Duncan Tift visited Auto Expo 08 in Delhi and found out why the launch of Tata Motors' new People's Car carries the hopes of an entire sub-continent.

It was more than a car launch, far more. As one Indian journalist said to me: "It's not just a car, it's the hope of India."

No pressure there, then.

But in a way he was right. The launch yesterday by Tata Motors of its self-styled People's Car was one of the biggest and most eagerly awaited events on the sub-continent for many years.

A car designed and manufactured in India and which will sell for the UK equivalent of just £1,250.

But more than just its cheapness, the new Tata Nano as the little car is named - so called because in the words of Tata chairman Ratan Tata it is "high tech in a small size" - is indeed, the hope of India.

Tata's dream is for the huge Indian Metro class - the lower middle class who aspire to greater things - to cast aside its traditional two-wheeled mode of transport in favour of the comfort and safety of four wheels.

Just eight people per 1,000 currently own a car in India.

However, with the congestion in India's cities clearly evident, commentators here have said that the last thing the country needs is more cars.

But the tiny hatchback is designed to be more than just a town car. It is looking to bring cheap transportation to the more rural and remote areas of India, where traditionally cars are far outnumbered by motorbikes and scooters.

Mr Tata said he was confident the car could tackle the worst of the country's roads and had already done so in testing where it has been driven the length of the subcontinent and encountered some of the most unfriendly car conditions imaginable.

The car itself is a small five seater, five-door hatchback with a four-speed manual gearbox and a tiny 625cc engine capable of achieving around 50 miles per gallon. Top speed is around 104kmh.

It has also been designed to meet strict emission requirements and conforms to the Euro 4 rating, meaning it could be legitimately sold in Europe should the company ever decide to export.

The basic car, which will go on sale later this year, will retail for one lakh.

As my Indian friend said to me at the launch: "That means that for around 40,000 rupees above the cost of a motor-bike, a family can now have their own car, something that has been out of their reach until now."

And Ashok Singh, a constable with the Delhi Police, said at the show: "It's a dream come true. I look forward to buying that car. My wife will be really happy."

The level of expectation that has preceded the launch of this car has been unprecedented in India.

The anticipation reached fever pitch at yesterday's launch with thousands of journalists and invited guests cramming into Tata's exhibition hall at Auto Expo 08 for the grand unveiling.

More like a rock concert or a film premiere, the spotlights were dimmed and the dry ice released.

Then, to the strains of Holst's Planets Suite and the accompaniment of a thousand flashbulbs and spontaneous applause, the little car took centre stage, driven there by Mr Tata himself.

After a speech in which he outlined his hopes for the model and praised its designers and engineers, he was subjected to a media scrum as hundreds of photographers raced to be the first to picture the new car.

Amid the chaos, Mr Tata had to be ushered off stage by security officers for his own protection.

He re-emerged a short time later to answer questions from the Indian media on the development of the Nano and what it meant for India.

However, he is clearly a man who is not to be rushed and if he is asked a question which he does not want to answer, he politely evades it with the skill of an accomplished politician.

The matter of margins and volumes were sidestepped, the chairman opting instead to say that the consumer should decide.

Asked on the likely profits, he merely said that his company was in business to make money and was not a philanthropic exercise.

However, philanthropy can go hand in hand with business where required.

This is evident from the location Tata has chosen to manufacture the car.

The region of West Bengal in East India has been neglected in terms of manufacturing and so the company opted to invest there, bringing new jobs and prosperity to the area.

The decision to locate its plant where it has came despite attempts by more established manufacturing areas to woo it away to them.

"We are a very responsible company," said Mr Tata.

"We play an important part in improving the quality of life of a community and this is what we shall do in East India."

The next few years will show whether the Nano is capable of achieving what the company wants.

Tata has said it will initially produce about 250,000 Nanos and expects eventual annual demand of one million units.

For now the focus is primarily on India but there is talk of exporting to Africa, Latin America and South East Asia.

How long before the Nano becomes the hope of these areas as well?