It is Tata Motors’ 11th year as an exhibitor at the Geneva Show. Group chairman Ratan Tata feels an emotional attachment to the event, the first in Europe to accept his Indian-built cars and commercials for exhibition. This year Tata Motors had the new Indica - a heavily re-engineered version of the car immortalised in British minds as the CityRover - plus its remarkable Indian-market micro-car, the Nano, but it was as the probable new owner of Jaguar-Land Rover that Ratan Tata gained most attention. He spoke exclusively to Autocar and answered our questions with considerable candour…
Why do you want to own JLR? Is it the excitement and challenge of developing two famous car marques or is it more of a business decision?
What attracted us was the fact that these are two iconic brands, global in nature and highly respected for their products. We believe it is the duty of whoever owns them to nurture the image, to retain their touch and feel, and not to tinker with them. They are British brands, and they should remain British. Who actually owns them should not be very important in the way they work.
What is your main motivation? Is it to supply components from India or to build links with your existing business?
Our motivation is not based on outsourcing and it is not based on taking technology from these companies. The synergies we see are the fundamental ones of having in our midst two brands that we greatly respect. The world should look at brands like these for what they are. Who owns them is almost immaterial. Our challenge at Tata, if our bid is successful, would be to nurture them and make them thrive.
What is your view of Jaguar’s and Land Rover’s forward model programme? Do you like what you see?
The teams from Ford and Tata are deep in due diligence work at present and I have not heard of any problem from that area. I have seen proposals for new models that look very exciting and impressive. We would not be arrogant enough to think we could arrive at this stage and bring something better.
Could you tell us about your love of cars?
I have always had a personal passion for cars and so I have the credit and notoriety for getting Tata Motors into this business. The car business takes up a fair bit of my time, and rather more of my interest. It’s a more exciting business than others because the products have a far greater emotional attachment for their owners.
As a car enthusiast, do you believe Jaguar should build a new sports car?
I really can’t express a view because we don’t own the company. But if the day comes when we do own it, I shall have pleasure in answering you, because I do have strong views on the subject. I look forward to answering your question...
How does Tata go about about injecting its own management ethos into the companies it owns?
We satisfy ourselves, early on, that the people in the company share our values and ethics, and that we can have good human contact with the management, because we would want the management to continue to be there. That is how we have worked with Daewoo, with Corus, with Tetley Tea and other companies we have acquired. We aim put our imprint on the company through a negotiation board, but the existing managers continue to run the company.
Tata Motors has a tech centre at Warwick University. If the JLR deal goes through, will that move to Gaydon?
We have no plans to move. Tata Motors wants to be an international car company, which means it needs a window on the latest technology, and the operation we have serves us very well for that. Some people believe Britain has lost its car industry, we don’t see it that way. There is still tremendous technological know-how in Britain, though it’s very understated, and we will continue to utilise it.
Do you own a Jaguar or Land Rover?
Neither, but I hope to have both, very soon.
Why have you brought the Nano to Geneva? Do you have plans for the European market?
We will eventually address the European market, including the West, but not in the short term. We have been exhibiting our other cars at Geneva for 11 years. This was the first European show we came to, and we were treated with respect from the beginning and we feel an emotional attachment to it. The Nano received far more attention in Europe than we expected, so we felt we would not be very generous if we left it at home. But our priority market for this car will be India, and Africa after that. The issue will be to build up capacity.
What is the nature of your relationship with Fiat?
It is a very open relationship, friendly but not finite. It has the potential to be very deep or very slight, as we choose. But it is unique. Every time we have had a relationship with another company, they have wanted to own us or own a piece of us. But with Fiat it is an association of true individuals for the right reasons. We both want to keep it friendly and wide-ranging. We have listed our ways of co-operating as jointly developing new platforms, exchanging existing platforms and exchanging technology. Sergio Marchionne and I have agreed that Tata wants to regard Fiat as its preferred development partner, and vice versa, though of course, we would both still be open to relationships with other companies on the right terms.
How is it that you’ve been able to make such a low-cost car as the Nano? What are other manufacturers doing wrong?
It’s not our job to embarrass or comment on other manufacturers. We live in a low-cost country. It is likely that the others have cost structures that make it more difficult for them than it is for us.
Were you surpised by the Nano’s reception?
Yes. And we are very happy with it, as you can appreciate. People in the industry said it wasn’t possible, but now they feel they have to do it themselves. It proves there’s a large market at the bottom of the pyramid, a market big enough for others as well as for us. If we have started a trend, that will be satisfying to all of us.
What will you do if you aren’t the successful bidder for JLR?
We will continue to do what we do. Opportunites come along from time to time. Two or three years ago, nobody would have expected Ford to be interested in selling these companies. In any case, acquisitions are not the only form of growth. What you saw today - the Nano, revised Indica - represents good potential for growth. We will have plenty to do completing what we have started.
Will you try to acquire other established car companies?
I really don’t think we would on the prowl to acquire other car companies. If you say that contradicts what we’re doing now, I don’t believe it does. We were not aggressively looking to buy Jaguar and Land Rover. People brought us together, and we were happy to be considered as bidders. We will soon see what happens.