The unveiling of Tata’s two newest cars at the Delhi motor show is a demonstration of just how wide the product range of global car makers needs to be these days.
In Delhi, Tata pulled the covers off the new Jaguar XJ, one of the most sophisticated cars in the world. But it also pulled the covers off the Magic Iris, a five-seater, four wheeler, basic taxi which is powered by a 611cc diesel engine and available on 10in, cross-ply shod, wheels.
A few days ago Tata also launched its new ‘World Truck’ series of commercial vehicles, which should take advantage of India’s plans to build a vast network of new roads at a rate of 20km per day.
I can’t help but smile at the parallels between today’s Tata and the British Leyland of 40 years ago. That sprawling conglomerate also built a huge range of vehicles, from the Mini (and curiously Magic Iris-style Mini Moke) to giant trucks designed for mining operations. BL was, of course, then also home to Land Rover and Jaguar.
But the Delhi motor show also saw new entry-level Indian market cars from Honda and Toyota, showing just how all global car makers are being forced to accommodate the tastes and buying power of global customers from newly affluent middle class Indians and Chinese to European plutocrats and cost-conscious American commuters.
Even Volkswagen, a company that runs from the budget Fox city car to MAN and Scania commercial vehicles, has recently had to buy a significant stake in Suzuki in order to help it cover the booming budget markets in India and China.
Sergio Marchionne, boss of Fiat Auto, has said that a stand-alone car-maker needed to build five or six million vehicles annually in order to stand on its own two feet. However, those sort of volumes require a global footprint, and a global footprint now requires the kind of spread of vehicle types that have rarely been seen in the engineering portfolio of a single company.
In that sense, British Leyland was well ahead of its time. It had a massive spread of products and a global manufacturing presence. But the task of making such a widely-stretched company successful was far too much for the management, unions and engineers of the day.
But it’s that lesson from history that reminds us just how difficult it will be to run the kind of multi-faceted, globalised, carmakers that survival in a globalised economy demands.