Tata eyes top four spot in SA

Ravi Pisharody, executive director of commercial vehicles at Tata Motors, wants to treble the number of vehicles the company exports within four years.

Tata is far from content with its moderate market share in this country. It wants much, much more!

I am drinking tea at the Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida. Just in case you’re not familiar with this circuit, it’s an F1 track some 40 km from Delhi. Bernie Ecclestone’s personal parking bay is a couple of metres away from me, but sod Bernie. I’m not interested in the king of global F1 racing. Rather, I’m keen to chat to Ravi Pisharody, executive director of commercial vehicles at Tata Motors, about the brand’s plans to become the king of global trucking – in emerging markets, that is …

Pisharody is feeling exceptionally upbeat. Not that I can blame him. We’ve just watched the finals of the T1 Prima Truck Racing Championship (read all about it on page 16 of this issue of FOCUS). The crowd outside is baying its approval as Bollywood icons Badshah and Shankar-Ehssan-Loy take the stage.

Besides being happy about the success of the day, Pishardoy is also rather proud of the company’s recent achievements (not least of which is a 60 percent share of the Indian truck market). And he’s rather excited about its aspirations.

South Africa obviously forms part of those plans. “Your country was one of our earliest international locations; our sales in South Africa don’t do justice to the awareness of the brand,” he notes.

The reason for this, says Pisharody, is simple. “In the past, we used to sell Indian trucks. We did not have the right product for international markets. We have come to realise that, in order to protect our position in this country, we need world-class products. With trucks such as the Prima, that’s exactly what we have,” he contends.

As the dominant player in the Indian market, Tata finds itself in a very cushy position. “Our customers are not new. They are second- and third-generation customers, who have known and loved our products for decades. Tata is widely admired; we are seen as ethical. Within India, it is well known that we are not just trying to make a pile of money,” Pisharody tells FOCUS.

Of course, that customer legacy doesn’t apply in the South African market. “This means that success in South Africa is never going to be easy. Having said that, we believe that if you offer a value proposition and you don’t make an operator’s life more complicated (because his truck is always breaking down), he will give you a chance – in South Africa and elsewhere in the world.”

Pisharody is confident that, given the attractive price tags of its trucks, Tata will meet with greater success in South Africa. “We have a distinct cost advantage and operators buy trucks in order to make a profit. Plus, we have a unique product portfolio, in that we cover virtually all sectors of the market,” he points out.

Bearing this in mind, Pisharody would like to see Tata propel its market share upwards in South Africa. “We want to be among the top three or four players within all the market segments in which we participate,” he reveals.

The company is already operating successfully in Africa, the Middle East, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia. It is about to target Russia. “We may not be in the top one or two in these markets, but our market share is growing constantly. If we end up with a ten to 12 percent share of lots of markets, that will give our business a fair bit of clout,” he notes.

This begs the question: With all these markets opening up, could Tata acquire another commercial vehicle player in order to meet demand? Pisharody doesn’t discount the possibility entirely, but he says that this won’t happen in Tata’s immediate future.

“We export around 50 000 commercial vehicles a year. We are looking at trebling this to 150 000 units over the next three to four years, but we have sufficient capacity in India. There is no urgency to look at any other acquisitions. We are good to go when it comes to servicing the emerging markets around the world,” he maintains.

The message is clear: spot an emerging market and you will spot a Tata.

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