It’s no secret that Tata Motors has been in the doldrums, but now there's wind in them sails.
For almost ten years the most exciting thing to happen in Tata Motors was buying Jaguar Land Rover (JLR).
That, dear Tata Motors, has simply not been enough.
Car enthusiasts want to see how you’ve harnessed the intellectual capital from your former coloniser to make your own products desirable and exciting. More or less in the same way the tech from a Bugatti Veyron’s gearbox can find its way into a VW Amarok.
Off to India
This was top of mind when MotorTalk visited Tata Motors in India this month. Our mission was to drive the new Tata Bolt hatch and sedan (the local launch happens next month), go on a brief factory tour and chat to the Tata chiefs about the company’s future plans.
At the Tata Motors head office in Mumbai we were told of GenerationNext, an internal strategy to re-energise the company. This includes the introduction of two Tata models per year for the next ten years, which would be quite an achievement. Does that mean South Africa and other markets will become a dumping ground for joyless cars like the Indica and Manza? Luckily the answer to that is no. Tata still wants to sell affordable cars, but they shouldn’t feel cheap.
It's a quality thing
Luckily the Bolt represents a big step towards quality. This goes for the interior – that houses a thumpingly good sound system, the engine and the chassis. The styling tells you this car is an evolution of the Tata Indica Vista, but the design lacks flair and courage. Maybe it is better to play it safe, especially when you have an enormous domestic market that seems to be happy driving an assortment of visually challenged cars. On the other hand, many exotic manufacturers, like Porsche, have opened showrooms in Mumbai, and this will no doubt ignite the imagination of the mass market car buyer. Tata is readying themselves to meet these and world demands.
Their noble project to build a R25 000 car for the people, the Tata Nano, wasn’t met with the enthusiasm and bumper sales they had hoped for. But now they can focus on what the world wants: small and medium-sized SUVs, like the stylish and attractive Tata Hexa we were shown, and the so-called B-segments hatchback cars, like the Suzuki Swift, Ford Figo/Fiesta and Tata Bolt.
But what about its competitors?
Can the Bolt be mentioned in the same sentence as the Zuki and budget Ford? Without a doubt. The new Bolt is mostly on par with the current Figo, but exceeds it in safety (thanks to ESP in the Tata) and power. Overall, it’s not quite as accomplished as the Swift, but will beat the low-spec, 1.2-litre Suzuki’s on spec and power. The Tata’s engine also displaces 1.2 litres, but it’s fitted with a modest turbo-charger that boosts max power and torque to 66 kW and 140 Nm. These numbers won’t impress anyone, but at least that 140 Nm is spread from 1500 to 4000 rpm makes it more drivable than a normally aspirated car and less susceptible to oxygen starvation in high-altitude South Africa. On the test track near the city of Pune the Bolt displayed decent handling with safe understeer and very compliant suspension. It’s a car I will happily drive daily, although I might speak to my friends at Powerflow Salt River about a free-flow exhaust...
Tata SA’s new boss, Kyri Michael, says one of the cars they will benchmark the Bolt against is the Hyundai Grand i10. That won’t be as easy as Sunday morning. But the Bolt is a different, evolved animal compared to the Indica Vista and it should appeal to South Africans. The US dollar is giving importers bloodied noses and that will be Tata SA’s biggest challenge. Prices will be confirmed on 7 October when the Bolt is launched to the local media. My hopeful guesstimate is R145 000 to R170 000, service plan included.
The question remains if we will see a Jaguar-designed Tata with a supercharged V6 in a few years. One of the execs told MotorTalk the company is careful not to let Tata Motors and JLR get too cosy, in order to protect the premium automaker’s stellar image. But Tata Motors has adopted some of JLR’s benchmarking methods, he said. So we might have to wait another ten years for the “Usain spec” Bolt R, but at least Tata buyers are assured of continuous improvement.
To be announced
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