The 20th century has a number of cars with the distinction of putting their respective countries on wheels. The Ford Model T, the Volkswagen Beetle, Mini, Citroën 2CV, and the Fiat 500 may all be classics now, but they were all once cheap, cheerful, and basic forms of transportation. In the decades since these cars last rolled off the assembly lines, worldwide safety and emissions regulations have made it increasingly difficult for automakers to build truly cheap basic transportation, but that hasn’t stopped some from trying.
Before it bought Jaguar-Land Rover from Ford, India’s Tata Motors launched the Nano with the intent of putting millions of rural Indian families on wheels. While the car’s original sub-$2,000 base price and 70-plus miles per gallon fuel economy made it seem like a prime candidate for people’s car status, it turns out that no one wants to be seen driving the cheapest car in the world. In six model-years, Tata has only managed to sell around 260,000 cars, and sales have dwindled down to about 1,300 cars a month as the company scrambles to move the Nano upmarket.
For the past few years, the Nissan-Renault Alliance has been trying to outmaneuver the Nano, but so far has run into many of the same issues. The companies (who have a partnership to develop cars in international markets) revived the Datsun name in 2014 for the Datsun Go, which is offered in India, Indonesia, and South Africa. At $6,500, the Go is a step up from the Nano, but the only real news it’s made so far is for its horrific performance in a 40 mile per hour crash test video, and safety organization Global NCAP’s official request that the car be pulled off the market and redesigned.
So it’s in this climate that Nissan-Renault is trying again with the Renault Kwid, a rugged little hatchback designed for the developing world that offers more upmarket amenities than the Nano while avoiding the mistakes of the Go.
At about 3 and 4 lakhs in India (around $4,600-$6,200), the Kwid is already being positioned as an alternative to other popular models in India like the Maruti Suzuki Alto, and the Hyundai Eon. Based on Nissan-Renault’s new Common Module Family-A architecture, its underpinnings could find its way underneath a host of future subcompact models around the world. Outside, Kwid’s five doors and high ground clearance make it look bigger than it is (a little over 12 feet long), but its clearance along with the rugged plastic body cladding should prove to be an asset on rough roads.
Inside is where the Kwid really succeeds where the Nano and Go have failed. A well-designed modern looking interior makes the Renault actually feel like a car. Drivers are met with a digital dashboard and optional touch screen infotainment system, with even a little piano black and chrome trim thrown in for good measure.
So far, it looks like the Kwid is the most civilized entry-level car designed for emerging markets. But don’t let its modern looks fool you, the Kwid is designed for markets without strict health and safety guidelines, and without safety features like anti-lock brakes and airbags, the car is absolutely prehistoric compared to anything available in America. In order to make a true people’s car for the developing world, automakers need to build a car that can be cost-effective without being cheap (unlike the Nano), and affordable without being a deathtrap (like the Go).
This is easier said than done – had the iconic people’s cars of the 20th century been put through such rigorous testing, none would’ve made it out of development. Hopefully the Kwid has learned from the mistakes of the recent past and can add safe to cheap, cheerful, and basic.