Tata Motors engineering research centre president Dr Tim Leverton – the man heading up the development of the Indian automotive giant’s next-generation passenger and commercial vehicles – says work on alternative energy systems is well advanced.
“We took an initiative some years back to work across the whole range from conventional to fully electric vehicles,” Leverton said during a round-table discussion with members of Australia’s automotive media in Pune, India.
“We’re well positioned as the market emerges and we’re well positioned to lead into that space.”
He said Tata placed a lot of early emphasis on “micro-hybridisation”, developing stop-start, energy recovery and other technologies designed to deliver incremental fuel consumption savings, but has also created a host of other alternative drive systems.
A fleet of 25 pure-electric Tata Vista hatchbacks with a 160km range commenced field trials in the UK 18 months ago, shortly after the car maker unveiled a mild hybrid concept of its compact Manza sedan in January 2012.
Tata has also been producing hybrid buses for domestic use since 2011, and last year shipped 10 compressed natural gas hybrid buses to Spain.
“We run that business against European competition, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo and the usual suspects, so I think we’re pretty advanced in having that technology,” Leverton said.
“Probably the urban bus application is the closest to being a commercially viable one.”
Leverton said the biggest barrier to the launch of mainstream hybrid and electric passenger vehicles was not deficiencies in technology but constraints of the market.
“The issue is – particularly in the Indian market – finding the fit between cost, price and positioning of those vehicles relative to volume and customer demand.
“The cost structure and market demand for electric vehicles is pretty difficult, so we’re still seeing how we’re going to deploy that in the market.”
Leverton said Tata’s development of hybrids and EVs ran independently to that of recently acquired British division Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), though admitted they have been sharing some information to fast-track the duo’s research and development process.
“One of the areas that we are finding synergy with JRL is on the research of the basic elements and technologies – so when we are talking about batteries, talking about power electronics and stuff like that we are actually combining forces on some of those developments.
“We [Tata] came out with our electric vehicle much before they did, so in some areas we actually have work where they do not yet. There are certain areas they’re perhaps more advanced, so we’ve been able to share our base technologies.”
Tata’s hybrid and electric vehicles will form part of the brand’s ambitious strategy that will see its next generation of passenger cars elevate the brand from an Indian market niche to a serious player on the global automotive stage.