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Tata's Nano not the first 'People's Car'

March 19, 2009

Text: Matthew Schneeberger

Tata calls it the 'People's Car'.

Given the modest price tag -- Rs 100,000 -- and an ambitious roll-out scheme, the Nano could very well become a true car for the common man, ubiquitous on Indian roads and part of the nation's identity.

In that sense, the Nano is just the latest in a long line of affordable, mass-produced automobiles to lay claim to the 'People's Car' title.

One hundred years ago, when Henry Ford launched his Model T in 1908, he is famously said to have declared: "I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one - and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces."

At roughly half the price of its competitors, the Model T empowered an entire generation of working-class families to buy vehicles, and is still referred to colloquially as the car that 'put America on wheels'. In the 1930s, in Germany, the Volkswagen (which in German literally means 'People's Car'), became a source of national pride, symbolic of the Third Reich's hyper-patriotism and rush for modernity.

These two iconic automobiles, along with many other 'economy' models released over the past century, have worked to revolutionise the auto industry, by encouraging greater and greater segments of the population to become car owners. Here is a chronological look at some of the most famous 'People's Cars'.

Sketch: Dominic Xavier

Also read: The Nano's here! Who will it impact most?
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