will go on sale sometime in Oz this year for around AU$20,000.

Photo by: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images

VW goes back to the future
Also on display was the Volkswagen Up concept car, a design intended for urban settings. Like the original "people's car", the VW Beetle, it features a rear-mounted engine.

Photo by: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images

Star of the show
A key competitor for Tata Motors is Maruti Suzuki India, a branch of Japan's Suzuki, that currently has a lock on 50-percent of the Indian market. This is Maruti Suzuki's A-Star concept car which, the company says without offering any details on eventual production models, "symbolises the next level of (Suzuki Motor's) India commitment."

Photo by: Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images

Suzuki does big too
Another Maruti Suzuki concept car at the New Delhi show is the sleek Kizashi, which CNET's Wayne Cunningham says shows the Japanese automaker's burgeoning infatuation with "big, gaudy, and brawny wagons".

Photo by: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images

Chevy goes small
General Motors, meanwhile, brought its well-travelled Chevrolet WTCC Ultra concept car. The turbo-diesel WTCC Ultra sports several flights of fancy, including a carbon fibre body and rubberised dashboard. Its styling is a pointer to the next Holden Barina.

Photo by: WENN
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