Tata tested in luxury market

11 May 2009

NEW DELHI: It's now more than a year since India's Tata Motors, headed by tycoon Ratan Tata, paid just over £1bn to buy upmarket car marques Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford. At the time, some people thought the deal was a steal, with Jaguar about to begin production of its eagerly-awaited new XF saloon and Land Rover perched atop the profitable SUV market.

But then came the credit crunch and sales of luxury cars have plummeted with even giants BMW and Mercedes turning in hefty first quarter losses.

For its part, Tata has gone cap in hand to the UK government, asking it to underwrite a €380m (£340m, $502m) EU loan that it says is essential to maintaining production of the cars, and thousands of jobs, in the UK. Many in the government, and lots of commentators outside it, are unhappy that Tata Motors appeared unwilling to dip into its own pockets to support its new investment.

Longer term a bigger problem is likely to be the consolidation currently taking place in the car market, with luxury brands like Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Maserati and Lamborghini all abandoning independent existence in favour of joining forces with one of the bigger manufacturers. Now even Porsche, proudly independent for decades, looks like it's going to be taken over by VW.

Even Toyota, the biggest car company in the world and the owner of the Lexus luxury brand, has been hammered by the crunch, reporting an annual loss of $4.4bn on Friday.

Industry analysts are already questioning whether Tata has the firepower to compete in this sector and in Europe.

Data sourced from The Times; additional content by WARC staff