Page last updated at 08:29 GMT, Sunday, 22 March 2009

World's cheapest car hits Indian market

Karishma Vaswani
By Karishma Vaswani
India business correspondent, BBC News, Delhi

For the last 40 years, Gopal Pandurang has lived a life without many luxuries.

Gopal Pandurang
Gopal Pandurang has driven many cars over the years

He has worked as a chauffeur for top businessmen in Pune and Mumbai - ferrying them around the country, to important meetings in big, fancy and expensive cars.

He has sat behind the wheels of dozens of cars, from an old British Morris to the Land Rover he's driving now.

It's been an honest, hardworking life - albeit austere.

The salary of a driver in India can only afford you so much. Mr Pandurang has worked hard to support his family - putting his children in English language schools, so that they would get opportunities he never had.

Driving others

He's never been the kind of man to want anything for himself, working night and day to feed his family instead. But throughout his life, he has had one dream: to own a car of his own.

"I have driven so many cars, so many different cars, in my three decades as a driver," he tells me as we cruise around Mumbai's glittering Marine Drive promenade in his boss's Land Rover.

Gopal Pandurang
Travelling with a family without a car has not been easy

"I've spent my whole life driving people around in air conditioned comfort to wherever they want to go. But when my family wants to go out on the weekend, we can't all go together.

"How do you fit four adults on a motorcycle? We have to take the bus, which is very uncomfortable".

"My wife is getting old, and she can't do the things she used to when she was younger like sit on a bike or a crowded bus. I just want to be able to take her out for a drive in a car. My own car."

Mr Pandurang has never been able to think about owning a car of his own - his meagre salary meant that putting down a deposit or servicing a loan was out of the question.

Until now.

Prayers

Last January, Mr Pandurang and his family watched in awe and excitement as the unveiling of the world's cheapest car was broadcast on television screens across India.

They were sitting in the living room of their modest flat when they first saw Ratan Tata, the boss of the Tata Group, announce on national television that the Nano would be sold for 100,000 Indian rupees - around $2,000 (£1,370) at the current exchange rate.

"I was shocked" says Rakhee, Mr Pandurang's 24 year old daughter. "It was like God had answered our prayers - we could finally help to make dad's dream come true."

And that's exactly what Rakhee and her brother Rishikesh have spent the last year doing. Together with their father, they've saved up around $1,000 to pay for the deposit of the Nano.

Limited number

At a Tata Motors car dealership in town, the Pandurang family is shown the features of the Nano, and told about the requirements to book a car.

Krupal Shah, dealer
Krupal Shah says the waiting lists are long

"There's a long waiting list for the Nano", says Mr Krupal Shah, the owner of the showroom. "We won't get the Nano until maybe the first week of April but already I have had 1,500 customers call me to ask me about the car."

The booking details for the Nano will only be clarified on Monday 23 March, once it is released to the car buying public in India. Millions across India like Mr Pandurang's family are likely to be queuing up at showrooms, waiting to buy the car.

Environmental impact

But not everyone is happy about the Nano's impending arrival on Indian roads.

There are already over a million cars on the streets of Mumbai alone. And its not unusual to be stuck in traffic for two hours at a stretch on any given day.

Indian Traffic
There are concerns the launch of the Nano will add to pollution

The worry is that with cars as cheap as the Nano making their way to India's clogged up highways - infrastructure here won't keep up, and pollution levels will soar.

"India still has a relatively low ratio of cars to people", says Anumita Roychowdhury of the Centre for Science and the Environment.

"In comparison to Europe and America we have a real chance to try and develop alternative ways of moving around our country."

"What cheap cars like the Nano do is encourage people to go out and buy a vehicle when the government should really be coming up with policies to improve public transport."

But such concerns are likely to fall on deaf ears. This is a chance for millions of Indians like Mr Pandurang to participate in India's economic boom, and to get a chance to move up, and move on in life.

It is a chance to finally be a part of the great Indian dream.



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