Desperate Tata, the car division of the Indian conglomerate, unveils rescue concept
The company that bought Jaguar-Land-Rover from Ford for £2.8bn several years ago (2nd June 2008) needs a medal for tolerating more than twice that amount in incurred losses, states Iain Robertson, its slaphappy but arrogant management style still believing that market flooding can have a pot of gold in store.
Ratan Tata, now retired, although still highly active in the business bearing his name, is a proud and successful Indian businessman. His love and admiration for Great Britain stems from his childhood in the pre-Partition sub-continent. When he first obtained the opportunity to work with MG-Rover during its exceptionally troubled final years, he was not dissuaded by the shockingly poor management of that business, such were his levels of enthusiasm and self-belief. He possessed the funds from his successful multi-national steel business and a far-reaching perception that, given the right financial support and encouragement, a sometime immensely fruitful British motor industry could be revitalised into a world beater.
After experiencing the early products of his Indian company…the Minica, or Indica, which would become the MG-Rover Cityrover, and the Safari 4×4 estate car…and having the privilege of meeting the benefactor and great man at the London Motor Show (when we used to host such events), I did accuse him of automotive myopia. Although intended as a replacement for the Mini Metro, the Cityrover suffered from innumerable dynamic problems that required immediate reparative surgery. In fact, the task was passed to Salisbury-based vehicle tuning firm, Janspeed, where half a dozen examples were modified in different ways to explore cost reductions, chassis improvements and even build enhancements, to ensure that its UK landed price could be maintained at a low enough level to raise profit expectations that, for small cars, had become a perpetual problem area. Even though the final product, which gained Union Jack enamel badges, was never a complete solution (flimsy, awkward handling, cheaply detailed), it could be imported at around £3,000 per unit and retailed for £7,000, making money for Tata, as well as rewarding the dealer network for the first time in yonks.
The Safari was much more resilient, actually receiving UK press plaudits for its toughness and off-road prowess, even though it drove like a pig on-road, lacking performance and refinement, and handling like a stuck fart. It had the appearance of a Land Rover Discovery that had been shoved through a hot wash but neither dried properly, nor ironed afterwards. It was also half the price. Yet, it was customarily Indian-inexpensive and found some grateful buyers seeking something quite different to what they expected. By the way, it could tow a house. Although this pair of cars could hardly be called ground-breaking, such was their basic crudeness, they provided a hint of what an Indian manufacturer could achieve, in a country with a high percentage of former Indian residents and potential customers living here. The concept of an Indian takeaway, with a slightly different accent, was not a tragically bad one. Remember that Tata also produced for its domestic market the Nano model, intended to be affordable for all and priced at around £1,000 on the road. As cheap as chips.
When the Tata deal was struck to acquire JLR, I hoped and prayed for success. The union of the brands deserved it and Mr Tata had been through a major educational process that should have prepared him for stormy seas ahead. JLR made immense promises…very few of them fulfilled…but grew its presence, concentrated on expanding the LR aspect, while Jaguar was allowed to bumble along and find its feet, with minimal nannying. Developing new products is a nightmare that consumes profits greedily but JLR did not care, now it had proper funding from a seemingly bottomless pit. Yet, years of British state funding and fiddling were deeply entrenched, waste was a growing and costly issue and old factories needed rebuilding, repurposing, or replacement. The company went on a crazy hiring spree. In truth, the company was in a mess and just pumping in cash would never provide positive answers. Having invested heavily in Chinese retailing, when the dragon turned and bit JLR’s backside in 2019, it almost brought Tata tearfully to its knees. A new management approach was needed desperately…but it is still not producing as intended.
While JLR’s electrification intentions are only just starting to be realised in drips and draps, Tata has decided to take the bull by the horns and produce its own BEV concept, Avinya. Long, low, wide and stunningly beautiful, it is a statement of intent that reaches well into the autonomous motoring scene, with space and minimalism central to its finely crafted interior. Unsurprisingly, Tata has some lofty ideals and ambitions in mind for the Avinya, which will form the basis of the firm’s future in electrified transport. You can take it for granted that Tata will be directing this project to ensure that JLR learns from it too.
Standing for empathetic mobility, a machine that is engineered to be smart, spacious, sustainable and technologically viable, the agile and robust architecture offers a flexible design that boasts of next generation connectivity, advanced driver assistance systems and enhanced performance and efficiency. Pioneered out of India for the world, this global platform offers high structural integrity and features the next level of waterproofing and dust protection, making it ready for all terrains. Using next-gen materials, efficient electronic componentry and proprietary energy management strategies and algorithms for efficiency management, the use of lightweight materials and an optimised structure helps to minimise the overall mass, leading to more proficient weight management. Naturally, the battery pack will support an ultra-fast recharge capability, to achieve a minimum 300mls range in under 30 minutes.
While Tata will not reinvent the wheel, it needs to correct its inherent and inherited JLR values. The company is placing a lot of stock behind its Avinya concept and is demonstrating to the world that IT is in charge of its UK and overseas carmaking operations. Strong Indian management has already been installed in the UK and Tata does not want JLR to slip between its fingers as it has done so in the past. I hope it is right.