It was no theoretical invitation.
South Carolina officials immediately grasp the implications of a small luxury automaker opening a U.S. factory. In 1992, Germany's BMW AG said it would build a modest auto plant next to the Greenville airport. At that time, BMW was selling fewer than 66,000 cars a year in America. Since then, BMW has invested $6 billion in the plant, which employs 8,000 people, says Bobby Hitt, the plant's former public relations chief who has since become South Carolina's secretary of commerce. Hitt sat next to Tata at last week's luncheon.
Jaguar Land Rover could be poised for the same sort of surge in global business. That is a far cry from the group's fortunes a few years ago, and it is largely thanks to Tata.
The futures of Jaguar and Land Rover were dicey back in 2008 when Tata acquired the storied British brands from Ford Motor Co. for what he said was $1.6 billion. Since then, and with $3 billion in additional investment in new models, technologies and plants, the brands are excelling globally.
Land Rover's U.S. sales rose just 3 percent last year to 51,465 vehicles, while Jaguar's declined 7 percent to 15,773. But the duo posted record worldwide sales of 462,678 last year, a 9 percent increase. And their United Kingdom-based management team is forecasting that a cluster of new models will push 2015 global sales to more than 500,000.
In the past three years, the group has hired thousands of workers in the U.K. In October, Jaguar Land Rover opened its first non-U.K. car plant in China, and is constructing another in Brazil.
The stewardship of Jaguar Land Rover has been a somewhat surprising success.
Tata made no attempt to integrate the luxury companies with Tata. "What would we integrate?" he shrugged. "We make low-end cars."
But he did approve all the capital spending the companies' management believed it needed to rebound. Product plans had been frozen before the acquisition, and investments halted. Tata quickly approved $2 billion in product spending.
"I was convinced that when we came out of this recession we shouldn't be the same company," he says "We should be offering a new company with new products."
He also met with the companies' British work force and unions to settle their worries and stop rumors that Tata intended to dismantle their factories and move production to India. His plea: "Let's work shoulder to shoulder to re-establish the glory of these two brands and not worry about whether we're going to close down plants."
Tata says his main concern today is modernizing Tata's charitable foundations, which are focused on easing childhood malnutrition and improving India's rural health care. He sees Detroit's Ford Foundation -- where he was a trustee for nine years -- as a model to be emulated.
He still wants to make a difference, he says. He still wants the Nano to improve the lives of Indian families. He wants Tata Motors to continue to grow to support his foundations.
"I hope that in course of time," he says, "one looks back and says, 'I've made a difference.'"