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Apr. 13 2010 — 10:45 am | 276 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Tata Motors plans XL-sized Nano

The world's cheapest car, the Tata Nano is dri...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Tata Motors is going to build a bigger, more expensive version of the Nano city-car within the next 18-24 months.  That’s according to recent reports coming from the Indian automotive press, who have also leaked the new version’s internal code name: Dolphin.

Right now, the Nano is a pint-sized four door with a starting price that begins at approximately $2,200. Upper trim levels, like the Nano LX, include features such as air-conditioning, front power windows, and power brakes.   The price for a even fully loaded Nano LX still comes in around $3,500.

At present, the Nano is about 2 feet shorter than a Mini Cooper – a perfect size for negotiating India’s crowded and narrow roadways.  No specifics have been mentioned about the size of the larger Nano, though a stretch of 6-12 inches could give a boost to both interior stretch-out space, as well as technical wiggle room when it comes to engineering the car to meet crash test standards in Europe and the U.S.   Tata Motors has promised to export the Nano to both markets within 2-3 years.

A bigger Nano would inevitably require a beefier engine.  The car’s current 624-cc engine provides 35-horsepower and a top speed of 65 miles per hour.  Expect something closer to 1.0-liter in capacity and a minimum of 70-90 hp for the larger model.  An opening rear hatch should also (finally) make it into production – at present, luggage has to be loaded into the Nano using the rear doors and fold-able backrest for the rear seats.

The cost for the XL-sized Nano is reported to be at least double the price of the current base model.  Tata Motors will be hoping that this is not a stretch too far for the Nano, which is billed as being the low-cost ‘people’s car of India.’

Apr. 7 2010 — 11:15 am | 35 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Renault-Nissan and Daimler announce partnership

Shareholders of German luxury car maker Daimle...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Renault-Nissan and Daimler AG have announced a “wide ranging strategic cooperation,” specifically relating to the development of small cars and the sharing of gas and diesel powertrains, according to a company press release.  This marks the end of a multi-year search by Renault-Nissan, as the Franco-Japanese  company looked to form a partnership with another automaker to help bring down production costs and expand into new markets (such as India and China).  Rumors of an alliance with Chrysler or General Motors eventually led to nothing – other than splashy headlines and rampant speculation in the business section of every newspaper and automotive website.

The news comes as welcome relief to fans of the tiny Smart Fortwo, Daimler’s city-car brand which has recently struggled in the U.S.  Smart sales this year are roughly half that of 2009 – which were already half of 2008 levels, Smart’s first year in the U.S.   Renault-Nissan and Daimler will co-develop the next generation Renault Twingo and Smart Fortwo on the same platform.  This will include electric versions, along with a wider range of models for both the Smart and Twingo family of vehicles.   It’s likely Smart will revive its discontinued four-door model and, possibly, produce a new budget-priced small sports car.

The deal also includes Daimler’s agreement to provide a range of diesel and gasoline-powered engines to Infiniti, Nissan’s luxury brand which only recently entered the European market.  In return, Renault will share a diesel engine and transmission with the Mercedes-Benz Vito van.  Future collaboration in the field of light commercial vehicles is also part of the deal, as is a one-time cross-shareholding – amounting to 3.1 percent of each company’s equity capital – and long-term “synergies” in product development and parts purchasing.

Apr. 7 2010 — 10:36 am | 341 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

New Yorkers take on the Tata Nano

by Sharad Baliyan Uploaded to wiki by user:nik...

Image via Wikipedia

The low-cost Tata Nano is all about the bare essentials, but the first example to arrive in New York City looks to have developed a taste for the good life.  Rather than rubbing fenders with other cars at this year’s New York Auto Show, held April 2-11, a bright yellow Nano has taken up temporary residence in the ornate lobby of Andrew Carnegie’s former mansion, now the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.The Nano will be on display in its swanky Upper East Side setting until April 25.

Known as “the people’s car of India,” a base Nano costs approximately $2,200 and comes with no frills.  There are no airbags, no power steering, and not even a separate opening for the trunk – the luggage compartment is accessed via the rear doors and folding rear seat-back. Yet Tata Motors has grand plans for the Nano, including planned exports to Europe and the U.S. within several years.

As part of the Cooper-Hewitt museum’s rotating series of exhibitions, called “Quicktake,” the Nano is intended to promote discussion, according to Cara McCarty, the museum’s curatorial director.  The Quicktake series is about “responding to ‘of the moment’ innovations and design,” she said, adding that even in New York, where driving can be a nightmare, “people simply love cars.”

Comments from museum visitors hint that the Nano is building its own New York fan base.  “I think it’s great,” said Jean-Noël, who lives with his wife, Betsy, in Central Park West. “Instead of looking at it like a cheap car, you can see it as a better scooter,” he said, referring to a panel describing how the Nano was developed for families who could otherwise not afford an automobile.  An adjacent picture of an Indian family precariously perched on an overloaded scooter drives the point home.

A small car like the Nano “is absolutely all you need in most cases,” agreed Jorg and Antonella, who call the Upper East Side home.  Stepping back from the car, Jorg nodded his approval.  “I absolutely do like it…I love it.”  Their only major concern:  the Nano’s tiny 12-inch wheels might not be able to cope with New York City’s cavernous potholes.

Matthias, a security guard stationed in the front lobby, was more immediate in his approval of the Nano. “Personally, I would buy it,” he said, without hesitation.  “This would be a perfect car for college students and delivery companies.”  The Nano’s small size could be a time saver too, he added, since finding a parking spot would be easier.  The Nano is almost two feet shorter than a Mini Cooper.  As this video shows, the Nano’s small size also came in handy when positioning the car in the Cooper-Hewitt museum.

Of course, not everyone proved as convinced of the Nano’s design merits.  “I like that it doesn’t have any pretense of speed,” said Adam, a student who lives on the Upper West Side.  However, he found the museum setting made the Nano feel more like a “concept” than a real production car.  “I like that it’s cheap,” he said.  “But I’d still be terrified to get hit by a truck while driving one.”

Mar. 11 2010 — 3:25 pm | 242 views | 1 recommendations | 1 comment

A 78 m.p.g. Porsche

Porsche has yet to decide whether it will build this 78 mpg sports car

Porsche has yet to decide whether it will build this 78 mpg sports car

Porsche owners have been called many things, but ecologically-minded is usually not near the top of the list.  That could change if the German sports car specialist decides to build the 918 Spyder, a hybrid supercar capable of delivering a whopping 78 miles per gallon.

The 918 Spyder was a surprise introduction at the recent Geneva Motor Show.  Lurking beneath the exotic body is a mid-engine 3.8-liter V-8 engine rated at 500 horsepower, and working in conjunction with two electric motors – because, let’s face it, 500 horsepower just won’t cut it.

The electric motors add an additional 218 hp, bumping output to 718 hp and, according to Porsche, providing the slinky tw0-seat coupe with a 198 mph top speed.  The sprint from o to 62 mph takes only 3.2 seconds.  Of course, when driven aggressively, owners wouldn’t see anything close to that much-hyped 78 m.p.g. average.

The 918 Spyder does a lot of things well, though not all at the same time. It has four drive modes. An all-electric “E-Power” mode has 15.5 miles of range from a lithium-ion battery pack. “Race-Hybrid” mode unleashes the 500-horsepower V-8 gas engine and 218-horsepower electric motor to help the car accelerate from zero-to-62 miles per hour in 3.2 seconds and give it a top speed of 198 miles an hour. An “E-Boost” button allows the driver to call on maximum electric power for “racing and when passing,” Porsche said.

(via The New York Times, Porsche’s Stealth Debut)

So when driven like a Porsche and not a Prius, the 918 Spyder returns a much more realistic (i.e. lower) economy average.  While the figures are a tad optimistic, at least there’s no doubt about how this Porsche hybrid stole the spotlight from another equally exotic debut in Geneva.

The Ferrari 599 Hybrid wowed the crowds with its jaw-dropping looks.  But the Italian sports car (painted green, of course) left many scratching their heads, wondering what the big deal was about a hybrid capable of averaging only 14 m.p.g.

Mar. 11 2010 — 2:51 pm | 42 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Daimler sells its stake in Tata Motors

Tata Power

Image via Wikipedia

German automaker Daimler has sold its 5.34 percent stake in Tata Motors, India’s largest indigenous car manufacturer and best known for building the low cost Nano city-car.  With a starting price of approximately $2,500, the Nano is currently the world’s cheapest car, and has been on sale in India since mid-2009.

Daimler reportedly earned $410 million from the stock sale, causing Tata Motors’ shares to slip roughly 6 percent during that day’s trading.   The cooperation between Daimler and Tata Motors stretches back 50 years.  However, according to a report in The Financial Times, the sale of Tata Motors stock signals a desire for Daimler, based in Stuttgart, Germany, to streamline its worldwide automotive partnerships.

The move marks another step in the premium car and truckmaker’s move to disentangle itself from a web of partnerships built over the past decade with carmakers including Chrysler and Mitsubishi.

It will further boost Daimler’s net cash position, which had already jumped by several billion euros to €7.3bn in its industrial business by the end of 2009.

(via The Financial Times, Tata Motors hit by Daimler stake sale)

In separate news, Daimler used the recent Geneva Motor Show to announce a partnership with Chinese carmaker BYD (Build Your Dreams).  The two companies plan on jointly developing an electric car, tailored to meet the needs of the Chinese market.

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    I'm an automotive journalist based in New York City and a frequent contributor to The New York Times, Edmunds.com, Gaywheels.com, CarandDriver.com, Bimmer magazine and many other well-respected publications.

    I recently spent nearly 5 years in the wilds of Paris, France, where I was reporting about the European and Indian automotive world. But no matter where I am, there is always a great car story waiting to be told.

    I've poked my head under the hood of a New Delhi taxicab, worked the pits at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and driven 197-mph on the German autobahn.

    Now that I'm back in the U.S. - along with Matthew, my partner of 10 years - it's thrilling to get reacquainted with N.Y.C. and American car culture.

    I love my job no matter if I'm driving some jaw-dropping exotic car or, much more likely, hunting for a parking spot in my downtown neighborhood.

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