By on June 8, 2009

Automotive News [sub] reports that Tata plans on bringing a version of its Nano subcompact to the US market “in about two years.” About? “Maybe two years and six months,” equivocated Tata chairman Ratan Tata at the Cornell Global Forum on Sustainable Enterprise. But the Indian firm faces at least one major challenge: where to sell the thing. Jaguar/Land Rover North America spokesfolks say that “Tata will not use Jaguar Land Rover’s distribution network and vice versa.” For obvious reasons. The Nano boasts none of the small-but-premium appeal of BMW’s MINI or Chrysler’s forthcoming Fiat 500. So where will it sell? Roger Penske’s Saturn World Market? Global Vehicles U.S.A.’s 330-strong Mahindra distribution network? Wal-Mart?

Either way, the Nano “will need to meet all emission and crash standards,” says Tata. Which will likely inflate the Nano’s Indian-market $2,500 pricetag. Still, its relatively low price, light weight and rugged simplicity should make it popular with shadetree EV conversion nuts. Especially with similarly sized EVs like the Mitsu MiEV set to be priced at over $40K. But with Jaguar planning a “post-recession” sportscar launch in 2011, Tata seems to be hedging its bets. So which will do better, the British convertible or the Indian budget car special? Or is the market so fragmented that such decisions aren’t either-or?

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34 Comments on “Nano Inbound...”


  • avatar
    fincar1

    Looking at the dimensions of that thing, I think that it would make a fine rollover car for the demo derby. With the right ramps it would do endos.

    Or else get one for your Nana.

  • avatar
    menno

    No question as to whether a US spec Tata Nano (which will be based upon the bones of the more expensive, slightly larger Euro-Nano) will cost more than $2500. It absolutely will, even if Mr. Tata keeps the profit margin as tight as it is on the Indian market Tata Nano. I suspect it’ll be more like $7500 in current US dollars. (Maybe $10,000 by 2012 after inflation starts to take hold in this country and prices skyrocket/pay checks don’t).

    Hence, the probability that Mr. Tata is way smarter than people give him credit for. He can see that printing an extra few trillion dollars does nothing more than to eventually cause inflation in America, and that inflation always robs the middle class.

    Ironic that a modern-day Model T / Volkswagen Beetle will be brought to us by the Indians, but there you go.

    As for a dealer network – well he has several to choose from, all set-up and ready to move. He could, for example, buy the Daewoo Motors Co. based in California which still sells parts and has contacts with a relatively large dealer base which was forced to stop selling Daewoo cars in North America in 2002, by GM. (That would be rich in irony, now, wouln’t it?) How about the ex-Isuzu dealers, also left to die on the vine by GM which supplied them with crap oversized SUV’s? (Also rich with irony).

    Of course, Tata is a very large conglomerate with many resources and can just as easily set-up their own fresh dealer network sharing some behind-the-scenes things like parts depots with also-owned Jaguar/Land Rover.

    Or it could do a combination of the above.

    I for one can’t wait to see what a 50 mpg low cost car would sell like.

    A modern-day Citroen 2CV. I’d love it.

  • avatar
    Kurt.

    I think they should sell them at Wal-Mart! That is a fienishly good idea. Or better yet, on the Internet with free home delivery. Maybe hook up something with DHL or UPS?

    And oh Mr. Niedermeyer, its not either/or. If you can afford the Jag, its BOTH! The Jag for you and the Nano for the missus…

  • avatar
    superbadd75

    The Nano will do quite well, I predict, when gas starts to creep back toward the $5 a gallon mark. I see no reason why this car shouldn’t be certified and sold in America. Soon enough we will all be looking for a cheap ride that gets decent fuel economy, and this car could be a great fit. IF it’s reasonably well built. If it’s another Yugo/early Hyundai type of reliability nightmare, no beans, Tata is toast.

  • avatar
    BDB

    The Geo Metro for the 2010s.

  • avatar
    afabbro

    Wal-Mart is actually not that bad an idea. Seriously. Or perhaps if not Wal-Mart then Best Buy, Home Depot, or some other big box retailer.

    Let’s say you can get the cost of the thing down to $3995 for the US market. That’s in the same ballpark as high-end appliances or home theater systems. Wal-Mart could sell one version in a limited number of colors. It’s slightly more of a hassle to sell a car than a lawnmower (title, etc.), but Wal-Mart sells firearms and there is a lot of paperwork with those, too.

    What about financing? Are you kidding? “Would you like to buy the extended warranty?” is practically a mantra to the Best Buy types.

    Service? Strike up a deal with any of the big auto maintenance chains to offer service. Or simply offer a certification program for independent shops.

    Once cars get to a low enough price point, they no longer need specialized channel of distribution. I don’t know if a $4000 or $5000 Nano is there yet, but it might be.

    Side note…I think I read that orders for the upgraded $5000 model dwarfed those of the base $2500 model because people wanted the model with more features.

  • avatar
    postman

    When gas goes sky-high again, AND IT WILL, there will be a market for cars like this. To schlepp down to the corner store for some milk, or to pick up your kid 7 blocks away in the city, people are finally going to “get it” that they don’t need a 2 ton SUV, or a 350 HP (and 12 MPG) Mustang to get most of their mobile errands done.

  • avatar

    Yeap, Home Depot will use them as shopping carts. Nano looks slightly cute from the front, but from the sides it’s ugly. India is overpopulated, so the Nano is a good way to reduce the population. I can’t believe that an intelligent person would buy this bean-on-donuts.

  • avatar
    Anchorman33

    Definitely hard to believe this car would be a huge success with all of the “Americans hate small cars” talk if the economy doesn’t fall down the rampant inflation path. Who knows, maybe the perfect storm of few used cars, hyper-inflation and expensive gas means Mr. Tata will come out smelling like a rose.

  • avatar
    savuporo

    G-Wiz ( or REVA ) in UK already sells exclusively through a website. In two years, it wouldnt surprize me if you can order your Tata through Facebook or something.

  • avatar
    charly

    I expect Nano sales to be a dud in America. A Nano simply can´t compete with a second hand car. In India this isn´t a problem because the carmarket is growing so fast that there are not enough old cars to supply the demand for cheap motoring and the same was true for the original Beetle, 500, mini and CV2

  • avatar
    menno

    Michael Bean said “Yeap, Home Depot will use them as shopping carts. Nano looks slightly cute from the front, but from the sides it’s ugly. India is overpopulated, so the Nano is a good way to reduce the population. I can’t believe that an intelligent person would buy this bean-on-donuts.”

    Michael, you need to stop and think about how unsafe it is to have an Indian family of dad, mom and two or three children perched on top of a little moped or small scooter, which is apparently pretty much the norm for middle-class folks in that country.

    Now, looking at the Nano, can you not see how much safer they would be? That is exactly the reason that Mr. Tata declared that his company would start working on THIS VERY CAR.

    charly, a used 12 MPG stupid utility vehicle to schlepp back and forth to work (with gas being priced at $5-or-$6 per gallon) will NOT be a competitor to the Tata Nano.

    A small Chinese, South Korean or Japanese motorcycle? – maybe. But once again, where’s the weather proofing on a motorcycle? There’s the hassle of needing special license plates, and the potential of losing your life (which is way worse than any US certified car no matter how small said car is).

    Not to mention the little salient fact that in states such as Michigan, we have virtually unlimited medical care as part of our medical insurance (and wow, do we ever pay) while motorcyclists are limited to $5000 med pay (which might – just might – pay for an ambullance run – after which by the time you get to the emergency room, you’d better have deep pockets).

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    tata’s big issue is this car does not look serious

    compare this to the Bajaj or whatever it is Maruti has planned

    it is hard to get over the Tiny Tikes plastic blow mould car look

    i like the engineering prowess behind the Nano – i think it’s as revolutionary as the Issigonis Mini (I spit on the BMW Mini) or the VW Golf/Beetle but I also believe western audiences will not take to this because it is seen an ‘Indian car’

    I also think it has to be well under $4,000 US – prefer around $3,000 US

    the reason? doesn’t the Nissan Versa and the Koreans mini cars start at $9,000?

    you would drive this than a Nissan Versa? really?

    also i’d be expecting a reasonable amount of competition from the Hyundai i10/i20 and the Suzuki Alto and other mini cars in the 800cc-1,100cc range… also made in india

  • avatar
    menno

    Sorry – typo no edit available. I said “Not to mention the little salient fact that in states such as Michigan, we have virtually unlimited medical care as part of our medical insurance” and the last two words should read “AUTO insurance.”

  • avatar
    charly

    It is not surprising that the expensive model outsold the cheap version. It is India so airconditioner is a requirement.

    But it is also very unlikely that big box retailers will ever sell cars. They don´t like to sell products were the need for a expert repairman is a given and that is simply the case with a car and its rubber wheels

  • avatar
    charly

    A used $500 stupid utility car is competitive with a $5000 Nano. You can drive 25000miles with it before the Nano becomes cheaper. That is a lot of miles for such a small car.

  • avatar
    Kurt.

    “A Nano simply can´t compete with a second hand car.”

    The problem is the GOV will eventually elimimate the second hand car. Congress can’t even pass a “right to repair” bill.

    Technology is severely limiting what can be done in your local indipendent shop. $5000 for a Porsche hammer (Bosche Diagnostic tool), All-Data, other specialized tools are cost prohibitive in many locations.

  • avatar
    Hippo

    The little shitbox will lose it’s shopping cart sized wheels on the first California freeway expansion joint.

  • avatar
    MikeInCanada

    I just showed this article to my teenage daughter…. “BMW Mini my ass; take a look at your new car…”

    She was not impressed, but she is not too impressed by taking the bus either.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    A small car like the Tata Nano will sell, when, or if, Americans can wrap their minds around the idea that they have one car for road trips and highway use, and one car for use to run errands within a short distance of their homes.

    In some densely populated urban and suburban areas (like Boston, DC, SFO, NYC, parts of Chicago) this might work.

    But in the sprawled metros (Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, etc.) these things will get punted by everything else on the road.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    i think it’s a bit shortsighted to say this car won’t work in the US or Europe

    of course it wouldn’t… neither does a Ford F150 or F250 anywhere outside of the US

    Japan and Europe also have two classes of cars under the Ford Focus types which most countries would define as ‘small’

    i would think of it like this… i drive two large turbocharged cars with power in the 300-400hp range

    they are great for highway work but 90% of my driving is in the city… even i realise that this is a shocking waste of resources

    i think there is a need for the Fiestas and Ford Ka and Hyundai i10 and Suzuki Altos of this world, perhaps not as a main car but for something to scoot to the shops at a max of 60 mph.

    i think the Nano is a stepping stone. Once Tata has given this car to India they will get to work on perhaps $5,000 car with a 1,000cc motor and twin airbags that would be acceptable to Westerners

    or maybe his competitors or the Chinese will… one things for sure, it probably won’t be GM or Chrysler trying to fill this gap

  • avatar
    MikeyDee

    I’ll drive one of these Nanos as long as I can wear a helmet. Without wearing a helmet, don’t get into this car under any circumstances.

  • avatar
    midelectric

    @Hippo
    The little shitbox will lose it’s shopping cart sized wheels on the first California freeway expansion joint.

    Ha! If you’ve driven village roads in India, you will know that it will be several milenia before a CA highway expansion joint bothers this car.

  • avatar
    newfdawg

    Redesigning this thing to meet American emission and safety standards will be a nightmare; it’s going to become for all purposes a totally new vehicle to meet American standards. I can hardly wait for the film footage of the IIHS T-boning one with a Suburban.

  • avatar
    grog

    The Geo Metro for the 2010s.

    Somebody’s gotta do it–each generation needs this kind of car. GM did for decades, now it’s somebody else’s turn.

  • avatar
    Hippo

    Ha! If you’ve driven village roads in India,

    Dirt roads in India, sand roads in Baja, or even rocks which are rounded are nothing compared to driving over 90 degree sharp edged obstacles as far as taking wheels off things, especially when considering the speed at which the obstacles are likely to be hit.
    I do spend a lot of time off road.

    But what the heck do I know.

    Buy the thing and have fun.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    It makes a lot more sense than a Smart or one of those overpriced golf carts sold as electric city vehicles. Even if they didn’t bring it up to US standards it would be much safer than the electric vehicles, which avoid those regulations, and more economical.

    When I first read about this vehicle on TTAC, I said they ought to provide a more robust drive train that can handle American highway speeds, equip it with 14-inch wheels, and have AC as an option. If only it didn’t need to include the requisite air bags, they could still hold the price under $3,500 for a base model. The power to weight ratio is on a par with or better than vehicles sold in the 50′s, which is sufficient to maintain highway speeds (provided we’re not talking gear ratios found in work trucks prior to the 60′s, which needed significant towing and hauling capacity) especially with a modern transmission and a properly mated rearend ratio. The big question isn’t where will they sell it, it’s how much weight and cost will safety regulations add to the vehicle. That is what could potentially kill it. If it weighs too much, a larger less fuel efficient engine will be required, and this in combination with the additional cost of the air bags could increase the price to the point that a Versa or one of the other basic cars makes sense.

  • avatar
    Nicodemus

    @ Tony JZX

    “tata’s big issue is this car does not look serious

    compare this to the Bajaj or whatever it is Maruti has planned

    it is hard to get over the Tiny Tikes plastic blow mould car look

    i like the engineering prowess behind the Nano – i think it’s as revolutionary as the Issigonis Mini (I spit on the BMW Mini) or the VW Golf/Beetle but I also believe western audiences will not take to this because it is seen an ‘Indian car’”

    You are probably right, but it is interesting to note that the new Mini would have ended up as a very similar vehicle in layout and appearance to the Nano if the engineers at Rover had had their way in the mid 1990s. A curious twist too is the fact that Tata now own Rover.

    http://www.motoringfile.com/2004/06/27/the_mini_concepts_of_the_1990s/

  • avatar
    carzoning

    Walmart is a good idea. Although, Target and Best Buy are a bit more trendy, which is probably what Tata wants. But I can’t help thinking Costco would sell a ton of them. Various reports have also suggested that Penske plans on bringing new imports and distributing them through the Saturn dealer network so this might also be an option.
    I think they could keep the high spec (Europa styled) models priced slightly under $5K in the US and they will sell a ton of them. If they add lots of leather or maybe stylish water proof sporty interiors this would also help sales in the US. Nanos, especially with the trendy Ipod “Nano” reference could sell very well all over the place.
    Also, they could link up with Garmin, Sony or any other satnav company and simply integrate their portable satnav (removable) into the Nano’s dash. Add Ipod, USB connectivity and maybe a cheap integrated hard drive and you have some great features for trendy budget buyers.
    The current higher spec and sportier European Tata Nano Europa looks much better than the standard Nano.
    Here is a link to the Nano Europa:
    LINK: http://paultan.org/photo/albums/tata-nano-europa/027687600_1236086671.jpg

  • avatar
    cory02

    Wal-Mart could theortically expand their Tire & Lube Centers to service these cars also. The main problem I see is that Wal-Marts are relatively scarce is big cities and the Nano is best suited for big cities.

  • avatar

    Keeping things in context, this car is perfect for the Indian market, since most people will be moving up from 50cc scooters or looking for something a bit more modern to replace their long-drawn-out Hindustan “Amby”.

    Americans, on the other hand, will be stepping down from larger compact cars or (for a farther stretch) SUVs with 13mpg stats. Frankly, I see this car selling in numbers of a few thousand. Then the fun will begin, as people get to experience how it feels to take their kids’ Cozy Cruiser out for a highway jaunt.

    $5/gal gas won’t make people flock like seagulls to it. At best, people will drop their SUVs like dead weight, make more discretionary budget cuts (there goes the movie/fast food/cable tv) and demand more 4 cylinder midsized cars — cars they can COMFORTABLY get into. Thinking that people will run to subcompacts at the spike of the pump is rather wishful thinking on the parts of some.

    The $5/gal car of America is a 4cyl Camry. Or a Fusion Hybrid.

  • avatar
    Garak

    I don’t know about the US, but in Europe that car will sell. With city speed limits of 30 or 40 km/h (that’s 18 to 25 mph for the metric-impaired) and nearly immobile rush-hour traffic, the (probably) bad handling or poor crash safety will not be an issue.

    Besides, there are very few large SUVs and pick-up trucks here, so driving that thing won’t feel as scary as it could.

    And I almost forgot the most important thing: winter driving. The Nano will introduce many new drivers to the thrill of driving a rear engine RWD car in the snow. Hopefully you can turn the ESP off..

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    here’s you pal and mine, Bob Lutz, explaining the thinking behind Nano and 3rd world style vehicles:

    china very tenuously being ’3rd world’

    i think they should have ended this video with Bob flying off into the distance in his L39 jet fighter

  • avatar
    charly

    In Europe you can buy plenty of 50 km/h car like vehicles.
    Also city limits may be 30 km/h in the average street but that isn’t true for the main streets. And the main streets are what are used most.


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