DETROIT – If suppliers think they’re being squeezed mercilessly for lower component prices on North American car and truck programs, imagine the constraints facing component makers for the new Tata Nano, possibly the world’s lowest-priced car at $2,500.

A Lear Corp. executive says India’s Tata Motors Ltd. wants seat-sets (a rear bench and two front seats) for a mere $100. For context, a power seat-track adjuster, alone, could cost about $100 in the U.S., says Mathew Ma, vice president of Lear Corp.’s China Engineering Center in Shanghai, during a panel discussion at this week’s Ward’s Auto Interiors Show here.

“It’s a big challenge to make it cheaper,” Ma says of the Nano seat-sets.

By comparison, he says a seat-set for a high-volume sedan such as the Honda Civic, Ford Focus or Chevrolet Malibu are about 10 times more expensive than for the Nano.

An OEM’s price for a seat-set roughly amounts to 6% of the vehicle’s sticker price. So, for a $17,000 car, the auto maker would pay more than $1,000, according to Ma’s formula.

But Lear isn’t backing away from its Nano seat contract. The Southfield, MI, supplier is meeting Tata’s terms, although it is not the only seat supplier for the Nano program, Ma says.

India, where about 12 auto makers have plans to produce Nano competitors, isn’t alone in pursuing low-priced small cars, Ma says, referring to the $3,800 Chery QQ and $4,000 Geely Merrie minicars, both for the Chinese market.

As part of a panel titled, “Developing Interiors for Asia’s Booming Markets” at the Interiors Show, Ma says clear trends are emerging as a growing number of middle-class Chinese consumers purchase their first vehicles.

For instance, black is becoming more popular as an interior color, replacing beige. “Light colors are stepping out of the low-end vehicle segment,” Ma says.

Chinese consumers want the same characteristics Americans require in their vehicles: flexible and reconfigurable seats, ample cargo space, sunroofs and GPS-based navigation systems.

They also prefer volume buttons and other stereo controls mounted on the steering wheel and round climate-control vents on the dashboard, rather than the outdated square-shaped variety.

China is destined to become the world’s largest vehicle market within a decade, Ma says, selling about 7 million vehicles in 2007. That number is forecast to reach 9.2 million in 2010 and 16.4 million in 2015, pushing China ahead of the U.S.

He also says India’s vehicle sales could reach 9 million units by 2015.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com