Ace up its sleeve

Tata is aim­ing to cap­ture mar­ket share with its new Su­per Ace, writes Roger Houghton

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

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.

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