World’s cheapest car Nano on sale in April

The Nano, the car billed as the world’s cheapest, will be in automobile showrooms for sale in April, its Indian maker Tata Motors announced Thursday after months of delays.

The sporty-looking four-door Nano, dubbed the “people’s car,” has drawn worldwide attention due to its planned price tag of just 100,000 rupees (2,000 dollars) for the basic model -- cheaper than some laptop computers.

“The much-awaited Tata Nano will be (formally) launched at a function in Mumbai on March 23,” said Debasis Ray, spokesman for Tata Motors, India’s largest vehicle maker and part of the sprawling tea-to-steel Tata Group.

The cars will be on show at Tata Motors dealerships in the first week of April. Bookings will start in the second week of April.
The launch “will be a big day for the company,” Ray told AFP.
He said details about pricing and distribution would be announced at the launch, originally targeted for around last October.
A violent dispute over ownership of farmland at the site in communist-ruled West Bengal state where the Nano was initially due to be built delayed its rollout.

“I’m very sure there’s latent demand for the Nano. I expect long queues in front of showrooms,” said Gaurav Lohia, analyst at K.R. Choksey Shares and Securities.
The company has already been taking the Nano to religious shrines across the country to seek “divine blessings” for the project, media reports say.
Secular but Hindu-dominated India is a deeply religious country and business launches are usually timed to coincide with “auspicious days.”

The launch comes as Tata Motors is going through a tough patch with an economic slowdown and tight credit hitting sales.
The company, which has seen vehicle sales plummet, recently reported its first quarterly loss in seven years.
Tata Motors was feted last year as an Indian corporate success story with its 2.3-billion-dollar purchase of British luxury icons Jaguar and Land Rover. But with the global downturn, the purchase has become a financial millstone as sales of prestige cars have tumbled.
Tata Motors is making arrangements for the widest possible network to book the Nano -- “across the length and breadth of India,” Ray said.

The Nano now is due to be assembled in Western Gujarat state, one of India’s most industry friendly states.
But the first Nanos will be rolled out from existing Tata plants in what Tata group chief Ratan Tata has described as a “makeshift kind of operation.”

Only a small number of Nanos are expected to be available at first.
“It will take a year-and-a-half to get full production on stream” at the Gujarat plant, said analyst Lohia.
Ratan Tata, who conceived of the ultra-cheap vehicle to get Indians off unsafe motorcycles, said the company’s focus would remain on India.

He told Germany’s Bild newspaper the company aimed to sell 500,000 to one million vehicles a year at home but added “we also have the American and the European markets in our sights.”
He said a European version of the Nano meeting all European emission and safety standards would be presented at the Geneva Motor Show next month.
But he said the price of the European version would be much higher -- at around 5,000 euros (6,390 dollars).


Yes, we can!

An Opel employee demonstrates with a banner reading “Yes, we can !” in front of the German carmaker’s Opel, a unit of the distressed US giant General Motors, main plant in Ruesselsheim in February last week during a demonstration against the threat of job cuts. Unions representing European staff of US auto giant GM called on workers to protest in a bid to save their jobs and call for state aid (AFP)


iPhone-controlled car to demo at Geneva Motor Show

The iChange ditches car keys in favour of an iPhone

By Martyn Williams
It can send emails, play video, access the Web and snap pictures, but control a car? Swiss automobile design house Rinspeed will unveil a concept electric car controlled by an iPhone at next week’s Geneva Motor Show.
The iChange ditches car keys in favour of an iPhone, which clips into a holder on the dashboard to the right or left of the steering wheel. Once connected a green “start” button appears on the iPhone’s display and one push brings the iChange automobile to life.
When you’re driving the car the iPhone can also be used for other control functions, such as switching on and off the headlights.

But the car is about much more than just an iPhone. With it, Rinspeed is trying to revolutionise the way people think of cars.
Most cars are designed to carry a fixed number of passengers in a fixed number of seats and the entire vehicle is based around this. Even if you usually travel alone, the vehicle’s space never changes.

The aerodynamics of the vehicle, and therefore its fuel consumption, are constantly tied to this fixed number of passengers.
A concept electric car controlled by an iPhone will debut at the Geneva Motor Show.
But not the iChange. In its basic configuration the pod-shaped sports car is a single seater but at the push of a button the rear of the roof pops up to provide room for an extra two passengers.

The adaptive body concept is perhaps the biggest innovation in the car but there are others. It’s an all-electric car powered by Lithium Ion batteries and there are two configurations: one with fewer batteries for less weight and shorter driving and another heavier configuration for longer distances.

The 150 kilowatt Siemens-built electric motor provides enough power to take the car from zero to 100 kph (kilometers per hour) in 4.2 seconds, said Rinspeed.

The Harman/Kardon audio system is based on a low-power Intel processor so it uses less energy and weighs less than standard systems and the car navigation won’t just calculate the quickest way to get to your destination but the most eco-friendly route to get there in the car.

Designer Frank Rinderknecht, who came up with the iChange, is well-known in his native Switzerland for creating interesting concept cars.
Last year it was the “sQuba,” a sports car that can drive underwater, that he unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show.
The cars he designs typically never make it to market so don’t go looking for the iChange at a car dealership anytime soon.


AMW, Yamaha unveil latest offering

Associated Motorways Limited together with VIP delegation from Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd Japan and Yamaha Motor India Pvt. Ltd, launched their latest offering to the Sri Lankan market at a grand launching ceremony recently.

The Yamaha FZ16, a stylish and powerful motorcycle was entirely designed and tested by Yamaha Motor Company Japan and built to meet international standards. The FZ16 is also the winner of several prestigious awards such as UTVI and Autocar India awards 2009,FZ16- Bike of the Year, Zig Wheels 2009, FZ16 - Bike of the Year, Business Standard Motoring 2009, FZ16 - Viewers Choice Award, UTVI and Autocar India 2009, Yamaha –Excellence in quality styling and success in Motorsports and Apollo tires and Auto India best brand awards 2009.

The distributor for Yamaha Motorcycles in Sri Lanka – Associated Motorways Limited is confident that this newest Yamaha Motorcycle will make a big impact on our market, due to it being ideally suited to the tastes of the stylish fashion conscious young generation.
AMW and Yamaha wish to establish a new lifestyle for Sri Lankan people using their new range of models.


GM, Chrysler still at high risk for bankruptcy: Analysts

General Motors and Chrysler should soon overcome a major hurdle in meeting the terms of emergency government loans, but analysts warned the cash-strapped automakers remain at high risk for bankruptcy.
The United Auto Workers’ Union reached a tentative deal Monday to allow Ford Motor Co. to meet up to 50 percent of its 13.2 billion dollar obligation to a trust fund for retiree healthcare benefits with common stock instead of cash.
A similar agreement is expected shortly at GM and Chrysler because the UAW union maintains similar contracts at each of the Detroit Three.

That will allow GM to cut its cash outlays by as much as 10 billion dollars and Chrysler to improve its liquidity position by 5.3 billion dollars while also meeting a key requirement of the bailout package.
But both automakers still have to reach a deal with their creditors and have said they will need another 21.6 billion dollars in government aid on top of the 17.4 billion approved in December to weather a collapse in auto sales amid a deepening recession.
That would bring GM’s total to 30 billion dollars and Chrysler’s to nine billion.

The Treasury Department has until March 31 to decide whether massive restructuring plans submitted last week are enough to ensure the long-term viability for the two auto icons.
It is currently asking outside firms to line up contingency plans to examine the possibility of bankruptcy filings, an administration official who declined to be named said Monday.

These plans will ensure the department can make an educated decision about the best option and do not indicate that a decision has been made, the official added.
“I don’t think the administration would force Chrysler or GM into bankruptcy,” auto analyst Rebecca Lindland of IHS Global Insight told AFP.

“I think the economy might take care of that.”
Even with the help of a 787-billion-dollar stimulus package passed last week, US auto sales are not expected to recover until next year at the earliest, Lindland said.
After falling 18 percent to 13.4 million vehicles last year in the steepest decline in 29 years, Global Insight expects US auto sales to fall by at least another 22 percent in 2009 to 10.4 million vehicles.

That would be the lowest level on a per capita basis since the end of World War II and comes after nearly a decade of sales that topped 16 million vehicles a year.
“We don’t see the government support as open-ended,” said Robert Schulz, an analyst with credit rating agency Standard & Poors.

“The bankruptcy risk will be high even in the face of government loans in light of the weak vehicle sales in almost every country.”
GM placed the tab of restructuring through bankruptcy at 100 billion dollars while Chrysler said it would need 24 billion in restructuring plans submitted last week.

Both said the government would likely be the only source of that financing and warned that a liquidation -- and the loss of up to three million US jobs -- would be the likely outcome.
That could certainly make the administration wary of allowing either GM or Chrysler to fail, but there is already a great deal of frustration with government bailouts and many fresh demands for help being made.

“It could go a number of ways,” Schulz said in a telephone interview.
“It’s very hard to prejudge the outcome given there’s a significant political component to it.”
While Ford has so far managed to survive without government help because of hefty cash reserves, it is certainly not in the clear, warned JP Morgan analyst Himanshu Patel.

“Absent a sizable US volume recovery, we think Ford is only nine to 12 months behind GM in terms of needing federal assistance,” Patel wrote Monday in a research note.
Patel estimates that Ford’s cash reserves will hit its minimum required level of about nine billion dollars by the end of the year and “will probably need to start the political process of seeking aid no later than the third quarter.”

While Ford’s management will have more time than GM or Chrysler did to cut costs in anticipation of sharply lower revenues, it may have more trouble obtaining a government loan outside of bankruptcy protection, Patel wrote.
Ford would also be badly hit by a bankruptcy at GM or Chrysler because of the impact on the highly-integrated supplier network, he added.


Honda Motor replaces CEO amid industry crisis

(AFP) - Honda Motor Co. said last week that it would replace its president in June, turning to a 55-year-old engineer to lead Japan’s second largest automaker through the deepening auto industry crisis.
The management shake-up marks the end of the six-year leadership of Takeo Fukui, 64, who is retiring having won plaudits for keeping Honda in profit at a time when other major Japanese automakers are into the red.

Senior managing director Takanobu Ito, who currently oversees Honda’s automobile operations, will take over as president and chief executive at a crucial time as car sales slump because of the global economic downturn.

Fukui, who will remain an advisor to Honda, said he had initially hesitated at handing over the reins in the midst of the auto industry crisis.
“But when I thought of the company’s growth potential after overcoming these tough times, I decided it was better to make the change now rather than later,” he told a news conference.

“For the company to continue, it is very important to have a generational change,” he said.
Fukui had been widely expected to step down at some point soon because of his age and analysts gave high marks to his performance.