Tata stars at Futuroad!
Tata was undoubtedly the star of the show at Futuroad 2017, with the launch of a new business utility vehicle, a visit from the Indian High Commissioner to South Africa and a platinum award under its belt by the conclusion of the exhibition. CHARLEEN CLARKE reports
There wasn’t a glum face on the Tata stand at Futuroad. The dancers and entertainers, who were there to celebrate the launch of the Ultra – Tata’s new business utility vehicle – were, of course, in top form, but so, too, were the many Tata executives on the stand. No one was more proud than Rajiv Jaiswal, regional manager (Southern and Eastern Africa) at Tata Motors – and for good reason.
“We are celebrating so many things here today,” he told FOCUS. “First and foremost is the launch of the new Ultra, which is a magnificent vehicle in so many respects. Furthermore, we were honoured by a visit from Ruchira Kamboj, the Indian High Commissioner to South Africa.
“In addition, we are launching a new app, which is exceptionally good news for the Tata sales team and our customers alike. We have so many reasons to celebrate!”
Kamboj visited Futuroad to inaugurate the stand and unveil the Ultra, and she was enthusiastic in her praise of the vehicle and the company that produces it. “India is proud of the Tata brand; it’s a brand like no other. Tata has a unique business ethic; the brand personifies honesty, integrity and honour. It always aims for perfection in the belief that only then can it achieve excellence.
“This brand is 145 years old. It is spread over 100 countries and across six continents and spans several industries of national importance in India, including steel, hydropower, hospitality, automobiles and airlines. Africa is important for the company; it has a strong presence in 13 African countries, where it has invested US$ 145 million (R1,9 billion).
“The Ultra, on the other hand, is engineered for versatility, performance, comfort, style and safety. The Tata Ultra is designed and tested for South Africa, drawing on the company ethic that no success or achievement is worthwhile unless it serves the needs or interests of a country and the people, and the success is achieved by fair and honest business dealings,” she pointed out.
Echoing her comments, Jaiswal said that versatility, performance, comfort, style and safety are the five pillars central to the Ultra. “We know that these factors are key to transport operators, which is why we have focused on them,” he explained.
A total of R5 billion was invested in the development of the new truck. “The cab is all new, the axles are all new, the chassis frame is completely new and the driveline is new … this is a totally new truck. Not one single component has been carried over from the previous range,” he stressed.
Commenting on the occasion, Mr. Rudrarup Maitra, Head of Commercial Vehicles, International Business, Tata Motors said: “The Tata ULTRA range is a result of extensive feedback from customers in the South African market and we are proud to introduce this pioneering range of trucks here in South Africa. The Tata Ultra 814 is the first variant to be launched in South Africa and we are looking forward to launching the Ultra 1014 and the AMT versions of both models in the new year. The Ultra range will be assembled locally at the Tata Motors South Africa (TMSA) plant situated at Rosslyn, Pretoria.”
Three variants – 4,5; 5,5 and 7,5-t variants – will become available in South Africa shortly. A 3,5-t derivative will launch in 2019.
The new Ultra is extremely versatile because it boasts two deck lengths (4,3 or 5,2 m) and two load-body options (deck load body and cab chassis). There are a whopping 605 options based on the Ultra platform! “With three wheelbase options and payloads ranging from three to eight tonnes, the Ultra platform is designed to deliver across many applications, making this offering a true business utility vehicle.
“With this platform (which has a wider track and cab), bodies with a width of 2,4 or 2,5 m can be used. That’s normally the case in a seven- or eight-tonne vehicle. So, we’re offering a premium benefit at a much lower cost. This is a paradigm shift that will alter the dynamics of transport in this sector.
“Previously, it was only possible to use a 2,3-m body. Practically, the new Ultra offers a 21-percent better volume capability – and an operator who previously required five trucks can now manage with four. That’s a massive advantage,” Jaiswal explained.
Mr. Len Brand, Executive Director & Head Distribution Vertical of Tata International Ltd said: “The Tata ULTRA is a true Business Utility vehicle in every sense and is an important milestone in Tata’s continued focus on South African market. After the success of Tata Prima vehicles, the Tata Ultra is another future-ready range, designed for comfort & performance.”
Superior performance is guaranteed thanks to the reliable and efficient next-generation common rail engines. Two Euro-3 engines are up for grabs: 3,0 or 5,0-litre diesel powerplants. The former has an output of 103 kW (140 hp), while the latter delivers 134 kW (180 hp). Both are currently paired to a manual six-speed gearbox.
When it comes to comfort, the Ultra ticks all the boxes. “It boasts three-way adjustable seats, power steering, parabolic leaf suspension, a walk-though cabin, hydraulic tilt cabin and a dash-mounted gear lever,” Jaiswal noted.
The Ultra is undeniably stylish. “There is no doubt that this is one of the most stylish trucks on the road. The cabin is class-leading in terms of styling, width, space and versatility. We have taken the best of what the Japanese can offer and improved on that.
“The LED integrated tail lamps are extremely good looking, yet enhance visibility, too. The cab, which was designed in Italy, is very elegant. The new-generation headlamps are very stylish and they also ensure very good visibility,” Jaiswal pointed out.
Safety features include full airbrakes, tubeless radial tyres, side-intrusion beams, a panoramic windscreen for superb visibility, power steering, LED taillights and wider outer mirrors. Furthermore, the Ultra meets the ECER-29 crash test standards.
“Lots of our competitors have not invested in tubeless radial tyres, but we insisted; the rolling resistance is lower and the ride comfort and stability are much better,” Jaiswal commented.
The Ultra also differs in that it has a hydraulically tilted cab. “No other competitor has this feature,” Jaiswal told me. “It’s very important because this is much safer.” Accessibility for maintenance is excellent.
The Ultra 814, which is the first of the Ultra series to be launched in South Africa, comes with a two-year/
120 000 km service plan and a two-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
Once Jaiswal had told me all about the new Ultra, I was keen to take it for a drive. Fortunately, there was a test track at Futuroad, so this was easily facilitated. However, before going for a spin, I was introduced to the new Tata Ultra app, which is a treasure chest for sales staff and customers alike (Tata has a Prima app, too, which works in a similar fashion). That’s because this app takes one through all the features of the truck – easily and succinctly.
I was really impressed with the app (South Africa is the first country in the world to get it). It only takes a minute or two to understand how the app works; it’s well suited to novice app users and it’s ideal for novice sales staff. With this app, practically anyone can sell a truck. “Thanks to our app, a salesperson can demonstrate a truck without an actual vehicle,” Jaiswal noted.
The app shows individual models within the range. It takes one through the various applications, and then it gives the user a six-point demo. The key selling points are highlighted, too. For instance, the app points out that maintenance is extremely easy (thanks to features such as the propshaft joints, which are sealed for life, and rubber bushes that eliminate the need for repeated greasing, for instance). It’s just like walking around the truck – which is exactly what I was doing five minutes later.
A fully loaded Ultra 814 was awaiting me and I started off by walking around the vehicle – in real life this time. Thanks to the app, I was already aware of many of the exterior features, such as the LED taillights, which improve visibility by a whopping 40 percent.
We took a look at the snorkel-type air-intake system located behind the cab and the Fleetguard air filter, which is extremely efficient and has radial-type sealing. “This improves the sealing capability. There is absolutely no chance that the air filter will get choked, which could result in the engine being damaged,” Jaiswal pointed out.
We also examined the frame of the vehicle. “This is a micro-alloyed, high-strength steel straight-frame chassis (as opposed to the previous ladder frame),” Jaiswal explained. “This is very important because makes it very strong; it has a yield strength of 650 N/mm², whereas 350 to 400 N/mm² is the norm with our competitors.
“This chassis is strong enough for the most challenging African roads. We have a customer who has a Tata that has done 4,2-million kilometres. Thanks to this frame, we will soon be seeing many more high-mileage Tatas on our roads,” he adds.
It’s also a boltable frame, which is great news for bodybuilders. Mounting points are also incorporated in the frame. This means that no welding is ever required. The batteries are also locked away to prevent theft.
Before I climbed into the vehicle, I adjusted the seat according to my weight (there’s a lever that’s easily adjusted in seconds). It’s a three-way adjustable suspended seat and I was able to set it to the perfect driving position. “We believe that this is very important. An operator’s productivity is dependent on the driver,” Jaiswal commented.
Egress and ingress is very good, as is the interior of the cab. It’s incredibly spacious, thanks to the fact that the standard cab measures 2,2 m in width. “The Ultra also has the widest track in its class, which means that we have enormous flexibility when it comes to bodybuilding. Our competitors only offer a cab width of 1,9 m. That makes a big difference,” Jaiswal noted.
It looks surprisingly upmarket – especially the upholstery on the seating. I pointed out to Jaiswal that it almost looks like a passenger car. He grinned. “That’s exactly what we aimed to achieve. It’s not just a workhorse, although it’s very capable. That’s why we are calling this a business utility vehicle and not a truck.
“It’s the only business utility vehicle in South Africa, by the way. Lots of people are moving out of cars and into sports utility vehicles. We will appeal to a lot of people who have their own businesses. We wanted to offer them the feeling of driving a utility vehicle and not a truck. We believe that the Ultra will offer them some pleasure; it won’t just do a job.”
Well it certainly offered me some pleasure when I looked around. The controls are all accessible (the ergonomics are very good) and there are lots of storage areas all over the cab. The Ultra even has a lockable glovebox, which is ideal for crime-prone South Africa…
Speaking of crime, I was pleased to see the battery cut-off switch inside the cab. “It used to be on the exterior of the vehicle. With the Ultra, we have moved it inside so that it’s not accessible to thieves or hijackers,” Jaiswal explained.
I also gave the thumbs-up to the dashboard-mounted gear lever, which means the driver and/or his assistant can walk through the cab. I’m constantly surprised that this isn’t a standard feature on each and every truck in South Africa.
I feel the same way about an air-conditioner, which is standard on the Ultra. In my mind, it’s inhumane to send a driver out on the road in South Africa sans this feature. As we all know, it gets terribly hot and cold in our country. On the subject of air-conditioning, Jaiswal told me that the compressor (a Mitsubishi scroll compressor) is vastly superior to those fitted to competitor vehicles – because it’s extremely efficient.
Visibility is excellent, thanks to the panoramic windscreen and large mirrors. “Night visibility is very good, too,” Jaiswal stressed. “We have fitted halogen headlamps, and they offer excellent visibility. We also have fog lamps as standard on the vehicle. The headlamps have a swivel design and they can be replaced easily and in the minimum period of time.”
All the instrumentation is clear and easy to read. I particularly enjoyed the green band driving indicator; later, when I hit the road, it kept me on my toes.
Speaking of which, I thoroughly enjoyed my test drive. The 3,0-litre motor was very capable and there was more than enough torque on tap (the motor delivers 390 Nm at 1 400 to 2 000 r/min).
I was curious to experience the G550 six-speed gearbox and 330 mm diameter organic clutch, and I was pleasantly surprised. The transmission was smooth and little clutch pedal effort was required. “Did you notice that you need hardly any effort to shift?” Jaiswal, who was seated next to me, asked. I most certainly did.
Hopping out of the truck at the end of my drive, I asked Jaiswal about the possibility of an AMT transmission one day. “It is coming! After we launch the 5,5-t model, we will launch the AMT,” he responded. “We’re currently testing it at Gerotek.”
I have a feeling that AMT will be just one of many new developments at Tata in the not-too-distant future. Watch this space!