The bargain basement end of the ute market is set to be joined by a new cut-price competitor from India. The Tata brand is returning to Australia but the vehicle it is most famous for — the tiny Nano city runabout, at $2800 the cheapest car in the world — will not be among the models for sale.
Tata is expected to relaunch with a new range of utes called the Xenon later this year before adding passenger cars next year. Prices and model details of the ute are not yet announced but the company said the range “will offer a greater level of value than what is currently available in the market”. The prices of Chinese utes start at $17,990.
Tata vehicles have been sold on and off in Australia since 1996 after a Queensland distributor began importing them mainly for farm use. There are an estimated 2500 Tata heavy-duty pick-ups on Australian roads already. But there are many more Indian-made cars on Australian roads, albeit with foreign badges. More than 20,000 Indian-made Hyundai i20 hatchbacks and more than 14,000 Indian-made Suzuki Alto small cars have been sold in Australia since 2009.
But other, Indian-branded vehicles have not been so successful. Australian sales of the Mahindra range of utes and SUVs have been so weak the distributor is yet to report them to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.
The original Mahindra ute scored a poor two stars out of five in independent crash tests and was later upgraded to three stars following engineering changes. The Mahindra SUV launched with a four-star rating at a time when most vehicles are awarded five stars. There is as yet no star-rating for crash safety on the new Tata ute range.
However, the new distributor for Tata vehicles in Australia believes the origin of the vehicles will be a competitive advantage. “There is no tougher place on earth to test vehicles than on the tough and demanding roads of India,” said the newly-appointed distributor of Tata vehicles in Australia, Darren Bowler, of Fusion Automotive.
Tata Motors — India’s largest automobile company — acquired Jaguar and Land Rover from the Ford Motor Company in June 2008, in the grip of the Global Financial Crisis. The acquisition gave Tata access to Jaguar and Land Rover designers and engineers but Tata is yet to release an all-new model with their input. The Tata Xenon ute was released in 2009 and is also sold in South Africa, Brazil, Thailand, the Middle East, Italy and Turkey.
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling