Pixel concept was shown at the 2011 Geneva auto show.

It's official - the Tata Nano, the tiny, egg-shaped four-seater that Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata once hoped would put the whole of India on wheels, is a flop.

Less than 230 000 have been sold since it went on sale in July 2009 amid huge hype, based mostly on its selling price of just 100 000 rupees (about R20 000 at the time), which made it cheaper than a lot of scooters.

But what you got for that was really basic wheels, with a 600cc motorcycle engine, a top speed of about 80km/h and a reputation for being cheap and nasty rather than cheap and cheerful.

SALES DOWN 86 PERCENT

Scooter riders weren't interested because it was seen as not being enough of a step up from two wheels and car drivers didn't want it because it was seen as being a 'scooter replacement'.

Sales in March this year were down 86 percent from the same month in 2012, but even so Tata's new managing director Karl Slym has said that rather than discontinue the Nano, he wants to re-invent it with more performance and more features - at a higher price, of course.

NEW IMAGE NEEDED

While he wouldn't give any details, he told Bloomberg that the Nano would soon be available to “a wide variety of buyers and price points,” mentioning the Nano-based Pixel - a two-door hatch concept with scissor doors, a diesel engine and an auto transmission - as an example of where he wanted to go with the model.

But it will be even more important - and more difficult - to rewrite the image of the Nano as a dirt-cheap car for people who really can't afford any better.