When Ratan Tata, the head of India’s Tata Motors, said the company was planning to build the world’s cheapest car, he could have had in mind Maruti Jaywant Bhandare as his ideal client.
The 42-year-old said he had been saving hard for seven years, squirreling away 50 rupees (one dollar) a day from his business mending shoes in a battered money box for a 60,000-rupee motorcycle.
But when Tata said the Nano would cost just 100,000 rupees, the roadside cobbler in northeast Mumbai decided to wait and spent the next two years saving the extra cash to upgrade to four wheels instead.
Now Bhandare has just found out that he has been selected to be one of the first 100,000 people in India to get the keys to a Nano. He takes delivery of a standard version of the car next month -- and sets about learning to drive.
“I never dreamt that I would get a car,” he told AFP as he stitched frayed sandal straps for waiting customers for five rupees a time at his tiny stall in the Mulund district of India’s financial capital.
“I’m 100 percent happy about it,” he added.
“I always said that I would buy the car then learn how to drive. Otherwise I would never learn.”
Tata Motors launched the Nano in March, claiming the no-frills vehicle would revolutionise travel for millions of Indians, getting the country’s growing middle-class, urban population off motorcycles and into safer, affordable cars.
Three versions of the sporty, jellybean-shaped Nano went on sale in April: the basic model and more expensive CX and LX models, which have extra features like air-conditioning, automatic windows and central locking.
The standard model sells for 140,000 rupees in the showroom. The deluxe models cost up to 185,000 rupees.
Reviews were initially positive, with comparisons made to the European Smart car and the classic “People’s Car”, the Volkswagen Beetle.
But with Tata Motors likely to produce just 50,000 cars from existing plants after it was forced out of a planned factory in eastern India over a land dispute, concerns remain about whether it can supply cars on time.
Environmentalists have also expressed fears about congestion and pollution.
For Bhandare, who paid his 140,000 rupees up front in cash, such concerns are immaterial.
As the year’s first monsoon rains spill from the skies, sending water pouring off a plastic tarpaulin covering the pavement in front of his shack where he sits barefoot and cross-legged, he is looking forward to the freedom.
The first stop after picking up the car from the dealership will be the nearest temple to offer thanks to his favourite deity, Lord Hanuman, who is said to protect from evil spirits and curses.
“I bought the car on April 9 -- Hanuman’s ‘jayanthi´ (anniversary), so it was auspicious,” he explained. He has also chosen a car in his lucky colour -- yellow.
Once he has learnt to drive -- no mean feat on the crowded, chaotic streets of Mumbai -- he, his wife Anita and their two boys, Prem Kumar, 16, and 11-year-old Prem Das, will all use the car.
“My home town is about 520 kilometres (320 miles) from here. I go there once a year. So, when I get the car I will try to go at least once with it. Otherwise I will use it to go to temples,” he explained.