When Indian automaker Tata launched the world’s cheapest small car, it gave thousands of people across India the chance to own a car of their own for the first time.

While the cheaply-built Tata Nano might combine utilitarian construction, simple engineering and frugal motoring, Tata has come to realize that even those spending less than $2,800 on a car want something a little more...luxurious. 

At last week’s Geneva Motor Show, Tata Group head Ratan Tata said the humble Nano was about to get a major upgrade, from its peoples’ car roots to must-have fashion item. 

Almost a given will be an engine upgrade, up from the current. 0.6-liter 2-cylinder unit to something a little more powerful. 

Given the engine resides under the Nano’s rear load-bay floor, don’t expect the engine upgrade to be huge. At best, we’d guess it might reach a heady 1.0-liter 3-cylinder -- but that is purely speculation.

2012 Tata Nano

2012 Tata Nano

What we have seen on some concepts however, is the addition of stop-start technology, a must to improve air quality and gas mileage in heavily congested Indian cities. 

Alternative fuels play a part too, with Tata committing to a CNG variant of the Nano that can run on either gasoline or Compressed Natural Gas. 

A larger engine normally means better acceleration and higher top speed, so it’s no surprise that a recent Tata Nano concept displayed in  India featured disc brakes for the first time -- replacing the nano’s old-fashioned but durable drum brakes. 

There’s more. In addition to upholstery upgrades to make the Nano a more pleasant car for everyone, the Tata Nano redesign is expected to include a new dash, more air vents and leather seats. 

Why cover a car that we’ll never see in the U.S? A car that frankly, very few people would want to drive? 

It’s simple. The Tata Nano is a modern-day equivalent of so many small European cars that grew beyond their frugal, functional base to become behemoths of the automotive world. 

Austin Mini

Austin Mini

The Morris Mini Minor -- later known simply as the Mini -- was conceived as a basic, utilitarian car for four people and their luggage. 

Over its 41-year production life, the original Mini became so much more, becoming an iconic vehicle that embodied style, fun, and fuel economy. 

Today, that name lives on in BMW’s larger, more modern Mini, but the Mini’s roots have not been forgotten. 

Could the same happen to the Tata Nano? Could this be the next small to throw off its dowdy beginnings and become a globally-recognized icon? 

We think it could. 


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