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The Tata Nano: world's most affordable car set to hit the street in India

Tata Motors’ Nano, billed as the world’s cheapest (new) car, with base models selling for about $2,000 (or 100,000 rupees) is expected to sell like hot cakes when the company starts taking orders for it on April 9.

The no-frills Nano has a two-cylinder engine mounted in the rear (like the classic Volkswagen Beetle), giving it a top speed of 65 miles (105 kilometers) per hour. The base model comes sans air conditioning and power windows, but those amenities are available in deluxe models.

The Nano is aptly named as it stretches just a bit over 10 feet (3 meters) long, making it about four feet (1.2 meters) shorter than the 2008 Ford Focus hatchback, a compact car by U.S. standards. The ride weighs in at just 1,300 pounds (660 kilograms), about half of a Focus hatchback. This light weight partially explains the Nano’s low cost because fewer raw materials were needed to make it, according to the Chicago Tribune. A big bonus: Lightness also gives the Nano a very fuel-efficient 55 miles per gallon (24 kilometers per liter) of gasoline, Tata Motors says.

Small as they may be, the Nano gives millions of low-income people in India and other places a chance at buying a comparatively safe automobile rather than sticking with the two-wheeled motor scooters that whole families sometimes use to get around. Nearly 50 million people own such scooters in the subcontinent alone, according to the India Times, and as these drivers upgrade to four wheels, the Nano is expected to boost Indian auto sales by a soaring 65 percent.

That prospect has some environmentalists very alarmed, including the United Nations' top climate scientist Rajendra Pachauri who told USA Today that he's "having nightmares" about the Nano. Flooding the developing world's streets with carbon-emitting gas-powered vehicles is not exactly what green-conscious policy makers have in mind when it comes to stemming global warming.

Nevertheless, Tata Motors says that the Nano will be the least-polluting car in India, and that it plans to debut even greener hybrid and electric versions of it. The company says it may begin exporting the car to other countries including the U.S. as early as 2011.

ScientificAmerican.com would like to thank atulskulkarni for Twittering us about the Nano after reading a run-up post yesterday to today’s unveiling of the Tesla Motors' all-electric Model S Sedan prototype.

The Nano, in Sunshine Yellow. It also comes in Racing Red, Summer Blue, Ivory White, Champagne Gold and Lunar Silver. Image Credit: Flickr / SanDev

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