The Truth About Cars » Tata Motors http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 02 Sep 2015 20:14:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.4 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars » Tata Motors http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Will the GenX Nano Erase Tata’s ‘Cheapest Car’ Stigma? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/will-genx-nano-erase-tatas-cheapest-car-stigma/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/will-genx-nano-erase-tatas-cheapest-car-stigma/#comments Mon, 25 May 2015 13:26:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1071194 It’s not often a car company, or any group of people for the matter, will admit mistakes – particularly billion dollar mistakes. That’s why the launch of the all-new Tata GenX Nano is refreshing. Based on former CEO Ratan Tata’s dream of moving Indians who transport their entire families on scooters and motorcycles into safer […]

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It’s not often a car company, or any group of people for the matter, will admit mistakes – particularly billion dollar mistakes. That’s why the launch of the all-new Tata GenX Nano is refreshing. Based on former CEO Ratan Tata’s dream of moving Indians who transport their entire families on scooters and motorcycles into safer – albeit, basic – four wheeled automobiles, the very fact the original 2009 Nano was the least expensive car on sale anywhere in the world proved to be an albatross around the Nano’s tiny neck. Even Indians aspiring to the middle class of a developing country, it turns out, aspire to be seen in something other than the cheapest car in the world. They’d rather buy a used Maruti Suzuki Alto 800, the hatchback that more or less defines India’s entry level car segment. In recognition of that reality, the new GenX Nano will now be positioned as an entry level hatchback to more directly compete with the Alto 800, Hyundai Eon and the newly announced Renault Kwid.

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While some saw the Nano as India’s Model T, prompting comparisons of Ratan Tata to Henry Ford, the historical reality is while Henry Ford had a great idea in making cars for the average consumer, not just the wealthy, the Model T was far from the cheapest car on the market when it was introduced. While it’s true that productivity and cost improvements allowed Ford to eventually drop the price of the T to less than $300, that was in 1924. When the Model T was introduced in 1908 (as a 1909 model) it cost $850. By comparison, a Brush Runabout cost less than $500 in 1908. Henry Ford didn’t face the stigma of selling the cheapest car in the world when he launched the Model T.

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In a 2013 interview, while claiming it was never his personal goal, Ratan Tata admitted it was a mistake for his company to market the Nano on price.

“It became termed as a cheapest car by the public and, I am sorry to say, by ourselves, not by me, but the company when it was marketing it. I think that is unfortunate,” Tata told CNBC.

Around the same time, which would have been while the GenX Nano was being developed, brand positioning guru Jack Trout publicly suggested that Tata kill the Nano. But, in launching the GenX Nano, Tata Motors Senior Vice President for passenger vehicle product and chief Nano engineer Girish Wagh said, “Never did we have discussion about killing the brand.” Wagh admitted the company erred in not recognizing the “societal status” needs of those upgrading from a two-wheeler to an actual automobile and that the launch of the GenX Nano meant creating a “perception change” for both the Nano and for Tata as a maker of passenger cars. Wagh told the Economic Times, while they haven’t yet discussed killing the Nano, the relaunch is indeed a “make or break” effort for Tata’s sub-brand.

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When the original Tata Nano was launched, the “cheapest car in the world” was big news globally, even though it was designed primarily for the domestic Indian market. The Nano’s existence persuaded some very big automakers to reexamine their plans concerning low cost passenger cars and their strategies about export hubs and the developing world.

 

Bajaj Re60

Bajaj Re60. Image: Bajaj

In the Indian market a number of companies started developing low cost cars, with Maruti introducing the Alto 800, the latest version of the Suzuki Alto with a smaller, older engine. Scooter and three-wheeler maker Bajaj, working with Renault-Nissan, introduced their first four wheel vehicle, the RE60, a low cost, low speed car for the commercial autorickshaw market. The French-Japanese automotive alliance revived the Datsun brand with the $5,000+ Go for the Indian market. The Go hasn’t exactly gone as well as Mr. Ghosn had hoped, so Renault itself just introduced the $4,700 Kwid to India. The GenX Nano will be priced from $3,150 to  $4,550.

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For all that news and influence, Nano sales have been disappointing for Tata. Tata has sold only as many Nanos in six years, about 250,000 units, as they had hoped to sell in the first two years of Nano production. Currently, the factory in Sanand, Gujarat is operating at just 15 percent capacity and sales this year are down 20 percent from last.

 

Original Tata Nano instrument panel

Original Tata Nano instrument panel. Wikimedia commons photo

Tata acknowledges they misjudged just how aspirational Indian consumers are at even the lowest entry level of car ownership and they are now relaunching the Nano for the third time. It’s really more than a relaunch, though. The Nano has been substantially rengineered and equipped with features to reposition it as a city car, an entry level hatchback, hopefully removing the stigma of being the cheapest car in the world. That’s a stigma the corporate owners of one of the world’s storied luxury automobile brands, Jaguar, can’t really afford to have.

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After collecting consumer impressions from over 1,000 Nano owners and half again as many of owners of other entry level Indian cars, Tata is hoping that a safer, all-new design and features like an automated transmission and Bluetooth connectivity (not earlier available at the price point) will allow it to more directly compete with other small hatches like the Chevrolet Beat, Hyundai Eon, and the Maruti Alto 800. The Eon and Alto 800 each sell about ten times as many units per month as the outgoing Nano. Even the highest priced GenX Nano will still undercut comparable Maruti Altos by 50,000 rupees, or about $800 at current exchange rates.

 

Renault Kwid

Carlos Ghosn introducing the new $4,700 Renault Kwid. Round trip Business Class airfare on Air France for Paris-Mumbai starts at $2,500. Kinda puts global business into perspective. Renault photo.

There is talk, not denied by Tata, of a bigger 1.0-liter engine to be offered a year down the road in addition to the 660 cc twin that currently powers the Nano, along with a possible diesel option. Right now, the GenX Nano has about half of the power to weight ratio of the Alto 800, which has, as the name indicates, a 796 cc engine. Because the engine is relatively loaded down, the GenX Nano is projected to get slightly worse fuel economy than the Alto 800, about 21 km per liter of petrol vs 22.7.

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The Tata Nano began as Ratan Tata’s dream of getting Indians who sometimes transport entire families on motorcycles and scooters into an unquestionably safer, enclosed, four-wheeled vehicle. It then became what, I think, was a rather impressive feat of engineering to a price point, removing all but the essential. That price point was “one lakh” or 100,000 rupees, the equivalent of about $2,000 US when the Nano was launched in 2009. The project had setbacks from the beginning, with farmers and politicians protesting the original factory location, delaying production. And because we’re in the internet age, fires in a small number of early production Nanos went viral around the world, harming the car’s image. Then Ratan Tata’s dream ran into the fact the families riding on motorcycles had aspirations greater than owning the world’s cheapest car. Indians would apparently rather drive a used example of a more expensive car.

 

Original Tata Nano

Original Tata Nano. Wikimedia commons photo

The first relaunch stressed the value of the Nano by emphasizing low monthly payments, but that only reinforced the image of the Nano as a cheap car. A second relaunch of the slightly more upscale Nano Twist models ran into the fact that, by then, competitors in India had products like the Beat and Alto 800 on the market.

 

Tata Nano Twist

Tata Nano Twist

This time, Tata has abandoned the cheapest car in the world scheme and decided to make a better Nano. As mentioned, much of the design and engineering of the original Nano was about taking things out, like using three lug nuts instead of at least four. By comparison, the GenX Nano’s development was more about putting things in than taking things out.

 

Maruti Alto 800

Maruti Alto 800

Tata says with the use of more high strength steel, crush zones, and side intrusion beams, the Nano’s body is much stronger and safer. It now also has a functional hatch with up to 110 liters of cargo space in the trunk. The original Nano was a four door, not a hatchback. Though the engine has been more or less unchanged, it’s been recalibrated for better urban fuel economy based on Tata engineers’ real-world observations of driving in major Indian markets. Mechanically, the biggest change is the availability of an automated manual transmission. While Tata is no longer marketing the Nano as the cheapest car in the world, the launch publicity did mention that the GenX Nano will be the “most affordable” car with an automated manual transmission.

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In addition to the structural and drivetrain changes, the GenX Nano has a new instrument panel, a stronger air conditioner (something very important with India’s climate), power steering, modern connectivity, and better NVH performance. While the overall silhouette hasn’t changed, the GenX Nano has a new face and rear end, with new bumpers, lamps and a honeycomb grille. The changes are intended to appeal to young, aspirational Indians, particularly women who will like the “Easy Shift” automated manual. Women take a targeted role in the GenX Nano’s marketing and dealers report 20 percent of those who have already booked a GenX Nano – which is already on sale with deliveries scheduled in about two months – are females.

Click here to view the embedded video.

When the original Nano was introduced in 2009, I saw more than a couple of online comments from consumers in North America wondering why a car that cheap couldn’t be sold on this continent. As it turns out, a car that cheap can’t be sold in great numbers on the Indian sub-continent, let alone in North America, where something as relatively advanced and luxurious when compared to the Nano, like the Mitsubishi Mirage, struggles in the market. In time, the Nano project may turn out to be a success. But, whatever success it will have will now be based on its virtues as an automobile compared to competing products, not by being the cheapest car anywhere on the planet.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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If You Were Starting Up a Car Company, Would You Put Your Factory in Hawaii? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/starting-car-company-put-factory-hawaii/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/starting-car-company-put-factory-hawaii/#comments Wed, 13 May 2015 13:00:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1065330 Though I don’t watch broadcast or cable television much anymore, I like the idea of the ABC’s Shark Tank. Actually, when I still had cable, I watched the original Canadian version of the show, Dragon’s Den, since Windsor, Ontario’s CBC affiliate station is generally part of Detroit area cable bundling. As a tinkerer, inventor and small […]

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Though I don’t watch broadcast or cable television much anymore, I like the idea of the ABC’s Shark Tank. Actually, when I still had cable, I watched the original Canadian version of the show, Dragon’s Den, since Windsor, Ontario’s CBC affiliate station is generally part of Detroit area cable bundling. As a tinkerer, inventor and small business owner, the idea of a show premised on pitching your business idea to possible angels is appealing to me. However, while all of the “sharks” undoubtedly have been more successful entrepreneurs than I have been, sometimes they make investments that just don’t make sense to me.

On last Friday’s show, one of the potential investors, Robert Herjavec, pledged $5 million in funding to a startup named Zero Pollution Motors to start building cars propelled by compressed air. ZPM says that they will start building the cars in Hawaii sometime later this year.


This video is only available to those in the U.S.

The project is apparently a joint venture involving Zero Pollution Motors, Motor Development International (a French company headquartered in Luxembourg that’s been working on a compressed air car for two decades), and India’s Tata Motors, which has a licensing deal with MDI. Singer Pat Boone appears to be an investor in ZPM. From the video it looks like they will be producing some form of MDI’s AirPod vehicle, which looks like a cross between GM’s Segway-on-steroids EN-V city pods, an Isetta microcar with its front opening door, and a DeltaWing racer. At first, because of the narrow front end, I thought it was a Reliant Robin type three wheeler – not the most stable configuration – but it actually does have two very small front wheels, though I’m not convinced how stable it will be when doing an emergency swerve. That, though, isn’t my main concern about the enterprise.

To begin with, I’m a bit put off by the reportage saying the cars are powered by compressed air. The compressed air is just storing energy, it’s not a fuel. The cars are powered by whatever is generating the electricity needed to run the compressors that fill the AirPod’s tanks. If you don’t have a compressor at home, ZPM says that you could fill up the tanks using the coin-operated air compressors you find at many filling stations. It would take about five minutes to fill up and cost you about $2.00 in quarters. The vehicles are claimed to have a range of up to 80 miles with a top speed of 50 mph. Presumably their competition would be so-called Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, BEVs with a top speed of less than 45 mph, suitable for downtown areas and gated communities. The 617 lb vehicles will have a price of $10,000.

TTAC readers who have been following my coverage of Elio Motors know I’m attracted to the romance of starting up a new car company, so I don’t want to rain on ZPM’s parade. I’m also not a compressed air skeptic. The AirPod might be a practical city vehicle. I am, however, skeptical of Zero Pollution Motors.

Putting aside the terrible semantics of saying the cars are powered by compressed air, I’m baffled that a serious investor would fund a manufacturing startup in one of the most expensive places in the world to make anything: Hawaii.

That island state will be the first of ZPM’s proposed “turnkey micro production factories” building the pods to sell directly to customers. ZPM claims their distributed manufacturing schema represents a “drastic decrease in costs and logistic problems associated with the conventional assembly process” that would not just be cleaner than conventional assembly plants, it would have a “significant beneficial impact” on the environment.

Hawaii was chosen as a test location because of Honolulu’s congested traffic and lack of gasoline refineries. Gasoline is relatively expensive in Hawaii because it has to be brought in by tanker. However, gasoline isn’t the only thing that’s expensive in Hawaii because of it’s location in the middle of the Pacific. Everything needs to be imported to Hawaii, not just gasoline. Hawaii could be the most expensive state in the union in which to start up a manufacturing concern. That’s probably why Hawaii ranks 50th in terms of states’ dependency on manufacturing. ZPM would have to ship all of their tooling there just to start up. As far as I know, there are no automotive suppliers in Hawaii, so everything needed to build the vehicles, down to nuts and bolts, would have to be brought in by boat. It would probably be cheaper, even with Manhattan real estate prices, to build ZPM’s air car in New York City – and the market there for city cars is undoubtedly a tad larger than Honolulu.

The auto industry is a very big crap shoot. To make your number usually requires investments in the 10 figure range. It’s estimated big car companies spend at least a billion dollars to develop a new model. With that perspective, Herjavec (who is a bit of a car guy, going gentleman racing, and owning LaFerrari VIN 01) isn’t risking much with his five mil, but my guess is it will be a long while before automobiles powered by any source make up a greater part of Hawaii’s GDP than the cannabis grown there.

Photo: MDI

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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New Jaguar Land Rover Factory in Brazil to Open in 2016 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/new-jaguar-land-rover-factory-in-brazil-to-open-in-2016/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/new-jaguar-land-rover-factory-in-brazil-to-open-in-2016/#comments Wed, 11 Dec 2013 11:30:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=677250 If you live in Brazil and are pining away for a Jaguar or Land Rover, Tata Motors will open a factory for the luxury marques in time for the 2016 Summer Olympics. The new factory, slated to produce 24,000 units annually at the beginning, is set to begin construction in Itatiaia sometime next year. The […]

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2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

If you live in Brazil and are pining away for a Jaguar or Land Rover, Tata Motors will open a factory for the luxury marques in time for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The new factory, slated to produce 24,000 units annually at the beginning, is set to begin construction in Itatiaia sometime next year. The two luxury brands already hold 53 percent of the luxury SUV market in Brazil, with a goal to sell 10,000 units in 2014; 9,549 Evoques, Freelanders, Discoverys et al have left the showroom through October 2013.

Tata will use the new factory to meet local demand before considering export markets nearby, and is considered to be a major step in their overall global manufacturing strategy.

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Tata to Base “Global” Range of Cars On Advanced Modular Platform That It Says Will “Leapfrog” VW’s MQB http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/tata-to-base-global-range-of-cars-on-advanced-modular-platform-that-it-says-will-leapfrog-vws-mbq/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/tata-to-base-global-range-of-cars-on-advanced-modular-platform-that-it-says-will-leapfrog-vws-mbq/#comments Thu, 14 Nov 2013 18:00:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=651002 According to Tata Motors’ managing director, Karl Slym, the company is developing a new modular platform, to be the basis of a “global” range of vehicles that it claims will “leapfrog” VW’s MBQ technology. The new vehicles will be rolled out over the next six years. Though Tata has had more success selling commercial vehicles […]

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Tata-Manza-Karl-SlymAccording to Tata Motors’ managing director, Karl Slym, the company is developing a new modular platform, to be the basis of a “global” range of vehicles that it claims will “leapfrog” VW’s MBQ technology. The new vehicles will be rolled out over the next six years.

Though Tata has had more success selling commercial vehicles than cars, Tata says that it is going to build a family of world class passenger vehicles based on what it’s calling the Advanced Modular Platform (AMP). Tata badly needs new product to replace an ageing lineup of cars which has been doing poorly as the Indian market has experienced a downturn.

Tim Leverton, Tata Motors’ head of R&D, told the Sydney Morning Herald that it had taken VW “six or seven generations” of products to get to MBQ, but that Tata would “go directly to a very interesting solution” and “leapfrog” the Volkswagen group. Leverton said that the AMP is scaleable in both length and width, making it possible to use the platform for a variety of size vehicles, from subcompacts to crossovers.

The Indian press is reporting that Slym said that the company began planning to make Tata a global automotive brand last year and that all of the cars in the pipeline based on the AMP are being designed for sale globally and will meet applicable emission and crash standards.

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Who’s Ready For An FWD Land Rover? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/05/whos-ready-for-an-fwd-land-rover/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/05/whos-ready-for-an-fwd-land-rover/#comments Mon, 10 May 2010 23:55:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=356133 From Ferrari’s manual-free pledge to BMW’s move to front-wheel-drive, the auto industry is breaking down formerly untouchable barriers left and right. The latest: longtime four-wheel-drive specialist Land Rover will build a front-drive version of its forthcoming compact “SUV Coupe” known as the LRX. The new model, which debuts at this fall’s Paris Auto Show, will […]

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From Ferrari’s manual-free pledge to BMW’s move to front-wheel-drive, the auto industry is breaking down formerly untouchable barriers left and right. The latest: longtime four-wheel-drive specialist Land Rover will build a front-drive version of its forthcoming compact “SUV Coupe” known as the LRX. The new model, which debuts at this fall’s Paris Auto Show, will generally be available with all-wheel-drive, but after launch a front-drive base version will become available. Though Landie had previously foresworn FWD models as being incompatible with the brand’s values, there’s been a change of heart and according to Autocar, the Tata Motors-owned marque

cannot ignore the growth of the two-wheel-drive SUV segment

There’s been no word thus far about the LRX’s availability in the US, but if it does arrive stateside don’t expect FWD versions to be imported. And don’t expect the LRX codename to grace its rear deck either: five names are said to be under consideration for the model, one of which is “Land Rover Compact” and none of which is “LRX.”

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