The Ford Model T was really only remarkable because it was produced in such large numbers. Painted just one color (black!) and available with only the most basic of options, the Model T was a very humble vehicle built en masse. Today, America lacks such simple, basic transportation…but over in India automakers are producing a new generation of cars that harken back to the era of the Model T both in simplicity and broad appeal.
Jalopnik’s Jason Torchinsky wrote a very compelling piece on why India is producing some of the most ingenious cars in the world. Because the average Indian consumer is so poor, any car with aspirations of selling in large numbers must be both cheap to produce and dead nuts reliable.
The Indians seem capable of doing both, developing among other things a Tata Nano-based van (called the Magic Iris). In order to save money and weight, the Magic Iris uses windows and a rear tailgate made from canvas. Coupled with an 11 horsepower diesel engine, the Magic Iris has very Model T-like specs; a 35 mph top speed, and a mpg rating of 70 to 80 mpg.
For the average Indian, who is lucky to even own a three-wheeled auto-rickshaw, the Magic Iris is a big step up, as is the Mahindra Maxximo. With three rows of seats and a 25-horsepower engine, the Maxximo also utilizes a primitive start/stop system and can even be had with a CNG-powered engine. An all-electric version is in the works as well, though EVs in India will likely have a very limited appeal.
The whole Jalopnik piece is an insightful look into how different and creative the Indian automakers are. It even landed Jason an invitation to see these cars for himself from the owner of Mahindra. Maybe while he is over there, he can find out what happened to the small diesel pickup we were supposed to get.