When it comes to motors, what can you get for £1,300 these days? It may sound like a challenge for Jeremy Clarkson, but yesterday saw the launch of the world's cheapest car – the 100,000-rupee (£1,360) Tata Nano. But the Indian company is unlikely to be able to fulfil the dreams of millions of aspiring motorists just yet; production is six months behind schedule, and it will take more than a year to deliver the first 100,000 models of the "people's car".
"We are at the gates offering a new form of transportation to the people of India, and later I hope other markets as well," said Ratan Tata, the company's chairman, at the launch in Mumbai yesterday. Mr Tata never tires of telling his inspiration for the Nano; watching a family of four perched on the back of a single motor scooter and thinking they deserved something better.
There was a time when the only car to be found amid the bicycles and rickshaws on India's roads was the white Hindustan Ambassador – solid, steady and stately. India's roads today are more cluttered but also more democratic. Smaller cars - Marutis and Hyundais – rub shoulders with SUVs and Jeeps. Ambassadors are now mostly used by politicians and senior officials.
Yet it is not the Tata Nano that represents the biggest threat to the Ambassador's hegemony. In the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks it has been reported that security officials want VIPs to make a switch to armour-protected SUVs. While the Ambassadors may be fine for the tree-lined avenues of south Delhi, experts reckon the SUVs are better equipped to carry the additional 2,000lb protection deemed necessary in these unsettled times.