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January 15, 1998


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Tatas unveil indigenous small car

Kevin James in New Delhi

Tata's small car The much-awaited 'small wonder' from Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company was finally unveiled on Thursday. With a sleek exterior and a cushy interior, Ratan Tata's 1400 cc 'dream car' promises to be a big hit in the Indian market.

India's first indigenously developed small car -- albeit with Italian design -- is a five-door hatchback, with an interior space comparable to some of the three-box sedans.

The small car, which is yet to be christened, is slated for commercial launch in India in late September-early October. It will be offered in two versions -- standard and luxury, with options of diesel and petrol engines.

The standard version will have features such as injection-moulded door pads, tinted glasses, parcel shelf and digital clock whereas the luxury model will be provided with power steering, power windows, central locking, rear windshield wiper and air-conditioning.

Although Tata refused to reveal the car's price, Telco managers said it would be priced competitively against the Maruti 800 cc car. Maruti Udyog Limited controls 80 per cent of the Rs 100 billion Indian car market.

If the Tatas decide to price the small car in the region of Rs 250,000 to Rs 300,000, it will attack both the Maruti 800 and MUL's more expensive Zen model head-on, probably providing the two cars their first real competition in the Indian market.

Reacting to Telco's new car, MUL managing director R S S L N Bhaskarudu said, "The car looks good, but let us wait till it hits the road and is time tested." Comparing the car to a "bride," Bhaskarudu said, "A new bride always looks very good but only when she comes home and stays with the family does her true colour emerge."

Ratan Tata called the launch a momentous occasion. "It is the fulfillment of a dream undertaken two years ago -- a dream to make an all-Indian car to match world standards," he said.

Pointing out that "the project we undertook was risky," he said that Telco had proved its detractors -- who said that "such a task cannot be undertaken by an Indian company" -- wrong.

So far, he said, five cars have been test driven. Telco will test drive a hundred more cars before launching them in the marketplace.

The total investment for the project, codenamed 'Mint', is Rs 17 billion, with about Rs 2.5 billion spent on developing the car. Tata said Telco expected to break even at the production level of 60,000 units per year, and added that a second string of dealers for passenger cars alone would be developed.

Hyundai unveils new model at Auto Expo

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