In a recent interview Ratan Tata expressed a disappointment. Tata Engineering had pushed India into an exclusive club of just 9 countries that design and build cars from the ground up and yet there has not been sufficient jubilation in the country. "I have a sense of remorse, that this is not being done as a flag waving exercise as it should," he said.
Check the size:
Indica, the car that put India on the world auto-map began with Ratan Tata's conviction that, "India is capable of doing anything it wishes to do if you do not constrain the people..."
From that premise of faith rose a master plan with sound business sense. The Indica Project was not some show-casing exercise in the manner of countries starting an airline to be seen in the sky. Had it been so, it would have failed as certainly as those airlines do. Rather, Telco was looking for areas of future growth for the company. In an inspired act of decision making Ratan Tata committed his company to developing an original Indian car.
The size of the task would make most large Indian business houses quail. But the Telco team, goaded by the confidence of Ratan Tata, rolled up its sleeve and put its head down on the job.
Read what T R Gopalakrishnan writes in 'The Week':
" A team of over 700 engineers who had never worked on a car before, developed a prototype at a cost of Rs.280 crore. An unused Nissan plant bought in Australia was cut up into about 800 containers and reassembled in Pune at a cost of $22 million [around Rs.100 crore]. Telco engineers robotised the assembly plant with a high degree of automation - the paint shop has only 16 workers. This level of automation had never been done before in India. The plant has now produced over one lakh cars, making around 250 cars a shift, or one car every 105 - 130 seconds."
And Indica was on the road within three years of conception, at a cost of about $400 million as against a world-wide estimate of $1.2 billion for a 'fresh' car.
On the road to this success, Telco went to every corner of the world for expertise, but never to buy or license a technology. It paid for services to develop technology to its specifications. Styling was sourced from Italy, engine design from France and instrumentation from Japan. But masterminding the design process and putting the manufacturing and supply lines were the uncelebrated Indian engineers and managers.
Problems, yes but despair, no:
The Indica was conceived in a time of protected economic environment. And when it was born in Dec, 1984 free-trade winds were blowing through India. It had to stand comparison with a bevy of new models arriving in a flood.
Indica has held.
"It is not a secret that we had our share of issues and problems with the car,' R. Gopalakrishnan, Executive Director of Tata Sons is quoted as saying.
But the response has been prompt and contemporary. An Indian car company actually cares for its customers. Remember the days of the Trinity - Ambassador, Premier and Standard - when you scrambled to give your money and begged for a car with all its defects. And how disdainfully you were treated by the dealer.
It'd be churlish to infer that Telco is driven to being 'user-friendly' by the competitive scene. It is all part of a premeditated plan conceived long before the current 'pressure-days'.
But, Telco has other worries. A bargain though $400 million for a 'new' car may be, it nevertheless drove a big hole in the Telco bucket. For the year 2000 - 01 Telco reported a loss of Rs.500 crore. The stock market is staggering under this piece of news and many investors are faint-hearted.
The other problem Telco has, is the lack of variety in its stable. Indica must go some way in sales numbers before Telco can think of another major 'new-car' investment. In the meantime this limited product list can hold back dealers.
But Indica is gaining acceptance. Each passing month sees a wrinkle ironed out or a testy issue put behind.
From the 44 dealers at the launch, the sales network has grown to 85 and is still growing.
Indica is today a running billboard for Tata competence in every lane, road and highway of India.
The Telco team is powering on.
At the Auto Shanghai 2001, Telco debuted its mid-size Tata Magna and displayed Telcoline, a utility vehicle, which has already hit European roads.
India is today a global auto player - though a minor one.
It's time Indians waved some flags and cheered Ratan Tata and his team a while. So, why don't you send a mail to Telco with your appreciation?
Published in Goodnewsindia.