Tata Motors banks on truck racing to spruce sales

Four years ago Daimler, the world's oldest and best known automotive brand, entered India with the commercial launch of its medium and heavy duty truck range.

The Germany-headquartered company launched what it defined as products that were built ground-up in India from scratch. These new cargo trucks branded under Bharat Benz promised superior performance at a price which was only slightly higher than its Indian peers.   

Daimler's entry into India had shaken up the medium and heavy commercial vehicle market which was 80% controlled by just two players – Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland.

It is around this time that Tata Motors, which is the country's biggest truck making company, floated the idea of an annual truck racing championship to be held at the Noida-based Buddh International Circuit (BIC), which used to host the Formula 1 races. The idea was to give its flagship brand Prima a jump-start.

R Ramakrishnan, vice president, commercial vehicle Tata Motors said, “Back then in the face of global players we were successful but as a traditional player. We would give out an image of a third world technology.”

The Prima competed in the domestic market against products from well-known brands like Volvo, Daimler, MAN, AMW and Scania. It remained a fringe product for many years as competition proved to be too strong.

“In 2009 we launched the Prima. The numbers were not significant but it did a few things. It created a brand for the first time, it gave a set of identity and values which suddenly made Tata and Prima look very different from the conventional image”, added Ramakrishnan.

To prove its mettle Prima was chosen for the T1 truck racing championship that was to have its inaugural run in 2014. While the Prima was to burn rubber around the BIC Tata Motors' rivals Bharat Benz and Volvo-Eicher were flexing its muscle fast and thick, gaining market share in the retail market.

“Among other things we looked at truck racing as one way of showcasing the technology of Prima. The race is a proof of reliability, durability ruggedness of the product”, added Ramakrishnan.

The Mumbai-based company approached fleet owners and individual buyers to hand pick drivers to begin with. Amongst the hundreds who applied Tata Motors chose more than a dozen to further train them on driving the Prima. A number of component supplying companies partnered Tata Motors for the event.

There are a total of six teams – Castrol Vecton, Cummins, Dealer Daredevils, Dealer Warriors, Tata Technologies Motorsports and Tata Motors Finance. It will have 12 international racers and for the first time 17 Indian racers as well. These Primas are specially built trucks with a top speed of 130kmph.

Now into its third year the Prima T1 championship is beginning to achieve its targets. New orders from not just within the country but from outside as well are getting placed for the Prima. Sales run rate of the Prima, which is typically priced between Rs 22-30 lakh, has shot up significantly over the last two years.

“International distributors were invited for the race. They were impressed by what the Prima could do. They went back and placed orders and we are now getting repeat orders. Compared to any European competition the Prima is 15-20% cheaper. Our international business is hitting almost 500 a month and domestic business is also hitting 500 a month now. Domestic sales three years back was hardly 100 units and international had not even started. The leap that Prima is making in brand identity and technology outside if the country is huge”, added Ramakrishnan.

The medium and heavy commercial vehicle (goods) market reported a growth of 32% in the April-February period this year with sales of 227,224 units, as per data shared by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers.

Tata Motors during the same period and in the same segment reported a rise of 27% at 125,586 units in domestic sale, with a share of 55%. Primas constitute a small percentage of Tata Motors’ total MHCV sales but company officials are happy to report changing perception of the consumer towards Tata Motors.  

“South Africa, Middle East, Korea these are areas where the Prima is running successfully and against contemporary global players. The numbers will come but it’s the image, more importantly, that is changing”, added Ramakrishnan.

While truck racing is alien to Indian auto enthusiasts it is very common in countries like US, UK and France with races held every year. At least nine races are set to be held in Europe alone this year with participating companies being MAN, Scania, Mercedes and Iveco. As a future target Tata Motors also wants to participate in these international races.

“We have two targets outside the country, one is to participate in a race and second is put an Indian racer in an international race. We are also exploring possibilities of having race for other products like Ultra or Ace in India in the future”, added Ramakrishnan.