CARS INCREDIBLY INDIAN

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Tata has a strong track record in, well, trucks, having built such vehicles since the ’50s. In the ’90s it started making passenger cars, too, which the company intends to sell to the world.

Tata has a strong track record in, well, trucks, having built such vehicles since the ’50s. In the ’90s it started making passenger cars, too, which the company intends to sell to the world.

TATA is everywhere in India. The vast conglomerate holds interests in telecoms, IT, power generation/distribution, hotels, steel, chemicals, consultancy services and some more, including watch-making. The bottled water one gets in most places in Mumbai (and, presumably, in other parts of the country) comes from Tata’s beverage business.

It is, of course, also into cars through Tata Motors, which, not surprising, is India’s biggest.

Soon, Tata Motors is coming into the Philippines. Its products will be sold and serviced by Pilipinas Taj Autogroup as soon as the Tata brand is formally introduced to the domestic market, set to take place at this year’s edition of the Manila International Auto Show that starts April 3. To hype up the arrival, Tata Motors recently set up a series of presentations in Mumbai, India, (where its headquarters are) to pitch the company’s storied history and its prominent position natively and globally. Stressing the importance of the Mumbai meet was that some of Tata Motors’ top officials made the presentations, namely Johnny Oommen, head of international business for passenger vehicles; Ranjith Yadav, president for passenger vehicles; Ravindra Pisharody, executive director for commercial vehicles; and RT Wasan, head of international business for commercial vehicles. Debasis Ray, Tata Group’s head of corporate communications, also presented at a separate meeting.

Mumbai meet
According to the company executives in Mumbai, Tata’s appearance in the Philippines in the late ’90s was not an official one, and was most likely a result of an importer sourcing the vehicles from a dealer—not from manufacturer Tata Motors. The brand’s upcoming entry in the country is, therefore, its foray.


Tata has a huge domestic market to serve—more than 1.8 million cars were sold in India last year, which is already nearly a 10-percent decline from 2012—and the company has sold more than eight million vehicles since its trucks first rolled out in 1954. In 1992 it ventured into making cars, but it wasn’t until 1998 when it built what it says is “India’s first fully indigenous passenger car.”

At present, Tata Motors owns Daewoo Commercial Vehicles of South Korea, is a majority stakeholder at truck body-builder Marcopolo of Brazil, has a joint venture with Thonburi Automotive Assembly of Thailand, and, through Tata Africa Holding, assembles trucks in Pretoria. It has other operations in Bangladesh, Ukraine, Senegal and Indonesia. The brand’s vehicles are sold in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, South America, Russia, most of Asia, including Asean countries (besides Thailand) Malaysia and Myanmar—the list goes on. The point is, Tata Motors is huge.

Consider; in 2008 it bought Jaguar and Land Rover.

So, why the Philippines?

“We expect the Asean region to be growth-rich,” said Wasan. “The Philippines is a key market there—interesting, very large.”

To take on the Philippines, where it will have to eke its share of the market alongside firmly established Japanese, American and Korean rivals, Tata will rely on its expertise in diesel technology. Apparently, the company boasts an extensive experience in this area through its trucks and other commercial-use models, being the world’s fourth-largest maker of commercial vehicles (fourth in buses, fifth in trucks). This knowhow, Tata said, is transferred to its passenger cars.

“We have identified the segments to compete in, and our strength lies in advanced diesel offerings,” said Oommen. Some of Tata’s diesel engines, by the way, are already rated to be Euro6-compliant.

“A large segment of buyers in the Philippines also like small vehicles,” added Pisharody. “This plays to our strengths.”

Philippine Tatas
As such, the first three Tatas that will be sold in the Philippines are two compacts, the Vista hatchback and Manza sedan, and a pickup, the Xenon XT. The cars will initially be available only with gasoline engines, with their diesel versions set to arrive in July. By this time, the smaller Indica hatchback and Indigo sedan, which are set to come equipped with gasoline and diesel engines, will join Pilipinas Taj’s lineup.

True to Tata Motors’ strategy, the diesel versions of the Vista, Manza, Indica and Indigo are going to be the top variants, with the gasoline-powered ones poised to receive less features and, consequently, lower price tags. As the norm is for trucks of this size, the Xenon XT is diesel-powered.

The Vista is propelled by a four-cylinder, 1.4-liter, 74hp, 113Nm gasoline engine that bolts to a five-speed manual transmission. Its 14-inch alloy wheels are grabbed by a disc/drum brake combo. The car will be available in five colors.

The Manza has an identical four-cylinder, 1.4-liter gasoline engine (but is slightly more powerful with 89hp and 116Nm) that also bolts to a five-speed manual gearbox. The car’s wheels are larger at 15 inches while paintjob options are the same.

Pilipinas Taj will sell the Xenon XT in both 4×2 and 4×4 versions, both of which are powered by Tata’s 2.2-liter, direct injection, common rail diesel engine that makes 138hp and 320Nm from as low as 1,700rpm. A five-speed manual transmission sends power to 16-inch alloys.

Preceding the arrival of the Indica and Indigo are the Ace and Super Ace mini trucks that are targeted for commercial use. The Ace will initially be offered with a two-cylinder gasoline engine, with a diesel version to follow later, while the bigger Super Ace packs a four-cylinder diesel mill right from the start. Both mini trucks’ chassis can be configured to turn into a drop-side pickup, closed delivery van, tanker and an endless array of other forms.

Pilipinas Taj General Manager Nicky Mariano, unable to announce final figures before the brand’s official launch, assured all Tata models will be “competitively priced.”

Pune not puny
The India trip also included a visit to Tata Motors’ manufacturing facilities in Pune, around 60 kilometers inland to the east of Mumbai. There, the structures that house the company’s various truck- and car-making operations sit on an area covering nearly 500 hectares, counting in a forest reserve and a lake.

Practically a city within Pune metropolis, Tata Motors’ expansive property accommodates administrative offices, sheet metal presses, engine and gearbox assembly plants, paint shops, production lines for trucks, passenger cars and other vehicles, storage yards, recycling facilities, crash- and weather-testing labs, an NVH research hall, its own emergency response unit, training classrooms, dormitories. One building, more stylishly adorned than the others, is a design studio. Over to one side of the “city” are proving grounds and a skid pad where Tata arrayed some of its models so the Philippine group of journalists can drive them on a kilometers-long “highway” and, the Xenon XT, on a “torture track” (basically a stretch of rough, undulating surface to test trucks’ rides).

There was a buzz of activity in each and every manufacturing facility, where sheet metals are pressed into body panels, gearboxes being put together, vehicles getting painted—cars and trucks assembled. Even the weather-testing lab had a car undergoing evaluation, and engineers at the crash-test center were poring over data of a car just recently and very deliberately destroyed. Where factory tours usually involve walking within a huge building (or two), at Tata’s Pune plant guests are shuttled around in specially designed coaches from one building to another, one facility to the next. Puny, this place is not.

Actually, Tata Motors’ manufacturing center in Pune is not its biggest—the distinction belongs to the one in Jamshedpur, India’s first planned industrial city established by Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata. Yes, he founded Tata Group.

What this scale of production—as well as partnership with, if not downright ownership of, car-making businesses globally—indicates is Tata’s determination and capability in building vehicles it intends not only to sell in its native land, but also to the rest of the world, where these are subjected to higher standards as they compete with the best. Also, the company’s top brass’ presence at the Mumbai meet—where five top executives presented to four journalists—certainly lent weight to Tata’s seriousness at taking on new markets.

So, to bet that the next batch of world-class vehicles (after these last came from the South Koreans) will wear Chinese badges would be risky—China’s carmakers must resort to a chasmic paradigm shift in the manner they conduct their business, or at least miraculously learn what “copyright” means, to better their odds. But as it stands at present, chances are it’s from India where such cars will come.

Most likely, too, these will be Tatas.

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