Tata is a massive conglomerate in India, founded in 1868 as a tea distributor, and now involved in everything from shipbuilding to software, hotels to nuclear reactors.
And Tata Motors is an international motor company, selling trucks, buses, pickups and cars all over the world.
The company has been involved in Africa - including South Africa - for a number of years as an importer and retailer of trucks, and has established an established dealer base here.
However, there has been no representation in SA as far as pickups and cars are concerned, but this has now been addressed in a new joint venture involving Imperial's AMH Group, its black empowerment arm, and Tata India.
The first wave of new products to be imported into SA is the Telcoline range of pickups, with a range of cars, Indica and Indigo, to follow in October.
Comprising four models in all, the Telcolines are aimed squarely at those looking for good value-for-money, with the entry level "one-tonner" single cab 4x2 version (its actiual load capacity is 1.3-tons) coming in at pricing which bites heavily into the "1/2 ton" market.
Wheels24 went out to Perdeberg, a small mountain range between Durbanville and Malmesbury in the Cape, to try out the new vehicles.
Tata SA MD David Smith was keen that we should see how tough and willing the new vehicles are, and several of the pickups were loaded, ranging from gravel to straw bales, and even including a full 500-litre water tank and pump which sloshed around and upset the centre of gravity wherever it went - but without upsetting the vehicle!
The four models are a 4x2 single cab, 4x2 double cab, 4x4 single cab, and a 4x4 double cab.
All are fitted with power steering, a raised body and a two-litre intercooled turbo-charged diesel engine developing 64 kw at 4 300 r/min and 190 Nm of torque at 2 500 r/min.
The vehicles are rear-wheel driven via a 5-speed manual gearbox and all have a limited slip differential.
All vehicles sit quite high off the ground, with both 4x2 and 4x4 models having 200 mm ground clearance. And they are heavly protected against damage, with a double reinforced load body and a big steel skid plate protecting the engine and gearbox.
Payload specifications are impressive, with the single cab 4x2 able to take a full 1 310 kg and the double cab 4x2 capable of handling 1 250 kg.
Even the 4x4s are load luggers, having 1.1-ton (single cab) and 1-ton (double cab) carrying capacity.
The Telcolines also come with big load beds, thanks to their longer-than-average wheelbases (2 225 mm single cab, 3 150 mm double cab), with single cab 4x2 models offering a "bak" 1.88 m x 1.41 m x 0.4 m. This reduces in length by 0.48 m on the double cab models.
A big plus is that all models have single-handed central latch opening for the tailgate, which hinges 90 degrees and is suspended on wire ropes when open.
Immobilisers and central locking are standard across the range, with air-conditioning standard on all 4x4s.
The top of the range double cab 4x4 also offers an alarm, remote central locking, a nudge bar, roll bar, rear step, a radio/cd combination, alloy wheels and a 3-year/60 000km service plan.
Both the double cab and single cab 4x4 incorporate the "shift on the fly" system, with the vehicles able to shift from 2H to 4H at speeds up to 65 km/h.
Other standard features on all models include rear demister, intermittent wipers, height adjustable headlights, "one-touch" windscreen wash/wipe, and a tilt adjustable steering column.
Turbo protectors will be fited to all SA models.
Hang on to your hats - these are not "Miss Ugly", but well-designed and attractive pickups that don't need to stand back for any existing models on the market - in fact, from straight on there's more than a touch of the class-leading Toyota Hilux!
From the side styling is clean and uncluttered, with massive plastic wheelarch extensions on all models giving a modern and rugged look, while at the back high-mounted taillights and tough bumpers are designed for hard work.
The interiors are bright and cheery, although David Smith explained that the models we drove are "pre-production" for South Africa, and the colours will be toned down somewhat for the local market.
All versions have individual front seats, with backrest adjustment and headrests, while a full bench seat is optional on the single cab models.
The rear window is fixed, but with the bonus of a built-in demister.
The dashboard is clean and uncluttered, but it's here that owners might find issue with quality. Some joints in the dash are visible, and the plastics and fittings used on the ventilation and heating controls, as well as other switchgear, seem very "1980s" and at times quite flimsy.
However, once again Smith was quick to point out that Tata has quickly responded to any criticism it has received so far, and the final "on-sale" vehicles are likely to be better.
Certainly we found the seats VERY comfortable, and there was plenty of space inside both single and double cab versions.
On the road
We had a good 43 km drive on tar - some of it quite bumpy - on our way to the off-road venue, and this enabled a fair initial judgement.
Unladen the vehicles are much like any bakkie designed to carry a decent weight, with the back end a bit dislocated at times. Rear siuspension sees simple leaf springs with a live axle, with hefty double wishbones in the independent front suspension, and the Indian-made tyres didn't seem the best we have encountered.
At the same time steering is light and sometimes vague, but it all works. We're not talkiing about a racing car here - this is very much a workhorse - and as such owners won't expect it to ride and handle like the latest Golf!
Put a load on, though, and suddenly everything comes together, with better ride, better handling, and much better stopping.
The engine power is sufficient, and certainly up to the job, and the Telcoline can easily lope along at 120 - 130 km/h, although much more than that will have to be gravity-assisted!
The good news is that thanks to turbo-charging performance won't drop off much at high altitude.
However, it's when you get off the beaten track that the vehicle really shows its mettle.
We took both 4x2 and 4x4 versions around a fairly tough off-road circuit, and all acquitted themselves very well, the limited slip diferential in the rear axle endowing even the rear-drive-only models with more than average grip in steep climbs and slushy surfaces.
The 4x4 versions, however, were a BIG revelation. They went anywhere we put them - which is anywhere a working bakkie would go - and they certainly won't disappoint even the most die-hard off-roaders.
With auto locking front wheels and electrical transfer gear selection there's no need to get your feet wet, while a simple dashboard switch with which you select either 2H, 4H or 4L makes it easy for even those with no mechanical inclination!
- 4x2 Single Cab R99 900
- 4x2 Double Cab R123 995
- 4x4 Single Cab R149 995
- 4x4 Double Cab R179 995
The single cab 4x2 vehicles carry a full one year/100 000 km factory warranty while the double cabs and single cab 4x4 enjoy a 3 year/100 000 km factory warranty.
All models have 3 year roadside assistance included as standard in the price.
Here will be 15 dealers in place by the end of this month, and 20 dealers by year-end.
Dealers are being appointed from a selection of existing AMH and Imperial Motor Group dealerships, as well as some from the existing Tata (Taxa) truck dealerships and some independents.
Cars will start to roll out to these dealers from September 1.
David Smith said the accent had been on covering rural areas, where most sales were expected to be made initially, but that metro aeas were also covered.
He expected initial sales of around 200 a month.