Tata Nano Europa at Geneva Auto Show

Tata Nano Europa at Geneva Auto Show

We've written before about the Tata Nano, India's revolutionary $2,500 mini-car. Unveiled in January 2008 by Tata (which now owns Jaguar Land Rover as well), it had a rocky launch as a near-completed factory had to be abandoned after local protests over land payments.

Today the first Nano buyer has officially received his car, one of an initial batch of 50 built at a substitute factory. More than 200,000 orders have been received for the car since April.

While just 10 feet long, the four-seat Nano is tall, increasing its volume. The 32-horsepower, 623cc two-cylinder engine is fitted with multipoint fuel injection and modern emissions controls. The 1120-pound car has a top speed of about 60 miles per hour.

The Nano has been widely touted in India as "the 1-lakh car", meaning 100,000 rupees, or less than $2,500. That's half the price of the next cheapest car currently sold in India, a 25-year-old Suzuki design. Tata guaranteed that its first 100,000 Nanos would be sold at that figure.

To hit the price goal, the engine is fitted under the rear seat, avoiding costly front-wheel-drive parts. The Indian-market Nano forgoes airbags, air-conditioning, power steering, central locking, electric windows, a radio, a passenger-side mirror, even sun visors and a second windshield wiper.

Many of the Nanos ordered, however, have not been the base model but the better-equipped versions. Just 20 percent, in fact, were the cheapest and most sparsely equipped.

At the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year, Tata showed the Nano Europa, a modified version of the car to be sold in Europe starting in 2011. Autocar magazine has published a video showed the car passing its European offset-barrier crash tests, bringing it a step closer to market.

There has been some debate about whether providing inexpensive volume cars to millions of the world's currently car-less citizens is environmentally responsible. But the huge demand for safe, basic mobility seems likely to render the question moot.

While Tata has considered also bringing the Nano to the US, no decision has been made yet on what further modifications might be required to meet US safety and emissions standards, among the world's most stringent.

[SLIDESHOW of Tata Nano Europa images from IndianAutosBlog]