Small wonder?

Two new vehicles were unveiled on opposite sides of the world during the last week or so, but they might as well be on different planets.


One is the 2009 version of the Dodge Ram pickup truck, launched at the Detroit Motor Show with all the razzamatazz you would expect.


Cowboys, cheerleaders and Texas longhorn steers helped parade Chrysler’s giant new 5.7 litre pickup through the heartland of the US auto industry in scenes that were – like the Ram itself – unashamedly big, beefy and macho.


For our second new model we must travel to India, where a rather different type of vehicle was unwrapped in Delhi by Tata Motors.


The tiny Tata Nano, all 650cc of it, is billed as the world’s cheapest car, retailing for the equivalent of around £1,200 in India and intended to bring motoring to the masses in one of the world’s most dynamic economies.


Obviously the Ram and the Nano are chalk and cheese, intended for radically different markets and functions, but it is impossible not to be struck by what they symbolise.


The Ram boasts the latest automotive technology, promising the would-be cowboy the ride of his life – as long as he is willing to pay.


The Nano, by contrast, is notable for what it hasn’t got. If you are prepared to wind down your own windows, do without air conditioning (which is a big ask in India) and put some elbow grease into the manual steering, you can get behind the wheel for the same price as an expensive mountain bike here in the UK.


What works in India certainly won’t translate around the world in exactly the same form. But major automotive groups are apparently sufficiently impressed by the buzz created by the Nano to begin looking at the bottom end of their own ranges and wondering if they can do something similar.


Whether it is in the developing economies of Asia or for increasingly cash-strapped Western families, a new ‘people’s car’ that inherits the mantle of Ford’s Model T and radically lowers the bar when it comes to the price of motoring may be an idea whose time has come.



Andrew Lee, editor