Tata Motors is working on a family of low-cost composite cars that is expected to complement the Nano, the automaker’s ultra-low-cost car, said two people close to the project. However, opinion is divided on when to launch these vehicles, one of the persons said. While one school of thought believes the composite car would be a good foil to the Nano, the prevalent view in the company is that the car business should be stabilised before launching a new vehicle based on ‘non-conventional’ technology and design. A more likely launch before the composite car, therefore, would be that of a premium small car to be built on a refurbished Indica platform. Globally, composite vehicles are made of carbon fibre, which makes them expensive. To reduce costs, the Tata car will use a material called poly-diallyl-phthalate (PDP), which is used for industrial applications. Still, the car will cost slightly more than the Nano range.
Cars made of composites have their advantages because they are light-weight, thereby making the vehicles more fuel-efficient. Materials such as PDP can also help drive down costs as they are cheaper than the conventional steel and aluminum used to make car frames and bodywork. The car will be stronger, safer, lighter and simpler to make, and can be produced with lower investments than a conventional metal-body car. A metal-body car has at least 500 bits and pieces while a composite car has just 25 moulds. The low-cost composite platform will also be modular. A Tata Motors spokesperson did not reply to an emailed questionnaire. However, a person aware of the strategy said the immediate priority of the automaker was conventional technology — rather than composites — and to stabilise the sales of the current range of products. Karl Slym, the managing director of India’s largest automaker by revenues, has initiated a major restructuring exercise with an intent to make Tata Motors the second-largest carmaker by sales and ensure its leadership position in the commercial vehicles space by 2020. The composite car has been successfully crash-tested at the Pune facilities of Tata Motors, but most of the work on the project has been done in Italy. In fact, a prototype of the car is currently in Italy.
The car’s architecture and construction is the brainchild of Italian designer Marcello Gandini, who is known for the use of composites in supercars such as Lamborghini’s Miura and the Countach. Tata Motors has purchased the technology and design from Gandini, who has been at the forefront of the trend towards multi-material (steel, aluminum, and composites) joining technologies.