Tata Nano became a global sensation when launched in the market. The entry-level hatchback with a shocking launch price tag of then Rs. 1 Lakh created a sensation around the world. The Tata Nano lived for a decade but failed to attract the customers because of the status-conscious market. But long before the inception of the Tata Nano, there was a Meera mini car from India and it can be regarded as the spiritual ancestor of the Tata Nano. Kulkarni aimed to price the people’s car at around Rs. 12,000 in the market, which was exceptionally good.
Shankarrao Kulkarni, a school dropout was well-known for his expertise in engineering. Kulkarni came up with the idea of making a people’s car in 1945 when India was still under British rule. By 1949, he made the first two-seater prototype model. In 1951, he came with another prototype, which had three seats and then improvised it to make another prototype in 1960.
The car had a lot of innovative features. It got an air-cooled engine mounted in the rear, was lightweight and got many cost-saving parts like the all-rubber suspension. Kulkarni said that the rubber suspension saved the use of over 100 spare parts and because they were an independent suspension, the shock from one wheel did not get transferred to the others. The ground clearance of the vehicle could be changed too. There was a minimum ground clearance of 6 inches and a maximum of 11 inches.
All the prototypes produced by Kulkarni were extremely fuel efficient. The 1951 model returned a maximum of around 21 km/l and could reach a top speed of around 90 km/h. The air-cooled 19 horsepower engine was not that powerful on paper but was very efficient.
The prototypes of the Meera were coming fast and after the 1960 design, Kulkarni design a final one in 1970. The last prototype had the styling of the 70s but the Meera car remained small and tiny as ever. The car came with three doors. One on the driver’s side and two on the opposite side. It was still a rear-engine set-up. In 1975, Kulkarni added a water-cooled V-Twin engine in the car that produced 14 Bhp and mated it to a 4-speed transmission. The car was now complete with four-seats, a small trunk in the front, and good fuel efficiency of around 21 km/l.
While Kulkarni planned to sell the car for Rs. 12,000, according to his grandson, Hemant Kulkarni, the formalities of launching a car and red tape prevented the vehicle from going into production. Kulkarni even drove the vehicle to Mumbai to showcase it at an exhibition. He even got an offer from Jaysinghpur municipality for a free land where Kulkarni could set-up a new factory for the car. But the bureaucracy in those times prevented Kulkarni from going ahead and the government also did not provide assistance for the vehicle. Soon after, Suzuki landed in the Indian market and changed the whole scenario with their first car – 800.
If only Kulkarni’s Meera had gone into production, the Indian automotive scenario could have been much different. However, Tata tried the same with the Nano when it was launched in 2008 but failed to attract the customers.