The world's cheapest car is coming to America. The question is, how?
Last week, Indian billionaire Ratan Tata told a New York audience that he plans to bring his recently introduced Tata Nano -- a no-frills car starting at less than $2,500 -- to the United States in two years.
What he didn't make clear was how he intends to sell it here. Tata has no U.S. retail network.
Not yet, anyway.
Is the expanding Indian automaker planning to launch a U.S. franchise?
"They would have to do something like that," says David Good, the U.S. representative for Tata's corporate holding company, Tata Sons Ltd. Good said he does not know the plans for the car but noted that Tata also now owns Jaguar and Land Rover.
But Stuart Schorr, a spokesman for Jaguar Land Rover North America, said in an e-mail: "Tata will not use Jaguar Land Rover's distribution network and vice versa."
Tata revealed the Nano plan while speaking at the Cornell Global Forum on Sustainable Enterprise, a conference held by Cornell University.
A Reuters report quoted Tata as saying he will introduce the car here in two years.
Good clarified that the plan is "about two years," and that it could take slightly longer -- "maybe two years and six months."
Tata did not elaborate on the distribution plans.
If a new U.S. franchise is his plan, it will not be the first Indian brand here. Global Vehicles U.S.A., a private distributor in suburban Atlanta, has spent three years assembling 330 U.S. retailers to sell a diesel pickup built by Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd., of Mumbai. That retail network will start selling pickups late this year, said Pawan Goenka, head of Mahindra's global automotive business.
Tata began selling the Nano in India in April. The car was designed and built for low-income buyers. Among the cost-shaving techniques: one windshield wiper rather than two, and just three lug nuts per tire.
Good said the company is working on a different version for the United States, and Tata told his New York audience that it "will need to meet all emission and crash standards," Reuters reported.
That would likely yield a car that sells for more than $2,500.