TATA takes it to the track
Truck drag racing, skidpan aquaplaning, a gruelling 4×4 course and some super cars … JACO DE KLERK attended TATA’s fun-filled day of test driving and off-roading at Gerotek near Pretoria in November last year – and returned enthralled.
TATA Motors may be “inspired by people”, but it did some inspiring of its own during the track day. The air was filled with anticipation as prospective customers, current clients and media members arrived at Gerotek Test Facilities (a division of Armscor Defence Institutes) to put TATA’s range of 4x4s, trucks, cars and bakkies through their paces.
The festivities got under way with a few speeches and presentations about the TATA Group and TATA Motors. The TATA Group is India’s largest business group, which includes 100 companies operating in seven sectors across 80 countries. However, its products and services are available in over 85 nations, with the Group employing more than 450 000 individuals. TATA is ranked at number 45 among the top 500 most valuable global brands, with a brand value of $16,3 billion (R148,34 billion).
TATA Motors is the largest automobile company in India and employs over 55 000 people. It is the fourth largest truck and bus manufacturer in the world. The company is present in the United Kingdom, South Korea, Thailand, Spain and South Africa. The TATA Motors Group also includes Jaguar and Land Rover.
After the (quite enlightening) formalities, the fun got under way when everyone split into groups to experience a beautiful South African summer’s day, with all that TATA Motors South Africa (which includes passenger cars and the light commercial vehicles) and the TATA Automobile Corporation SA (which handles the truck and bus side of things) have to offer.
The day featured six events that made the most of Gerotek’s unparalleled vehicle testing and advanced driver training facilities, with the vehicles assessed on the skidpan, racetrack, 4×4 track and gradient course, as well as a straight and mountainous route.
First up for our team, marked by orange bands and referred to as the purple B-team (but more on that later), was the hilly track where we tested TATA’s trucks. These included the TATA Novus V3TXF 7548 6×4 truck tractor, the LPT 1518c Ex2, the LPT 813 Ex2 and the SFC 407 Turbo.
I hopped into the four-tonner LPT 813 and drove the two-tonner SFC 407 along with Ezekiel Tsatsi from Atlas Logistic Solutions. We were both amazed with the ease that all the vehicles handled the “woodland” route’s accents and descents.
The 95 kW of the LPT 813 is delivered at 2 400 r/min, with 416 Nm pulling the vehicle along between 1 400 and 1 700 r/min. The SFC 407 delivers 52,5 kW at 2 800 r/min and 225 Nm at 1 800 r/min. Tsatsi, however, wasn’t too amused with the squeeze of the vehicles (admittedly most any medium commercial vehicle would be a size or two too small for the gentile giant as he towers over my 1,85 m stature and would envelop my entire body if he hugged me), but the 75-tonne Novus, with its 15-litre Cummins ISX engine producing 354 kW and 2 509 Nm, changed his perception later the day – but we’ll get to that shortly.
Next up was the 4×4 track, where the Xenon 2,2-litre double cab 4×4 bakkie and the LPTA 713 4,5-tonner and 715 3,5-tonner 4×4 trucks delivered amazing off-road displays. The Xenon, with its 103 kW at 4 000 r/min and 320 Nm between 1 700 – 2 700 r/min, held its own throughout the course, not backing down to any of its competitors I’ve experienced. It can switch effortlessly between 4×2 and 4×4 high with an electronic selection, all while in motion, but has to be stationary to switch to 4-low (which is also done with the push of a button).
However, the trucks were the stars of the 4×4 show, with the LPTA 713 and 715 charging through the bush and everyone lining up to have a go in them. Both have Cummins 6BTAA 5,9 TC engines, with the former delivering 93,5 kW at 2 500 r/min and 410 Nm pulling power between 1 400 and 1 700 r/min; and the latter 108 kW at 2 500 r/min, with maximum torque of 500 Nm at 1 500 r/min.
I must say that these trucks were also my favourite on the 4×4 track. It left me amazed when one instructor took me over and through obstacles that I couldn’t imagine a vehicle would be able to tackle and overcome. We went through a “dam”, over rocks and through crevices with the greatest of ease. After it conquered everything the route had to offer, the instructor set the vehicle on the bush, which it tamed with triumphant roars.
After these displays, I fully understood why Eskom is using these vehicles to take its workforce into mountainous terrain to service its power lines. Another organisation has converted it into a fire engine for arduous landscapes. I could also fully fathom the reasoning behind those individuals who, as the instructor relayed, bought these units for private use – converting them into aquatic carriers to transport boats up into Africa when going on holiday.
The gradient test track kept things rolling for the newly converted 4×4 enthusiast, with the Xenon taking the shine. In keeping up with the safety consciousness of the day, we were first given a practical demonstration of how the obstacles should be approached and what to do in case your vehicles stalls. This usually wouldn’t be a problem, but could be catastrophic when you’re heading up a slope that looks as if could be the edge of the world, forcing you to reverse back down to attempt your globe scaling once more.
The Xenon made easy work of gradients up to 70 percent (35º). When looked at in degrees, this might not sound too impressive, but it is really steep – so much so that the instructors were the only ones to scale this extremity of the course, with none in our group daring the Everest.
Although it felt quite strange to stall one’s vehicle and reverse down the slope while facing the sky, having been informed about the vehicle’s safety features beforehand put most of us at ease during the manoeuvre. The safety features include a three-layer reinforced body construction, side beams, collapsible steering column, front crumple zones, side intrusion beams and brake load sensing proportioning valve – with the imminent new facelift model adding two airbags to the safety list.
The LPTA 715 also shined as the instructor took those who were willing to brave the gradients in the truck up and down those edges of the world. We also took a combat vehicle, the TATA APC 4×4 that weighed 12 tonnes, down and up the course. The vehicle was geared to the brim with bucket seats, all the necessary protective equipment and air-conditioning.
Then it was time for lunch, and we had all worked up quite an appetite after the first half of testing TATA’s products. Afterwards, TATA had some entertainment with tame racing drivers and equally tame cars.
Observers were given the opportunity to be driven in these wondrous machines through lucky draws and doing some silly yet fun things such as handstands, shouting your lungs out and throwing pairs of things around.
Yours truly got a chance to experience one of the ferocious mechanical marvels. All I had to do was throw my shoes to the MC (Shaheer Abrahams, GM of sales and marketing, TATA Automobile Corporation) – this after being told that the first people to deliver two pairs of something would get to have a go. Another fellow parted with two pieces of gum.
The fun continued after the entertainment, with everyone dispersing to the events they hadn’t yet attended and our orange posse moving to the skidpan. Here TATA held a competition for the best time through the course set out on the slippery area with the company’s Indigo Manza sedan.
While we were each steering through the course, the purple team, which dubbed themselves the purple turtles, were testing the trucks on a straight route that ended where the skidpan was situated. They were having “drag races” (although speeds weren’t very high) with the SFC 407, the six-tonne LPT 1116 Ex, the Novus K5DEF 3434 6×4 tipper and the Novus K7CEF 3134 6×4 tractor.
This, along with their vigour around the racetrack, earned them the title of “team with the most spirit” – but more on the racetrack to follow.
As for the purple B team (we orange folk), we swapped places with our first team counterparts and went to test the trucks on the straight ourselves. Although we didn’t all dart together for the end of the route, we drove around enough to get a good feel for the vehicles. Here, Tsatsi’s perceptions changed and he praised the Novus tipper for its comfortable cabin and the other vehicles for their uncomplicated gearboxes.
Next up was the racetrack, which saw everyone’s inner child come out, with the passenger cars and the one-tonne Super Ace being put through their paces. Thanks to a mix-up in the swapping around of the groups, the purple turtles and the orange slash purple B team ended up at this event at the same time – which is where we got nominated as their tweede span (second team). The Super Ace was a favourite among the testers as it had a lot of spunk on both the straights and around the corners, and the passenger vehicles didn’t disappoint either.
All in all, it was a fun-filled, action-packed day with the products doing exactly what Abrahams said the company wanted to achieve. The event showed that the vehicles can do much more than one would initially expect, and that they don’t back down from the competition.
John Sprenger, owner driver manager from Cargo Carriers, summarised the day perfectly: “I enjoyed it very much, especially driving some of the trucks that I’ve never had the opportunity to drive before, and going down those ramps. It was fantastic.”