Tata Motors sees an Ace in new microbus

Tata Motors sees an Ace in new microbus

Passenger and commercial vehicle manufacturer Tata Motors Ltd looks set to leverage the success of its segment-creating Ace model by using the platform to launch a new microbus.

The company is, however, planning to add more power to the microbus by loading the Ace with the more powerful 1.4-litre engine of its passenger car Indica, instead of the current 700cc, four-stroke diesel engine. The new vehicle is likely to be a seven-seater.

People familiar with the matter said the company is firming up plans to roll out the new product from its Uttarakhand plant from April.

Tata Motors has two other passenger vehicles, the Magic, a soft-top, seven-seater passenger variant of the Ace and the Winger, a 9-13-seater positioned as a maxi-van capable of intra and inter-city commuting. “At any point of time, Tata Motors is working on several innovations on its product portfolio in the light of long-term needs of its customers, both on a domestic and global scale," said a company spokesperson. “However, as per our policy, we cannot share any specific information on our future plans," he added.

With Indian cities dealing with traffic snarls and rising problems with commuting, governments are looking at alternatives to ageing and packed fleets of public transport buses.

Among the solutions that are being implemented are the bus rapid transit system, light rail transit system and a metro system, which is both expensive and time-consuming to build. Some town planners and local municipal corporations look at smaller transport vehicles as one alternative to private cars.

Tata Motors executive director P.M. Telang had recently said that while “the Magic and Winger are our latest initiatives... more will follow."

“The Ace platform has proved to be the turning point in the company’s recent history and it intends to maximize the very versatile platform," said this person familiar with Tata’s microbus plans.

The company will likely pitch the microbus against Maruti Udyog Ltd’s Omni, which is currently witnessing a major rebound in sales after the company launched a model that runs on liquefied petroleum gas.

The Omni sells for between Rs1,90,000 and Rs2,30,000 for a five-eight-seater model. The offering from Maruti Udyog has sold an estimated 27,000 units in the first four months since April, up from 23,000 units in the year-ago period. In 2006-07, it sold an estimated 64,000 units and “it is the only (Maruti) vehicle, after the Maruti 800, that has sold one million units since its launch in 1984," said a company spokesperson.

Separately, Tata Motors is stepping up production of the Ace out of its 225,000 units a year factory in Uttarakhand.

A person familiar with the plan said the company will increase production to 400 vehicles a day by October and eventually to 1,000 units a day by May.

Tata Motors sells at least 6,000 units each month, according to the same person. The Ace was launched in 2005 and sold more than a 100,000 units within 22 months of its launch.