Warehouse C
The Tin Lizzy
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Important Innovations In Automobile Making - Cheap Cars

By James Donahue

Recent announcements by the India automobile maker Tata and car makers Renault and Toyota of planned production of newly engineered and ultra-low-priced new cars is an exciting idea that hasn't been tried since Henry Ford introduced the Model T in 1908.

Ford revolutionized the fledgling new automobile industry because he made it possible for every person in America to buy a new car. His cars, popularly known as the "Tin Lizzies," were basic with no frills. Ford joked when he said they came off the assembly line in the basic colors of black, black and black.

The assembly line also was Ford's invention. He made it possible to mass produce cars as fast as the American people could grab them up.

Prior to the Model T, anybody that wanted an automobile had to order a high-priced vehicle from the many different new manufacturers cropping up around the countryside. They were an exciting new idea in travel, but only a luxury item for the rich. Everybody else used horse and buggy or the railroad for long-distance travel.

Perhaps stirred by an effort last year by auto entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin to begin importing a new line of inexpensive cars manufactured in China, Renault began production of the Logan, priced at about $6,200, and Toyota has just announced that it will begin importing a new model car that will be even cheaper for purchase in the U.S.

The Tata Nano offers to undersell everyone, however, offering a new car that sells for about $2,500.

Bricklin's deal with China's Chery Automotive was temporarily stalled and cars by a rival company, Geely, flunked trial runs for U.S. emissions standards and side-crash tests. But such bugs are being worked out and Chinese cars are already in American showrooms.

While it is true that we have legislated a lot of costly requirements for manufacturers of cars sold in America, that designing an inexpensive All-American car might be a challenge for even the best of engineers, is is encouraging to see that someone is at last getting the message.

When the price of a new car got higher than what my wife and I agreed to pay for our first house, we gave up on the thought of ever owning a new car. When television hucksters try to tempt you to pay $250 a month on a new car, with no money down and no interest payments until next year, they neglect to mention that the full price of that car is somewhere around $30,000, that the finance company will insist on full automobile collision insurance with monthly payments that may be as high as the car payment, and that these payments are extended for longer than you may wish to own the car.

In addition to this, many states charge high rates for licensing of new cars, probably because state lawmakers feel that anybody that can afford these vehicles should be able to fork out the dough each year for the license to drive them. In Arizona we discovered that most people drove old jalopies because license fees for junkers were low. Plates for new cars and especially pickup trucks and vans could cost you hundreds of dollars a year.

The return of the Model T automobile has been a long time coming. Most of us just want low-cost, no-frill transportation that operates on an energy system that does the least harm to the environment as possible. Give us this, and we will buy it.

We might even let you put a radio and heater in it.