Special Coverage

Geneva
Auto Show

GENEVA – Indian auto-industry mogul Ratan Tata knows no fear.

On the same day he introduces a European version of Tata Motors Ltd.’s super low-priced Nano small car at the auto show here, he also announces the auto maker is planning a luxury car for India, which it might build with coachbuilder and partner Pininfarina SpA in Italy, as well.

If that’s not enough, he says his company will begin marketing an electric-range version of the Indica small car in Norway later this year.

“We will see Tatas on the streets of Europe hopefully in the years to come,” Ratan Tata says somewhat disingenuously, as the brand already is sold in Italy and Spain.

As for the Nano becoming a new “people’s car,” with the penetration of the Volkswagen Beetle, Ratan Tata is more humble. “We would be happy to have a presence in Europe and have affordable cars for people and overcome an image of Indian cars” as something below world standards.

The European Nano is at the moment a production concept. While the Indian version is to go on sale this spring starting at $1,984, the European version is expected to be closer to the price of a Dacia Sandero or a Renault Twingo at about €8,000 ($10,408).

The Nano Europa will have a 3-cyl. engine making about 80 hp, while the Indian Nano is powered by a 2-cyl. mill capable of 47 hp. The European car will get electronic stability technology, antilock brakes, airbags, air conditioning and also meet all the safety and exhaust standards.

“We will announce price closer to the time we launch,” says Ratan Tata, who answers questions from the press on his stand, something unusual at an auto show these days. “So many things are changing. What we can say is that we will be among the lowest-cost cars Europe will have.”

Ratan Tata says in an interview with Bild magazine in Germany his company first will produce 500,000 to 1,000,000 Nanos annually for India, before attacking markets in Europe and North America.

In Geneva, he says the Nano Europa will arrive here in “two or three years,” and that a version of the Nano will be available in Brazil sometime before that.

The announcement that Tata also wants to build a luxury car comes as something of a surprise. The Tata Prima luxury prototype shown here was designed by Pininfarina, which also is an investor. The smooth exterior rides in a 106-in. (270-cm) wheelbase. Tata calls it a “next-generation” luxury car, meaning it is years from reality.

Tata suffered in 2008 as sales of trucks and cars slid an estimated 32% in the October-December quarter, and farmers’ opposition halted construction of the Nano planned assembly plant just before it was to open. Nanos now are being built at the auto maker’s plant in Gujarat.

However, February sales were Tata’s best in the last four months, up 4% over January and 1.5% ahead of year-ago, giving lift to Ratan Tata’s goal of becoming a global brand.