Brace yourself for an onslaught of Latter Day Yugos - only instead of coming from decrepit Soviet Bloc satellites they will hail from places like India and China.

For example, the Tata from India. It's a shitbox made the old-fashioned way - which means, it's made cheap and comes with next to nothing at all.

Highlights include:

* An internal radio antenna!
* Vanity mirrors on sun visor!
* Remote release for fuel door!
* 14 inch steel wheels!
* Top speed of 90 mph!

All standard equipment!

Tata is the car for the Indian masses - and soon, for the American masses, too. Probably within a year or two at the most cars like the Tata will be flooding the U.S. market as the realization dawns that very few people will be in a position to buy a car priced much over $15,000 for many years to come.

And with a base price well under $10,000 brand-new, "flooding" is no exaggeration. Tatas - and similar cars from China - will cost thousands less than the least expensive mainline Japanese and Korean econo-compacts, doing to these brands what Honda and Hyundai once did to GM and Ford.

The Tata and cars like it are not just a return to a simpler type of car - free of much of the expense-padding over-teched nonsense that has pushed the price of so-called "economy" cars closer to $20,000 than $10,000 in recent years. The Tata, et al also take into account the disconnect (not yet recognized by Detroit or Japan) between the surging cost of new cars - even the "cheapies" - and the static or declining purchasing power of average people in the industrialized West in general and the United States in painful particular.

If incomes are not going to go up, then the cost of consumer goods - cars included - has got to come down. With food and other staples, there's only so much you can do. But with cars, there is a lot of wiggle room. Here's how it's done:

* First, cut back the power -

Most any Name Brand Japanese economy car is good for at least 110 mph; some will do 120-plus. The Tata's top speed is 90 mph - about what a '70s-era Chevette might achieve if given enough room to build speed. So, yes, it is slow. But no matter how enamored we are with the idea of speed, the hard reality is that the maximum legal speed in the United States is well shy of the Tata's top end. And while it's true most of us do drive faster than the posted limit, it's equally true that not many of us drive faster than 80-something for any length of time. It's big-time illegal, for openers (in some states, doing in excess of 80 mph is considered "reckless driving" - a major bust). And for two, there's just not that much opportunity for most of us to drive that fast for very long. The bulk of the population is concentrated in urban/suburban areas - where gridlocked roads keep speeds down as effectively as radar traps. In overcrowded India, there a billion sweaty, swarthy people jockeying for position; no matter how much we deny it or dislike it, we're headed down the very same path. It is estimated that by 2030 or so the U.S. will have at least 400 million people living in it - and the Tata is made to order for that trip.

* Second, resurrect the stripper -

With the sole exception of the Nissan Versa 1.6, there hasn't been an authentic stripper - a car with little more than its shell, an engine and a gas gauge - in years. Virtually every mainstream economy car comes with AC as standard equipment, if not power windows, door locks, a pretty decent stereo with a CD player - even (inevitably) GPS, if current trends continue. As a result, they also come with MSRPs close to $15k, once all the papers are signed. That was sustainable when we were living on monopoly money equity loans and the like. Not so much now.

Thus, the Tata is comes to you as if not quite finished; as though it got pulled off the assembly line just before they added all the things we've come to expect - just like the el cheapo specials of previous decades. Buy a car like the Chevette or Pinto and you were happy if it had an AM radio and one $5 speaker in the dashboard. Or carpet, even. "Deluxe" models sometimes had extra padding and a few bits of plasticized chrome to dress them up. No alloy wheels, no MP3 (or even 8-track playing) stereos. Just basic transportation.

And you could buy such a car for about $2,000 in yesterday's money - which works out to about the same money for a new Tata in today's inflated dollars.

* Third, employ desperate and (critically) not unionized labor -

Being an autoworker once meant a middle class income; enough to support a wife and kids - a home in the suburbs and a new car, too. Put in 30 years, you got a pension and were set for a reasonably secure retirement. No more. The Detroit Model is history; "legacy costs" (pensions, health care) alone add about $1,500 to the cost of every new car GM, Ford and Chrysler make these days. The government's mandates (for things like air bags and so on) add thousands more. That kind of overhead can't be supported when a growing industrial juggernaut like Tata has an endless pool of workers - hundreds of millions of them, potentially - who will happily shiv one another to secure an insecure position on a Tata assembly line for the equivalent of maybe $20 per day, or whatever the going rate for stoop labor is right now in India. Same with the Chinese. 300 million Americans are going to be brought down to the level of 1.6 billion Chinese and the rest of the so-called "emerging world."

It doesn't quite have the ring of "See the USA in your Chevrolet." But I'm sure they'll think of something appropriate.