Ace up its sleeve
Tata is aiming to capture market share with its new Super Ace, writes Roger Houghton
TATA Motors, the largest motor manufacturer in India, appears to be changing up a gear in its South African operation with the recent appointment of two senior executives and the launch of what it claims is the “cheapest one-ton diesel bakkie” in the country — the Super Ace. The base DLS model is priced at R109,995 as an “introductory offer”, while the DLE derivative costs R116,995.
Those attending the Super Ace media launch in Eldoraigne, Tshwane, were surprised to see that a senior motor executive known to many had changed teams. Xavier Gobille was MD of Renault SA and vice-president Renault Anglo Africa from January 2008 until he was succeeded by Susumu Uchikoshi on August 1. He is credited with playing a major role in the much improved fortunes of Renault in this country.
Gobille is now executive director of automotive and allied distribution for Tata Africa. He will report to another new appointee, the MD designate of Tata Africa, Thamsanqa (Thami) Mbele. Formerly General Electric’s president and CEO for its Southern African operations, Mbele will take over as MD from Raman Dhawan in November next year.
The distribution of Tata pickups in SA started in 2004 through Accordian Investments, a subsidiary of Associated Motor Holdings (AMH), which operates the franchise through a network of 47 full dealers and a further 18 Tata “touch points” in the form of service outlets.
India-based Tata Motors is a growing force in the global vehicle industry with revenue of $32,5bn in the 2011-12 financial year.
It operates subsidiaries in the UK, South Korea, Thailand, Spain and SA. Among them is Jaguar Land Rover in the UK. It has a joint venture with Fiat in India.
Sales of more than 7.5-million vehicles in India makes it that country’s market leader in commercial vehicles and one of the top three in passenger car sales. It is also the world’s fourth largest truck and bus manufacturer.
The newcomer to the Tata lineup in SA, the forward-control, turbodiesel Super Ace, is a niche model, but it appears to have potential in a number of markets. Its low purchase price, 3-year/ 60,000km full maintenance plan and large load box is likely to make it attractive for many transporters who need to carry volume items that are not too heavy.
The Super Ace is modern in appearance, well finished and the 1.4l oil burner gives sprightly performance when unladen and appears to have a reasonable spread of low down torque. The engine drives the rear wheels through a five-speed gearbox with well chosen ratios.
Tata is pitching it as an “ideal vehicle for intra-city and last-mile distribution applications”. It has compact exterior dimensions, being 4.34m long and 1.56m wide, with a turning radius of only 5.1m. The load box is the longest in the one-ton category at 2.63m and the area of the cargo deck is 3.8m². The vehicle is rated to carry a full 1,000kg payload.
The three-way dropside load body features a loading height of only 60cm, making the vehicle very easy to load.
The company has already had a number of different canopies designed, as well as a rack for carrying ladders and the like.
The engine and the transmis- sion are designed in-house by Tata. The 4-cylinder turbo intercooled diesel power unit of 1.4l develops 52kW of power and peak torque is 135Nm. Claimed fuel economy is 7.2l/100km on the combined cycle. Maximum gradeability is 39%.
The independent front suspension and leaf sprung rear axle provide a comfortable ride, though the seats seemed hard during our test drive of about 40km. Braking is by a disc/drum combination with a valve to balance hydraulic pressure according to the load.
Prototypes underwent extensive pre-launch evaluation in SA, both at the Gerotek test track and on public roads. On occasions the vehicle was overloaded to 1.2 tons during these tests.
The interior is somewhat cramped, but not unduly so. Among the changes made to suit the South African market are wider opening doors for ease of entry and exit, as well as exterior rear view mirrors with extended rear view.
There are two trim levels. Both models feature power steering, remote central locking and engine immobiliser, fabric seat covering, adjustable bucket seats for driver and passenger, digital clock, lockable cubby hole, 12v DC power socket, height-adjustable headlights, rear protection bar, battery guard, collapsible steering column and side impact beams.
The more expensive DLE derivative’s specification also adds air conditioning, power windows, fog lamps, internally adjustable exterior rear-view mirrors and colour-coded bumpers.
In addition to the 3year/60,000km maintenance plan, there is a 3-year/100,000km warranty and 3-year/unlimited kilometre roadside assistance.
Tata Motors’ CEO in SA, Phonnie Cilliers, was selective in his price comparisons of one-ton diesel bakkies.
He compared the price of the Super Ace to Japanese and Korean rivals such as Hyundai and Kia and neglected the Chinese products, where, for instance, JMC has a “conventional” onetonner with a 2.8l diesel engine selling at R139,880.
However, at this stage the only other compact, forward control one-tonner on the local market is the Daihatsu Gran Max that costs R134,995.
Cilliers says this model sells 80 to 100 units a month (detailed figures are not reported to Naamsa) and he believes the Super Ace can outsell this popular rival.
The Super Ace is aimed at the small business or fleet owner.
The dropside makes loading/unloading easy.
The interior is basic but comfortable.