A Toast to Mr. Tata!

At last some good news

I must confess that my heart sank a few years ago when I heard that the Indian firm Tata was taking over Jaguar.  Tata, after all, was best known for the manufacture of heavy trucks.  What could such a firm bring to an historic British marque with a proud sporting heritage?  I felt this with the greater force as the Jaguar brand has been aspirational for me ever since I learned to tell one car from another.

I recalled that Ford had owned Jaguar for some years, and Ford know a bit about cars.  But all they’d managed to do with Jaguar was to lose truckloads of money, and launch the X-Type.  Many commentators regard the X-Type as little more than a badge-engineered Ford Mondeo.

Then there was BMW’s ill-fated takeover of Rover (“The English Patient”).  It failed dismally, and they were forced to sell the company for tuppence ha’penny.  This was a shame, because Rover made some fine cars — I  remember driving my father’s Rover 75 in 1961 , and I owned one of the last Rover 75s .  But if BMW couldn’t turn-around an ailing British car business, what hope for Tata?  There were similar but lower-key stories of a Chinese firm taking over MG, and a Malaysian owner acquiring Lotus.  The augurs were not positive.

Worse yet, Tata made the purchase just as the global economy went into a tail-spin.  They were obliged to go cap-in-hand to the British government to ask for a bail-out.  But Peter Mandelson (remember him?), the Minister responsible at the time, offered such onerous terms that Tata went quite rightly, and with better success, to the banks.

I am delighted to say that my judgement on the prospects for Jaguar under Tata’s stewardship was just about as wrong as it was possible to be.  Despite the harsh economic environment, sales took off, boosted no doubt by Tata’s distribution and marketing strengths in the surging Asian economies.  As recently as May this year, the company announced a record after-tax profit of over £1 billion.  Two years ago there was talk of factory closures.  Now we hear that Jaguar is planning a wholly new engine plant in the Midlands, creating up to 750 skilled engineering jobs.  What a turnaround.

And it’s not just sales success.  It’s innovation too.  Chairman Mr. Ratan Tata is clearly passionate about cars, and about  innovation and design .  Jaguar’s new product development programme is awesome.  The C-X 75, billed as “The Most Beautiful Supercar in the World”, puts others in the shade.  Zero to 60 mph in less than three seconds, zero to 100 in under six.  Maximum speed over 200 mph.  Yet its hybrid power unit should deliver emissions below 99gm/km.  Jaguar plans a production run of 250 units, priced at £700 to £900,000.

But on the road in 2013, you’re more likely to see the C-X 16 (known to some of the motoring press as “The New E-Type”).  A two-seat sports car that will give Porsche a run for its money, it was the main head-turner at the recent Frankfurt Motor Show.  With a three-litre twin-turbo V6,  plus aluminium and composite construction giving a weight of only 1600 kilos, it should do zero to 62 mph in 4.4 seconds, with a top speed of 183 mph.  It’s also going to have a hybrid format.  But unlike (say) the Toyota Prius, the emphasis is on performance, not ecology (though it will deliver a creditable 165 gm/km of emissions).  There on the steering wheel is the red “Push to Pass” button.  If the basic 380 horsepower isn’t enough, you can have an extra 100 (well nearly) from the battery in addition, as you surge into the lead.  Wow.  That’s talking my language.

Well done Mr. Tata.  I should have had more faith in your commitment.

Disclaimer: No animal was harmed in the writing of this blog piece (not even a jaguar).  And before you ask, no, it wasn’t sponsored.  It’s just my unsolicited personal opinion — and my salute to a great British (and Indian) achievement.

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