Thursday, 10 January 2008

Company Focus - TATA - Capturing Indian Auto-Culture

TATA unveils its long awaited 1 Lakh car, named 'Nano', that hopes to provide a new motorised freedom for millions and tap into the consumer desires of a burgeoning Indian economy.

An economy that is forecasted to have the fastest unit sales growth rate, from a present 1.8m units pa to 3.6m in 2012 reflecting a 100% increase, dwarfing all growth rates except Russia's forecast at 70%. Of course in relative terms to 2012 expectations of the US with 11.6m, Japan with 10.6m and China at 9.1m, it is obvious that India may take many many years to become a sales superpower, but the surge in sales across all segment types will be keenly fought by many.

We in the west tend to think of 'people's cars' as things of a long gone era. So wonderful to imagine the lives of millions of people transformed by the TATA Nano just as the Model T, Austin 7, VW KDFwagen/Beetle, 2CV, Topolino/Nouvo 500 etc did. The only criticism is that for some the wheels look undersized, but then so did Issigonis' Mini, it was an intrinsic part of the package functionality.

Bajaj has tried to steal-away some of the limelight with the 2/4 seater 'Lite', but it seems a more conventional (ie spec & pricing), trendy city-car prospect in the mould of an extendable Indian Smart.

But what's interesting is timeframe and the roadmap of market development.The Nano looks near production ready (it's paired-down functionality obvious), whilst the Lite from pictures seems to still be a motorshow concept.

Conversely Ratan TATA has been publicising his baby all the way through from conception, through pregnancy and now at delivery. The 4 plant plan manufacturing 1m units annually is well under way, And looking forward, to abate the Green lobby, TATA has been undertaking radical compressed air propulsion R&D with a French engineering partnership. Hence TATA's strategic roadmap is evident.

In contrast, Bajaj's delivery of the Lite may significantly falter without the know-how and resources of such a large/proficient VM partner such as Renault-Nissan. Equally, R-N could well do with the gains derived from such a shared development process - lowered component costs, reduced shared engineering development costs (labour, facilities & overhead), etc; plus the not too small a point of its own $3K local car. So although we see a level of Bajaj posturing about the likelihood of R-N, it does presently need partner resource to deliver such an important vehicle.

These may appear unimpressive cars from a conventional standpoint, but they are moulding the very nature of the global industry in terms of customer proposition and business efficiencies.
The basic Nano is a very utilitarian machine, the 2-pot engine,CVT gearbox, 1 windscreen wiper, 1 external mirror etc, and like it's European forebears that's the philosophical & business case beauty. And that Prius/Smart 'face' could give TATA and the Indian public a million reasons a year to smile.

Importantly, TATA is creating more than 'just' a landmark mass-motoring car. Review its strategy and it is trying to make their brand synonimous with, what for many. will be an introduction into fully fledged automobile motoring. And that in turn means capturing the hearts and minds individuals and families that will for decades to come regard TATA as their 'own'.
At the other end of the social spectrum is the acquisition of Jaguar - Land Rover. Indian consumer culture (like Chinese) is largely loyal to its own producers, so the ameniability of premium car buyers to purchase these Anglo-Indian vehicles as opposed to German or Japanese luxury cars should not be under-estimated.

Working both Top-Down with premium cars and Bottom-Up with the 1 Lakh car (aswell as a long held reputation amongst trucks and buses) demonstrates TATA's desire to 'own' every facet of modern Indian Auto-Culture.

Yes it has a long way to go given Maruti-Suzuki's present grasp on sales, but by any evaluation the strategy looks directed and sound with great potential earnings streams from both Nano, next generation compact cars and UK brands. Importantly its Ford connections could deliver latterday JV cars in the form of Indica/Ka, Indego/Ikon and perhaps a Focus sized new model. So Maruti's 'defending the homeland' from cross the board TATA attack could be a hard task indeed.

Yes "the rising tide (of India's economy) lifts all boats" and Maruti, M&M, Force Motors, and foreign players should all benefit, but presently TATA looks to be in pole position regards sector/volume growth and organisational expansion in the years to come.