| NEW DELHI
NEW DELHI India's "People's Car" has yet to be
unveiled and the advertising campaign has not even begun, but
some Indians are already raving about Tata Motor's new $2,500
car -- despite the fears of environmentalists.
"I am really excited and definitely buying the cheapest car
in the world as soon as they launch it," said Arindam Sapui, a
rice trader in Burdwan, a small town in West Bengal in eastern
This is exactly the kind of unbridled enthusiasm that
environmentalists have been dreading as they predict a plague
of ever-cheaper cars and ever-swelling clouds of
Tata will unveil its 100,000 rupee car on Thursday.
Selling for less than half price of the current cheapest
car in the market, it hopes it will tap into the growing ranks
of India's middle class -- rather like the Volkswagen Beetle
did in Germany or the Mini in England.
Sapui currently zips between villages for work on a
scooter, and was thinking about upgrading to a more powerful
"But my wife said the 1-lakh car would be cheaper and much
safer," he said, using the word for 100,000 in the Indian
Several more-established middle class consumers who already
owned one car also said it would make for an affordable second
car for a spouse, son or daughter.
But environmentalists may be relieved that some people
interviewed in New Delhi and Mumbai were more muted.
Some echoed fears that car sales will rocket as more people
become able to afford them. They were not thinking of gas
emissions so much as the horror of the commute to the office in
cities where roads are jammed and public transport is
"I don't think the car should be launched at all," said
Kishan Aswani, 75, who commutes for an hour each weekday to his
south Mumbai office.
"There is already a lot of traffic on the roads. Traveling
by train is impossible, you simply cannot get in or move out."
Tata Motors says a lot of these fears are unfounded. It
says the car will meet emission standards and that car sales
are already growing fast without the help of the People's Car.
"Given the rate at which the entire industry will grow,
even if we market it very heavily, it will still be a miniscule
percentage of the cars entering the roads," a company spokesman
He added that although the company is targeting first-time
buyers, it was also expecting a large portion of sales to come
from people trading in their old car as well as from people
already considering buying a second-hand car.
Widespread poverty is another limiting factor.
For people like Anil, a 22-year-old rickshaw driver in
Delhi, even the world's cheapest car still seems ludicrously
"No money," he said, rubbing his fingers and pouting. He
earns almost exactly the national average income, and so the
People's Car amounts to more than three years' earnings.
Likewise, Rakesh Kumar, a taxi driver, pointed out that
only scooters and motorbikes could fit down the tight alleys
that thread through the slums where he and tens of millions of
other urban Indians live.
But as millions more people join the estimated 50 million
strong middle class in the coming years, cars remain an
important marker of status.
"It's the same dream anywhere in the world," said Jyoti
Anand, a used-car salesman in Delhi. "You want a good home, a
good car, and a beautiful wife."
Baliram Thakur, a taxi driver, was also thinking of his
wife when he said he planned to make a booking right away. Then
someone told him the cheapest model came without
air-conditioning, and his resolve wavered.
"No AC?" he said, taken aback. "The wife will get hot, and
she won't like that."
(Additional reporting by Bappa Majumdar in Kolkata and
Swati Pandey in Mumbai; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Alex