...the $2,500 car, scheduled for introduction Thursday by the Indian company Tata, swims against the current, with a rear-mounted engine, a trunk that fits little more than a briefcase, and plastics and adhesives replacing metal and bolts in certain nooks.
....Yet it is unclear whether the Tata car itself, so small and wispy and lacking the most cutting-edge emissions and safety technologies, will ever drive a Western road - or whether it can sell briskly enough at home to reap a profit.
The "People's Car," so called in homage to Volkswagen's Beetle and Ford's Model T, is a carefully guarded secret. The company refuses to provide details of how it was built, and it has signed legal agreements with suppliers not to divulge details. ....
The handful of people who have seen the car describe a tiny, charming, four-door, five-seat hatchback shaped like a jellybean, tiny in the front and broad in the back, the better to reduce wind resistance and permit a cheaper engine.
....Driving the cost-cutting were Tata's engineers, who in an earlier project questioned whether their trucks really needed all four brake pads or could make do with three. As they built the People's Car, for about half the price of the next-cheapest Indian alternative, their guiding philosophy appears to have been one question: Do we really need that?
The model appearing Thursday has no radio, no power steering, no power windows, no air conditioning, and one windshield wiper instead of two, according to suppliers and Tata's own statements.
Bucking prevailing habits, the car lacks a tachometer and uses an analog rather than digital speedometer, according to Ashok Taneja, who until recently was president of the Automotive Component Manufacturers Association of India, representing many of Tata's suppliers as they signed deals with the company.
"So what if I'm going at 65 or 75?" Taneja said, referring to the use of a less precise speedometer.
....Critics of the Tata car have asked how a car that prunes thousands of dollars from regular prices can comply with safety and environmental norms. The answer may be that it comes at a fortuitous moment in India's developmental arc, when India is affluent enough to support vigorous demand for cars but not yet so affluent as to have enacted the regulations common to wealthy countries. Tata executives say the car will comply with all Indian norms.
....In a recent interview, Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Group, also suggested that the car's lightness, while favorable for the environment, had frustrated efforts to make it safe. "We will have far lower emissions than today's low-end cars," he said. But, he added, "The emissions standards were much easier to meet than the crash test."