Tata Motors Pimpri plant shifts to top gear

Tata Motors Pimpri plant shifts to top gear

Deep in Tata Motors' largest factory, engineers don 3D glasses to play with car designs and prototypes projected from a 10-metre wide computer screen. Their quest - the automaker's next blockbuster car model.

The research and development team's task is a pressing one. As they work, sections of conveyor belt and welding stations lay silent at the Pimpri factory and lines of white and silver Indica hatchbacks gather dust along service roads outside.

Tata is losing traction at home as underwhelming product tweaks, heavy discounts and slumping capacity utilisation mark a painful 18 months for its passenger division.
Not since the 2008 Nano, the world's cheapest car, has Tata unveiled a head-turning passenger vehicle, and not since the Indica's launch in 1998 has it set the Indian market alight.

Now, the company is heading back to the drawing board.

More money and more attention is going to the passenger vehicle unit as the company ramps up R&D, ditches a failed product strategy and prepares to enter the mini SUV segment and reboot the so-far underwhelming Nano.

Tata Motors’ R&D Head, tim Leverton, said: “We have done something very innovative that will allow us to respond more positively. You'll see, over the next 12-18 months onwards, a fireworks of output.”

Tata will invest more than Rs 7,500 crore into the passenger vehicle business over the next five years. Less than 30 percent of that has been earmarked for facilities or upgrading hardware, leaving the rest for new products.

Tata's car sales fell 8 percent in the April-November period from a year earlier, as main rivals Hyundai Motor and Maruti Suzuki posted increases.
The company relied on Jaguar Land Rover for 90 percent of its consolidated profit in the last financial year. The slowdown in its domestic business is seen as a drag on its value.

Many pots cooking

At Tata's plant in Pimpri, 140 km (87 miles) from Mumbai, most space is taken by commercial vehicle manufacturing.

Building buses and goods trucks for India's bone-jangling roads is the 67-year-old company's bread and butter.

Tata, the world's fourth-largest truckmaker, has spent much of the past few years devoted to its commercial portfolio. Its Ace range of trucks redefined a segment and have sold 500,000 vehicles since 2010.

Leverton's 5,500-strong team, with additional R&D centres in Warwick, U.K. and Turin, Italy, produced Tata's first in-house designed concept cars, the Pixel and MegaPixel compact city vehicles.

The mini SUV, of which Leverton declined to give details, will give Tata a foothold in one of India's fastest-growing segments.

The carmaker is offering a discount of up to Rs 60,000 on its Indica Vista hatchback, which starts at 410,000 rupees, and up to 15 percent off its Aria SUV.

"We need to get our act better ... in terms of product refreshers, product launches, look at more opportunistic segments," Chief Financial Officer C Ramakrishnan said in a recent conference call.

"We know we have a long way to go."

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