Nissan may sell EVs to U.S. consumers in 2010

Automaker announces partnership with utility for electric hookups

Nissan North America could launch U.S. retail sales of electric vehicles as early as 2010 -- two years sooner than expected.

For the past year, the company has been saying it will start EV fleet sales to utilities and other commercial users in 2010 and consumer retail EV sales through its dealer network two years later.

But Mark Perry, director of product planning and strategy for the automaker in Franklin, Tenn., says some U.S. markets probably will be ready for retail sales sooner than 2012.

"We're keeping ourselves open to the possibility that if a market is ready for it, we'll go ahead earlier," Perry says. "If the demand is already there, there's no need for us to wait until 2012."

Nissan plans to sell a line of new electric vehicles powered by a lithium ion battery created through a partnership with NEC of Japan. The automaker has requested a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Energy to build an EV battery manufacturing plant in Smyrna, Tenn.

Perry says Nissan will not try to launch EV sales throughout the entire United States but will launch sales city by city as communities get their vehicle recharging infrastructure in place.

Nissan announced today that it has formed a partnership with San Diego Gas & Electric, the utility company for San Diego, to prepare that city for EV transportation. Nissan will participate in a working group that will make decisions about how to build a recharging infrastructure in the San Diego region. The undertaking also will involve working with city planning and zoning authorities on how to go about installing home recharging systems.

It is the fifth such partnership Nissan has started in recent months. Similar partnerships have been created with Tennessee; Oregon; Sonoma County, Calif.; and Tucson, Ariz.

Tata launches lottery for Nano buyers

Tata Motors will sell the first 100,000 of its ultra-cheap Nano through a lottery, the Indian automaker said today.

Application forms for the 100,000 rupee ($1,980 1,455 euros) minicar will available in 1,000 cities in India starting on April 9. A computerized random selection procedure will decide the owners of the first 100,000 cars, Tata said.

Tata decided to launch a lottery because of the massive interest in the Nano and because of delays in launching volume production of the car.

Since the Nano was unveiled on January 10, 2008, Tata's Web site for the Nano has received 30 million hits.

At the Nano's commercial launch in Mumbai, India, today, Tata Chairman Ratan Tata said the Nano will provide safe, affordable, four-wheel transportation to families who currently cannot afford to own a car.

Nano deliveries will start in July, Tata said. The four-door, five-seat Nano will be sold in India in three trim levels: standard, CX and LX. The top-of-the-range LX will have fabric seats, central door locking, front power windows, a cell phone charger point and a rear spoiler.

Tata also said the Nano would come with a range of accessories and merchandise. The company said accessories will include alloy wheels and body kits will also be available to customize the car.

Among the merchandise planned are a Nano phone and a Nano watch.

The 3100mm long Nano has a 35hp, 624cc two-cylinder rear engine with a top speed of 105kph. It can travel 23.6km on a liter of gasoline.

The Nano is vital to Tata, which is struggling with the global economic downturn. The company declared a loss of 2.63 billion rupees ($37 million) for the October to December quarter.
Tata has been struggling to refinance the remaining $2 billion of a $3 billion loan it took to buy the Jaguar and Land Rover brands from Ford Motor Co. in June.

In addition, the Nano launch is six months late after large-scale production was delayed by a compensation dispute with West Bengal farmers that shifted production from West Bengal to Gujarat last year.

As a stopgap arrangement, Nanos will be rolled out from Tata's existing car factories in Pune in western India and Pantnagar in Northern India.

A European version called the Nano Europa is planned for 2011.

A new Nano plant, at Sanand in Gujarat, western India, will be ready in 2010 with an annual capacity of 350,000 cars.

Pininfarina picks firm to help sell family's

MILAN (Reuters) -- Italian car design and engineering firm Pininfarina said on Monday that Leonardo & Co. has been hired as adviser to sell the stake held by the group's family holding company, Pincar.

Pininfarina's creditor banks chose Leonardo & Co. as adviser from a number of possibilities, the company said in a statement.

In December, Pininfarina said Pincar had agreed with creditor banks to sell its 50.6 percent stake to help it tackle its debt situation.

Pininfarina, which in 2008 posted a net loss of 204 million euros, said it expects to make an operating loss in 2009 because of the impact of the economic crisis on car sales.

Though the group will not be able to generate operating cash in 2009, existing liquidity will be sufficient to allow it to continue operating, Pininfarina said.

French financier Vincent Bollore said earlier this month that he would consider taking a stake in Italian car designer Pininfarina if it needed an industrial partner.

Bollore is developing an electric car with Pininfarina.

Earlier this year, Pininfarina approved a revised industrial plan that calls for an end to its contract carmaking operations when current production ends in 2011.

The Italian company then will concentrate exclusively on building electric cars with Bollero.

The company, which has designed and produced vehicles for numerous automakers including Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Volvo and Ford, was hit by tragedy last year when its chairman and chief executive, Andrea Pininfarina, died in a car crash.

He was the grandson of company founder, Battista "Pinin" Farina.

Toyota's Urban Cruiser, in diesel or petrol flavor, coming to UK in May

First unveiled at the 2008 Geneva Motor Show, Toyota's new Urban Cruiser is coming to UK salesfloors this May with a list of eco-friendly features. Using the Toyota Optimal Drive, Toyota's name for the more-efficient-yet-powerful engine package, that debuted in the Auris last fall, the B-segment hatch has two engine options. First up is the 1.33 Dual VVT-i 2WD model, which comes with Stop & Start technology and emits 129 grams of CO2 per km. Mileage rating is 43 mpg (U.S.) on the UK system. The
1.4 D-4D common rail diesel engine is used on the AWD version of the Urban Cruiser, and just barely
loses out to the other model, with emissions of 130 grams of CO2 per km thanks, in part, to a diesel particulate filter. Toyota says this is the lowest for any four-wheel drive vehicle in the world. Anyone got a counter to that? The diesel also happens to get 48 mpg (U.S.)

Aside from the engines, Toyota has also tweaked the production method to limit the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) used in the Urban Cruiser's interior.

F&M Vulca S Launched

Another truly exclusive supercar has just been released to the market. The Vulca S made its debut earlier this month at the Salone Internazionale del Lusso in Vicenza.

Only ten units of the 630 horsepower Vulca S will ever be made. The S-badged Vulca follows up on the "base" version of the supercar, first shown off at last year's Geneva show. That car is priced between €280k and €340,000.

Pisa-based Faralli & Mazzanti's Vulca S is completely handmade in aluminum, with OZ Racing wheels, and Continental Italia tires. The 2+2 coupe also uses a data system from AIM Sportline. Front and rear LEDs and quad exhaust can be seen outside. Inside, you'll find an upmarket stereo, what appears to be a wood trim, power seats, and two center-mounted LCD screens. One of these likely provides speed, RPM, and fuel information, since there are no gauges in front of the driver. Hand stitched quilted leather rounds out the package.

Each Vulca S will carry an individual number. Pricing for the car was not mentioned, but there's a good chance you can't afford it anyway.

Could Toyota base new low-cost hybrid on Auris platform?

There's been lots of internet chatter over the last few weeks surrounding rumors in Japan that Toyota is hard at work developing a new low-cost hybrid model that would use Prius technology but be priced to match the new Honda Insight. It's no secret that the Insight's big claim to fame is its low asking price, and much of that attractive sticker can be attributed to Honda's decision to base most of the car on existing platforms and technologies.

Like the Civic Hybrid, the 2010 Honda Insight uses the automaker's proprietary Integrated Motor Assist technology, but instead of using the rest of the Civic platform, Honda cribbed a large portion of the Insight's chassis on the Fit. This allowed for a substantial cost savings, and Toyota may choose to do the same for its next hybrid passenger car by placing its Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain in a mass-market vehicle platform.

One attractive prospect might be to borrow the architecture used in the Toyota Auris, a hatchback that's sold in Europe and Asia that shares underpinnings with the American Corolla. We can't say that these rumors are true, but it does seem like one logical way to save a huge chunk of money on development costs.

Four-Wheel Dreams for Millions of Drivers in India

NEW DELHI — Six years after the idea was hatched, India’s much-hyped Tata Nano was introduced on Monday.
The supercheap compact car with a base model selling for about $2,230 is aimed at the developing world’s millions of motorcycle owners with four-wheel dreams. It arrives as Tata Motors struggles with production problems and a huge debt load.

But as the global economy withers and automakers bleed cash and cut employees, global warming continues and oil prices creep back up, even rivals say that tiny, wallet-friendly, fuel-efficient cars like the Nano might be where demand grows worldwide.

“We’re quite confident there is going to be huge market for that segment,” said Ashish Sinharoy, a vice president at Renault India. Renault and Nissan have partnered with Bajaj Auto, an Indian scooter maker, to introduce a small, cheap car of their own, due out in 2011.

Automakers and car enthusiasts will be following the Nano closely, looking for flaws and gauging consumer reaction. Projects like the Renault-Bajaj alliance, and plans from manufacturers including Honda and Hyundai might be scrapped if the Nano fails. J. D. Power & Associates predicts that Tata will sell 35,000 Nanos this year, because of production constraints. Tata will begin accepting orders next month, charging a fee of $6 to anyone who applies to buy the car. Delivery is expected in July.

Questions linger about Tata’s ability to keep costs down and get production up and about the safety and reliability of the Nano. Several auto analysts say that Tata, which had its first quarterly loss in seven years at the end of January, has been forced to delay payments to its vendors because of a cash squeeze.

Indian auto suppliers are not in straits as dire as their peers in America and Europe, but any supplier disruption could be devastating to the Nano, because its parts are custom-made.

In an e-mailed response to questions about payment delays, Tata Motors said it was “conducting its business properly, adequately and in full partnership with all its vendors.”

The company said most of its vendor relationships are covered by a “bill marketing” system, where Tata’s bank makes payments to the vendors, and Tata Motors pays the bank. “As sales begin to climb, vendor purchases will also improve, and a positive cycle will once again get created,” Tata said.

If the Nano is successful, it will open the market for others, Mr. Sinharoy predicts. He said a car from Renault-Bajaj would be priced at about 150,000 rupees ($3,000) and be even more fuel-efficient than the Nano.

The four-seater Nano can travel 100 kilometers on 4.2 liters of fuel, getting 55.5 miles per gallon. It has lower emissions than most two-wheelers in India, Tata says.

With its 11.8-inch dinner-plate-size wheels, an engine the size of a small outboard motor generating 33 horsepower, and a single windshield wiper, the Nano has already drawn some unflattering comparisons to kitchen appliances and garden tools. When the design was unveiled last year,, a car lovers’ Web site, asked, “Yes, but will it blend?”

A few people have driven the car, and were only recently given permission by Tata to talk about the experience.

“It feels like a real car,” said Hormazd Sorabjee, editor of Autocar India magazine, who was one of the early drivers. “It does not feel like a golf cart.”

But, he added, it felt like a car that would be used only for city driving. “You’re not going to take this on an intercity highway,” he said.

The Nano’s fans far outweigh its critics so far. It already has a dedicated Facebook group. More important, it seems to have a number of eager would-be buyers. Despite a vicious land-rights battle that forced Tata to relocate the Nano factory from its West Bengal site, the car is viewed with great pride in India.

It is “absolutely critical” that the Nano goes well, Mr. Sorabjee, said. “The success of this will change the rules of carmaking in the world,” he predicted.

Pawan Goyal, a 35-year-old accountant who lives in Noida, a growing town east of Delhi, said he had been planning to buy the Nano since it introduced a prototype at the Delhi auto show in January 2008.

“By spending 50,000 rupees extra, I will move on to a four-wheeler,” Mr. Goyal, who drives a motorcycle, said. The Nano will allow him to take along his whole family, including two children, ages 10 and 12, and it will be “more comfortable and safe” than the motorbike.

The Nano may attract more than the “starter” market because of the economic slowdown. “In times of crisis, there is a lot of trading down that happens,” said Arindam K. Bhattacharya, a partner in the New Delhi office of the Boston Consulting Group.

The Nano is built to safety specifications in India but would not serve all markets. Any additional safety features will mean a increase in costs, and it’s unclear whether Tata’s plans to sell the Nano in the rest of South Asia and Europe will pan out.

But consumers in Europe and the United States may demand a Nano of their own. “Consumer behavior can be stimulated simply by the economic issues we’re facing today,” said Dan Oxyer, a partner with the consulting company A. T. Kearney.

Some car experts are skeptical about whether the Nano will succeed. “It goes without saying a good car at a low price will sell well in global markets,” said John Bonnell, head of Asia forecasting at J. D. Power & Associates.

The fact that the Nano is here at all, though, proves the Big Three American automakers wrong, Mr. Bhattacharya said. When he made presentations on the Nano to Western car manufacturers a few years ago, “they would all laugh and say that it couldn’t be done,” he recalled.

BMW X5 Facelift Spied with X6 Front Bumper

Our spy photographers have managed to catch another round of pictures showing the facelifted 2010 BMW X5 undergoing final testing.

With the current model dating back to 2007, BMW decided to give the facelifted X5 a more aggressive appearance by adopting the X6's front bumper. Other styling changes are expected to include a slightly modified rear bumper, minor interior updates, and a possible switch to LED taillights.

Engine options will most likely mirror that of today's X5, but the new twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 engine with 400 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque will replace the aging 4.8-liter V8 that produces 350 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. Should potential owners fail to be impressed by a sport-ute that can run from 0-60 mph in nearly six seconds flat, BMW will unveil a new X5 M which will boast a twin-turbo V8 that cranks out an monstrous 550 hp.

Nano to hit Europe by 2011 - Mr Ratan Tata

Mr Ratan Tata chairman of TATA group as saying that after launching in India on March 23rd, the TATA Nano will hit the European market by 2011.

Mr Ratan said "We hope to launch the Nano Europa in 2010-11."

He, however, refused to give away the cost of the European version of the car saying a lot of factors needed to be looked at before the price could be decided. He said "But it'll hold to its image of being one of the cheapest cars in the market."

Asked whether he wanted Nano to become the next people's car for Europe, just like Volkswagen had decades back, Mr Tata said his goals were much more modest. We are a relatively new car company in a relatively new car-producing nation. We just want to produce a car in India that's robust and can compete with the rest.

The Nano Europa, being showcased for the very first time has quickly become Curiosity No 1 at the Geneva Auto Show. The show, reputed to be among the world's top four auto exhibitions, opened for the media on Tuesday.

Mr Frank B Meyer an auto journalist from Germany said "We're very excited about the Nano. Though it's not expected to be a big hit in Europe, it would do well in certain European countries. Yes, the finish needs to be improved, but this is not a production car at the moment."

Nano arrival in city to be delayed

Hyderabadis queuing up to take a look at the world’s cheapest car -- Tata Nano -- will have to wait a little longer. While the much-awaited, snubnosed Rs 1 lakh passenger car will be unveiled for public viewing in Mumbai on Monday, the car will be available for display in all other cities only in the first week of April.

``We will be getting only one vehicle, which will be displayed from April 2. We may get more vehicles for test drives later,’’ said Kiran Kumar, branch incharge, Mallik Cars, a Tata Motors dealer.

The long waiting period is not the only disappointment for anxious customers, for, they could be further let down by the fact that not all those booking the vehicle will be allotted one. ``We will be issuing booking applications from the first week of April for the first 15 days. But the company will decide about vehicle allotment,’’ said another dealer in the city.

Tata Motors will collect all bookings from various dealers across the country and then randomly choose the first 50,000 customers. ``Perhaps, we anticipate that every city will be allotted 2,500-3,000 vehicles,’’ said the dealer.

Similarly, those who are allotted their dream-car will, however, get the delivery only by May or June.

Company officials explain that the reason for the delay is two-fold. One, huge demand from customers across the country. Two, shortage of supply as production of vehicles is just a little over 50,000 units in 2009. While this could be disheartening for wannabe car owners, it is good news for competitors such as Maruti Suziki, Huyndai and General Motors. ``If the production delays continue, definitely, other auto makers will reduce prices on existing small cars to match Nano’s price and retain market share,’’ says an industry analyst.