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Tata looks to take Nano global

Na-yes: The current India-only Nano was created to get people off bikes and into four-wheeled transport

Global expansion of Tata’s passenger range – led by Nano – on the cards, says MD

Tata logo26 Aug 2013

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in INDIA

TATA’S budget Nano is set to evolve into a true global city car, as its maker seeks to shake the ‘world’s cheapest car’ stigma that has helped stymie sales and become a key passenger player both in India and abroad.

According to managing director Karl Slym, Tata Motors has an opportunity to harness the Nano’s international fame – or notoriety – by turning it into its own B-car ‘sub-brand’ and moving it onto the world stage.

The current Nano is only available in India, with sales down a significant 83 per cent in the first six months of this year. Any global model/s would be both more expensive and more advanced, said Mr Slym.

“The Nano is going to be its own brand, it’s own lifeline,” Mr Slym told Australian journalists at the Xenon pick-up drive program in Pune last week.

“We have some international markets that only sell commercial vehicles, but we put the Nano in the dealership, and it attracts so many people into that dealership that then buy commercial vehicles.

“They have it there because of the attraction of its own. Nano certainly has a very global attraction, and we’ll do a lot more to canvas and develop the Nano.

“We still want affordable, of course, but it will move. A smart city car is what you can expect from the transformation of the Nano.”

The Pixel concept car from the 2011 Geneva Motor Show might be a strong pointer to the direction that the Tata is moving towards, though whether it is actually going to be an actual Nano replacement or a larger sibling is not yet known.

“If you take the real small car segment – which is the next size up (from the current Nano)… that’s a place we don’t also fare very well with our portfolio,” Mr Slym said.

“And knowing that in India that segment is around 80 per cent of sales due to various things etc, and then knowing that the rest of the world is going smaller, this is not only of a domestic importance for us, but also of a global importance as well.

“Now that doesn’t have to be the Nano, because we do have a portfolio of (other) cars.”

The Nano is already on the path to improved functionality and comfort, with the current-generation petrol powered runabout poised to gain alternative fuel choices (CNG compressed natural gas, diesel), power steering, and even an opening rear hatch (currently ‘boot’ access is only via the rear seat).

While it is unlikely that Tata will take on Volkswagen Up’s lead by offering a family of different body styles for the next-generation Nano, Mr Slym suggested that a raised version in the vein of the Xenon Tuff Truck Concept created by the Walkinshaw Group-owned Australian distributors Fusion Automotive is under consideration.

“Does the Nano have a line of body styles? Maybe in line with the ‘Tuff Truck’ activity (Tata’s body kit and 20-inch wheel upgrade for the upcoming Xenon pick-up as designed and delivered by Australian distributors Fusion Automotive)… so there are lots to do with the Nano.”

Although the Nano is a very basic vehicle offering just 28kW of power and 51Nm of torque from a 700cc two-cylinder fuel-injected unit, driving the rear wheels via a four-speed manual gearbox, it launched in 2008 with the weight of an entire continent’s expectations on its tiny 12-inch wheels.

More than two years earlier, company head Ratan Tata announced his intention to build the ‘One Lakh Rupee’ (100,000 INR, or around $A2000) family car – an achievable step up from a traditional motorcycle for tens of millions of Indians.

However, while still incredibly cheap when it finally did arrive, the Nano has ended up costing upwards of 50 per cent more than initial estimates, even though it surfaced lacking most convenience items and almost totally devoid of safety devices such as airbags or anti-lock brakes.

This, along with severe production delays (it as originally going to be built in West Bengal until deadly demonstrations and rioting forced management to relocate to the Gujarat state instead), quality hiccups, and a much-publicised fire-scare have hurt sales.

In addition, the upwardly mobile middle-class in an ever-changing Indian economy began to see the notion of ‘the world’s cheapest new car’ as a hindrance.

In the first six months of 2013, the Nano has plummeted from 10th to 37th position on the country’s sales charts, with a little under 8500 units sold.

Only around 250,000 have been built to date.

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