Tata Motors’ much-hyped Nano minicar – first shown at the Delhi motor show in January 2008, was finally launched at a press conference today but won’t be displayed at dealers until 1 April and the initial order process – first deliveries aren’t till July – is extraordinary.

The automaker said it was sticking to the promised INR100,000 (1 lakh) starting price for the car (£1,369) before transportation costs and VAT tax, and said it would operate a “booking [order taking] mode” for the Nano due to the “expected significant demand and limited production capacity initially until the Sanand plant is fully ramped up to capacity”.

The State Bank of India will manage the process under which application forms will be sold and accepted from 9 to 25 April. The forms cost INR300 at about 30,000 dealer, financial institution and retail store locations throughout the country.

Tata has arranged financing through 15 “preferred” providers and an application costs a INR2,999 deposit to submit.

Within 60 days after bookings close, Tata will randomly allot 100,000 cars for the first delivery phase. These will all be sold at launch prices but booking deposits will not return any interest to customers.

Unsuccessful applicants can leave their booking deposit with Tata and will start to earn interest (from 8.5%) when Tata announces the second delivery phase. They’ll get 8.75% if in the queue for more than 2 years.

Indian-specification Nano models will have a two-cylinder, all-alloy, 624 cc petrol engine and four-speed manual gearbox with three trim levels.

Tata chairman Ratan Tata said: “I hope it will provide safe, affordable, four-wheel transportation to families who till now have not been able to own a car.”

The car is currently made at the company’s Pantnagar plant in Uttarakhand until the new dedicated plant, at Sanand in Gujarat, is ready in 2010 with annual capacity of 350,000.

Tata claims the Nano, 3.1m long, 1.5m wide and 1.6m high has the smallest footprint of any car sold in India but is 21% more spacious. Turning radius is just 4m.

The standard model comes in just three colours  and has single-tone upholstery and a fold-down rear seat.

The CX has five colour options, heating and air-conditioning (HVAC), two-tone trim, parcel shelf  and power brakes while the LX adds fabric seats, central locking, power front windows, fog lamps, electronic trip meter, cup holder, mobile charger point and rear spoiler, and comes in three ‘premium’ body colours.

The car has a top speed of 105 km/h (about 65mph) and runs up to 23.6 km on a litre of fuel (about 67mpg) under Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) testing.

A recently announced European version will have a larger three-cylinder engine.

There are no airbags or anti-lock brakes on the domestic versions which will have an 18month/24,000km (15,000-mile) warranty.

Tata has also announced accessories and merchandise such as phones, watches, and shirts.

Managing Director Ravi Kant said on Monday the automaker was seeing a rise in sales.

“On a sequential basis, we are seeing an upturn, but compared to [a] year ago there is quite a gap,” he told Reuters.

An export Nano for the US market but would not be ready until 2011, he added.

“This is a value-for-money car,” Hasmukh Kakadia, a Mumbai investment analyst, told Agence France-Presse.

“There’s no safety in two-wheelers, especially with the whole family,” New Delhi resident and prospective Nano buyer Ganesh Khand, currently a motorbike owner, told AFP. He wants a Nano to transport his wife and two daughters safely.

Dealers said they had been flooded with queries about the car, delayed after violent protests over the acquisition of farmland to build the Nano plant, forcing Tata to shift from West Bengal state to Gujarat.

Kant told reporters some customers may have to wait over a year for a car but said not delaying the launch was the right decision.

Tata said the Nano was the least polluting car in India, emitting 101g of CO2 per kilometre.