A TATA Technologies eMO electric vehicle on display during the press preview day at the 2012 North American International Auto Show January 10, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA

Tata has unveiled the prototype of a $20 000 (R161 000) electric car that can carry up to four passengers in Detroit as it sets out to challenge more costly rivals.

Warren Harris, president of Tata Technologies, said: “The eMO project symbolises the coming of age of Indian automotive engineering.

“It’s a tangible example of Tata’s capability to engineer a full vehicle - a first for any Indian-based engineering services company.”

Tata Technologies does extensive consulting work for clients such as Ford and Chrysler, offing the “competitive advantage” of its experience in both developing and mature automotive markets, Harris said.

The prototype is Tata's “business card,” said Kevin Fisher, who heads the group's vehicle development team.

The objective was to demonstrate it was possible to build an electric vehicle with an attractive price, thought not with the intention of producing an electrified version of the Tata Nano.

“We researched numerous concepts for an internal engineering study that would highlight both the Tata dedication to environmental responsibility and sustainability, and showcase our global experience, knowledge, capacity and innovation,” Fisher said.

Fisher said Tata set a price target of $20 000 and then used a multidimensional approach to develop the vehicle using the company's “intimate understanding” of frugal engineering principles.

The end result was a small, urban oriented four-seat vehicle with a unique electric drive and operating software that weighs only 900kg.

The eMo also has a steel frame capable of meeting existing crash standards, while its architecture emphasises “right size” personal urban transportation by minimising its exterior footprint and maximising interior space, including seating for four adults.

“This next decade will see an ever-increasing demand for more efficient and accelerated product development that also will need to incorporate more new technology than the auto industry has seen in 30 years,” Fisher said.

The project eventually utilised the talents of more than 300 engineers at Tata Technologies’ four automotive engineering centres of excellence in Novi Pune, India, Detroit, Michigan, Coventry in Britain and Stuttgart in Germany. - AFP