Tata Motors' ultra-cheap car will be the least
polluting vehicle on Indian roads, the company's chairman said
Monday, refuting criticism that the $2,500 car would add to traffic
chaos and carbon emission.
Ratan Tata said his company will bring what is being billed as
``the people's car'' to market next year and its price of around
100,000 rupees would be on target, despite a sharp rise in costs for
steel and other raw materials since the project was announced three
Automakers from around the world are keenly watching progress in
the Tata project, which analysts say could set new price benchmarks
and force other manufacturers to follow suit.
But Tata has been criticized by environmental groups who say the
attractive price tag would bring the car within the reach of
millions of ordinary Indians, triggering more pollution and
burdening the country's crumbling infrastructure.
Tata said his car will adhere to strict quality norms like any
automobile in the developed world, however.
``We will have less pollution per vehicle than any other vehicle
in the country today,'' Tata told The Associated Press.
The pollution levels will be close to that of two-wheelers, he
He acknowledged there would be more congestion, but said the
answer lay in building more infrastructure rather than ask auto
makers to roll back production.
David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann
Arbor, Mich., said a small car with a small engine is likely to
pollute less than those with larger engines.
But a clean car in India likely would not meet U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency pollution limits, he said.
``Most of the developing countries, their emissions standards are
just sort of getting cranked up now. The baseline is not very
difficult to surpass,'' he said.
Tata said he was curious why his low-cost car that caters to the
aspirations of average Indians was being criticized.
Earlier, there was skepticism that the company could stick to the
price target and now it is facing ``flak for a different set of
reasons,'' he said. ``Damned if you do, damned if you don't.''
India is among the world's fastest growing automobile markets,
thanks to a booming economy that has boosted middle class incomes
and boosted demand for cars.
Initially, Tata said his company plans to make between 250,000 to
500,000 units a year. While the base model will cost 100,000 rupees,
the company will offer two more variants at a higher price with
added features, he said.
Keeping fuel usage flexible, including the use of ethanol, was
also being considered, he said.
Even with low labour costs, it's unlikely that Tata could produce
a $2,500 car with the catalytic exhaust technology needed to make it
super-clean by U.S. standards, Cole said.
``I don't think that would be achievable very easily,'' he said.
``Unless the $2,500 car has pedals inside.''
The project has also spurred other global automakers to explore
Already, French auto maker Renault SA and its Japanese partner,
Nissan Motor Co., are trying to determine if they can sell a compact
car for less than $3,000. Japan's Toyota Motor Corp., South Korea's
Hyundai Motor Co. and Chinese auto maker Chery could also be looking
to make ultra-cheap cars in India, analysts say.
According to German auto consulting firm CSM Worldwide, the new
car could help Tata Motors emerge as the country's largest
manufacturer of cars and light trucks by 2013.
Long a giant in truck and bus manufacturing, Tata has only about
a decade of experience selling cars, which are limited to a handful,
but successful, models. In India, it trails South Korea's Hyundai
Motor Co. and market leader Maruti Suzuki Ltd., which is controlled
by Japan's Suzuki Motor Corp.
Besides the ultra-cheap car, Tata said the company will introduce
several new models next year, most of them in partnership with
Italian auto maker Fiat.