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Tata hits passenger-car overdrive

Big picture: Tata will introduce three new models per year over the next four years, and the range could include a car based on the 4WD hybrid Megapixel.

A host of new models in fresh segments will see Tata go properly global by 2020

26 Aug 2013


TATA MOTORS is in the midst of the biggest new-model expansion period in its 68-year history with an armada of passenger, SUV and commercial vehicles coming over the next five years.

Designed to rocket the Indian car-maker – and owner of Jaguar Land Rover – to global mainstream player status, the Mumbai-based manufacturer is planning three facelifted or all-new releases annually until 2017, followed by at least one every year after that until 2020.

Tata will also debut in a number of new segments, including the crossover and compact SUV classes, with vehicles that have global – and not just India’s – market needs engineered-in from the outset.

The product offensive is part of Tata’s ‘Horizon Next’ phase of vehicle development, announced in June by Tata Motors managing director Karl Slym.

Billed as the roadmap to 2020 and beyond, it takes into account the convergence of stricter assorted legislation and consumer tastes, as India’s burgeoning middle classes move away from basic transportation to vehicles closer aligned to more mature markets’ needs and wants.

“We’re a mass manufacturer company, and therefore our portfolio needs to be continued to be developed in the areas where we see those volume sales both internationally and domestic,” he told Australian journalists at the Xenon pick-up launch in Pune, India, last week.

“Success comes from platforms which you can use and spread the assets, to make sure we can use that global platform in a number of countries.

“So you’ll see us enter segments, which are of high volume, and ones that stretch beyond one particular market, and therefore allow us to be able to play in a number of international markets, and we expect to do so.

“Certainly customer expectations around the world are coming together closer and closer, so there is a smaller gap between what a customer is looking for from one country to another.”

 center imageFrom top: Tata Vista EV, Nano, Nano Europa, Tuff Truck and Xenon dual-cab.

Underpinning the passenger-car side of things is an all-new front/all-wheel drive-capable transverse-engine modular architecture being engineered right now.

Scalable in both track width and wheelbase length, it is expected to accommodate everything from the B-segment light car replacement for the ageing Vista/Manza models (the latter two undergoing a facelift next year), to the brand’s first monocoque bodied compact SUV.

The modular architecture is also expected to sire Tata’s first true Toyota Corolla-sized small car, and a mini van/crossover to eventually replace the slow-selling Aria seven-seater wagon.

At the bottom end of the market, the globally recognised Nano will expand as a sort of sub-brand, from “the world’s cheapest new car” to siring larger and (relatively) more upmarket variants for worldwide consumption (including, reportedly, the United States).

“Our passenger vehicle business will reinvent itself in the next few years,” promises Dr Tim Leverton, the former BMW engineering chief whose portfolio includes the Rolls Royce Phantom.

Now the head of Tata Motors’ design and engineering drive, he plans to deliver world-class competitive vehicles that are still tough, durable and affordable enough to meet the massive Indian market’s demands.

To help realise Horizon Next, Tata’s various global resources will be leveraged, including the know how from the in-house Jaguar Land Rover arm, a recently acquired Italian design house, and the Tata Daewoo concern created after the Indian manufacturer bought into the flailing South Korean company in 2004.

Together with the massive research and development centre at Pune near Mumbai, Tata has ambitions to be amongst the big time players.

“We are making something that can be competitive in India as well as the rest of the world,” Dr Leverton said.

“India is a low-price market and therefore cost base is extremely important.

Yet we want it to sell outside of India… so we need a modular architecture. We have an opportunity to leapfrog to a very interesting solution.

The key difference between a platform strategy and a modular architecture is the ability to change width and lengths. Now we can reach across (more segments).

While it is a shock to learn that Tata has never offered a monocoque SUV – a strategic error that one insider revealed has left the company dangerously exposed even in the home market now that compatriot Mahindra is going gangbusters with the XUV 500 while Renault and Ford are also riding high with their respective Dacia-based Duster and EcoSport) – Dr Leverton added that there is still a future for body-on-frame SUVs as well as integrated frame LCVs like the popular forward-control van-like Super Ace.

“Basically there are three (different approaches)… monocoque, integrated frame and body-on-frame SUVs,” he said.

Mr Slym added that a number of existing platforms will also be modified under the Horizon Next campaign since they still have plenty of life left in them, though he declined to go into specifics.

Tata is already the number four globally for light commercial vehicles and number one in India, while occupying the number three slot in that country’s passenger vehicle market.

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