The Tata Nano is no more in the showroom, but its ‘heart’ is. An upgraded 694cc version of the two-cylinder petrol engine is now doing duty in Tata’s popular small commercial vehicle (SCV) – the Ace. Launched in the market in June, the market seems to be welcoming a petrol truck. Tata Motors says that the variant’s share in the Ace’s sales has reached around 30 percent.
Vinay Pathak, VP, Product Line – Small Commercial Vehicle Business Unit, Tata Motors, says that the SCV business is “blessed” with the work of developing petrol engines by the company’s passenger vehicle business unit many years ago. A good amount of that work will be leveraged now to develop more petrol SCVs.
The move is crucial as it will help Tata Motors to be more competitive with petrol engines, which are less expensive that diesel engines, especially in the BS VI regime. “The petrol engine is far more peppier (than the Ace diesel engine), its gradeability is much better, its drive is much better, its NVH level is much better. So, we are seeing the customers are really loving to drive a petrol commercial vehicle,” Pathak tells Autocar Professional. The Nano’s petrol engine was tuned to offer a flat torque curve, and that has also helped the Tata Ace to offer fuel efficiency that’s similar to a diesel engine while offering enough torque for carrying goods.
The Tata Ace petrol is currently one of the two such SCVs in the market. The other one is the Maruti Suzuki Carry, which entered the market a couple of months before the Ace petrol. Though not at the same level as in the passenger vehicle market, petrol is also set to be more preferred in the SCV market. From the OEM perspective, the strategy is being adopted to meet the second phase of BS VI regime in 2022/23, which will require vehicles to meet RDE (Real Drive Emission) norms.
For Tata Motors, it is also a strategy to enhance the value proposition of its products in the BS VI era. “We also realised that certain other factors like fuel cost, maintenance costs, particularly with respect to the emission technology that was coming in would again further burden the customers. So, if you look at the products that we have brought out in commercial vehicles in Tata Motors, you will see a huge amount of value creation for the customer, which actually is leading towards a much better TCO than what it was in BS IV,” says Pathak. The Ace petrol, for example, claims 15-20 percent better fuel efficiency than the BS IV diesel Ace. And at Rs 441,000 (ex-showroom, Thane), it’s Rs 87,000 cheaper than the BS VI diesel Ace.
Autocar Professional was the first to break the story, in March 2015, about Tata Motors’ plans to develop petrol SCVs. With the first product out in the market, and receiving a warm initial response, the company plans to offer 3-4 more petrol variants of the Ace in the next four months or so. At least one of them could be fitted with an engine derived from the 1.4 litre petrol engine that powered the Tata Indigo sedan earlier.
Preparations are underway at Tata Motors to tap the projected trend for petrol in the SCV industry. “Our sense is that most of the small commmercial vehicles, and a bit of the pick-up market will migrate to petrol over the next 3-4 years,” says Pathak. He adds that once the next phase of BS VI kicks in, “there will not be much of a choice” to sustain the competitiveness of these vehicles.