I guess one of the highlights of the week was the launch of surely one of the most-hyped new cars in recent times, Tata’s Nano. As any major new model seems to get about three launches these days – the ‘first official photo’ press release, the ‘international press event’ and the local market launches – who’s to blame Tata, which first revealed the car at the Delhi show way back in January, 2008?

Here in the west, ‘launch’, give or take a few weeks, is roughly synonomous with ‘available’ but Tata’s defnition is ‘announce’ followed by ‘display and take orders for only a few weeks’ (even charging the equivalent of US$3 for the form, which is outrageous) with ‘delivery’ from July. You won’t even earn interest on your deposit until the second round of order-taking starts but that is unlikely to deter buyers offered what, initial drive reports suggest (even UK magazines were full of ‘world first’ test drive reports), is quite a decent little car for about twice as much as a top Indian-made motorcycle. Whether it’s the new Model T or VW Beetle, as some of the more breathless commentators suggested this week, remains to be seen. Certainly, there’s likely to be at least two orders for every one of the roughly 50,000 cars likely to be built this year.

Meanwhile, Tata’s chairman was in the news here in the UK for another reason, seeking a freeing up of credit so he can get some working capital to keep Jaguar and Land Rover going. That was widely interpreted in the daily blahs as ‘give me some taxpayers’ money or British jobs go’ but the man was seeking some loosened credit, not a government bailout, as a hastily rushed-out statement the day after his Sky News interview sought to clarify.

In Japan, organisers announced the Tokyo motor show was still on, albeit at about half-throttle minus quite a few foreign automakers and trucks. My memories of that show are usually based around barking-mad concepts and clever robots rather than what GM Japan was up to so I think the Japanese car nuts will still flock to a show that has maybe slipped a bit down the international radar in recent years. If your auto market is dominated by Japan, as many in the Asia-Pacific region are, it’s still going to be a must-visit, media-wise.

We learned that private jet transport – albeit charter in place of (an as yet unsold) company fleet – was still on the menu for Ford CEO Alan Mulally (well, he is ex-Boeing) and, not to be outdone, editor Dave Leggett joined other assorted freel…, er, journalists on one of BMW’s now ‘harder working’ corporate jets to sample the new Mini convertible in France, managing to return more or less on time despite a little industrial niggle in the country that affected air traffic control one day and has seen various differences of opinion at Faurecia and Conti.

Ford finally commented officially this week on talks involving a possible sale of Volvo but held back on the juicier details, thus keeping the rumour mill well and truly alive. Clearly, there’s much more discussion ahead. Meanwhile, one of the rumoured interested parties, denying its interest, snapped up an Australian autobox maker fallen on hard times. The Aussie parts industry has suffered in the recession; let’s hope those jobs stay Down Under.

Speaking of parts, Johnson Controls announced more restructuring just today, with 10 more plants to go. That part wasn’t good news, but the return to break-even in part of their auto business, and overall company profitability, plus the expectation this was the end to restructuring provided a glimmer of hope.

Have a good weekend.

Graeme Roberts
Deputy/News Editor