Tata Motors Ltd. (Mumbai, India) just unveiled the 21st century version of the “people’s car,” the NANO. Ironically, this year also marks the centennial of the original "people's car," the Ford Model T.

This year marks the centennial of the original “people’s car,” the Model T Ford. It transformed America and created a mass-market when it rolled out of a small factory on Piquette Ave. in Detroit in October 1908 (several years before Charles Sorensen and his colleagues developed the moving assembly line). But, while Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn, MI) is busy lauding its historic milestone in 2008, one of the new players in the global auto industry is busy carving out its own destiny by building a car for the masses.

Tata Motors Ltd. (Mumbai, India) just unveiled the 21st century version of the “people’s car,” the NANO. According to Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata Group, which controls the largest automaker in India, the new vehicle will bring “the comfort and safety of a car within the reach of thousands of families” when it is launched in India later this year.

Tata Motors’ engineers and designers worked on the long-awaited project for four years. The four-door, four-passenger vehicle will use a rear-wheel drive, all-aluminium, two-cylinder multipoint fuel-injection engine.

“I observed families riding on two-wheelers – the father driving the scooter, his young kid standing in front of him, his wife seated behind him holding a little baby,” explained Tata, when describing his vision. “It led me to wonder whether one could conceive of a safe, affordable, all-weather form of transport for such a family. We hope it brings the joy, pride and utility of owning a car to many families who need personal mobility.”

I wish all those new drivers many years of safe and happy motoring. But, I wonder why the top brass at Ford and General Motors didn’t come up with this idea. It sure makes you wonder what good old Henry Ford would say if he were alive today. Perhaps the NANO will end up in a museum next to a Model T some day. Better yet, maybe Tata's engineers will come up with a revolutionary way to assemble the vehicle – that certainly would be history repeating itself.