Discussions are now underway between a unit of the DRB-Hicom group and India's Tata Engineering & Locomotive Co. Ltd. (TELCO) for the assembly of a new TATA-designed 4WD model at Malaysian Truck & Bus Sdn Bhd (MTB) at the Peramu Jaya Industrial Estat...
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|The TATA Safari - coming soon?|
|Rear view of the TATA Safari from India.|
Discussions are now underway between a unit of the DRB-Hicom group and India's Tata Engineering & Locomotive Co. Ltd. (TELCO) for the assembly of a new TATA-designed 4WD model at Malaysian Truck & Bus Sdn Bhd (MTB) at the Peramu Jaya Industrial Estate near Pekan, Pahang.
This was revealed by DRB-Hicom Chairman Tan Sri Dato' Seri Mohd Saleh bin Sulong while he was speaking to the press about developments in the company, especially with regard to the production facilities.
"Our subsidiary Scott & English, which holds the TATA franchise, is presently having discussions with TELCO on the possibility of assembling some of its models at MTB," said Tan Sri Mohd Saleh, adding that it is not the Indica
hatchback but a 4WD model.
Although he did not identify the specific model, it is most likely to be the TATA Safari which the company introduced in 1998 and is now exporting to Italy and Spain (and later this year, to Switzerland and Liechtenstein). The Safari is about the same size as a Nissan Terrano and has 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine producing 66 kW (90 bhp).
The choice of the Safari instead of the Charade-sized Indica is probably due to not wanting to bring a competitor to the national cars. According to a DRB-Hicom source, if the model does come in, it can probably be positioned
below the Mitsubishi Pajero and Isuzu Trooper.
"The prices of the Pajero and Trooper are now quite high so we need a model that is lower-priced," the source told Autoworld.com.my. Certainly, if the Safari is made available, it will present competition for the Nissan
Terrano which is now having that price segment all to itself (unless you include the Land Rover Defender).
MTB and AMM, its sister company in the same industrial estate, are now actively looking for more contract assembly work and have ongoing discussions with a number of other leading automakers. He declined to
identify the parties and refused to comment on rumours of a business tie-up with Honda which have been circulating lately. However, it is known that one of the companies is US giant General Motors although GM is also having discussions with some other companies as well, possibly with a view of assembling an Opel product. But AMM/MTB would have an edge as they already have a long relationship with GM-owned Isuzu Motors which, in fact, has equity in the two plants.
Some RM520 million has been invested in the two factories (the AMM factory was originally purchased from TATA Industries in the early 1980s for RM12.5 million) plus a few other related operations nearby and there is now excess capacity which needs to be utilised.
"We definitely want more business," said Tan Sri Mohd Saleh. "MTB has a capacity of 30,000 units a year but it is presently using only about a third of that capacity. AMM can assemble up to 60,000 cars annually but it's only
going to do about 10,000 units this year."
The DRB-Hicom Chairman emphasised that in spite of the excess capacity, there was no intention at all of scaling down the operations, let alone close down the complex. "During the economic crisis, we were hit very, very hard but we were able to manage our two plants without retrenching anyone, and never have we thought of closing down our operations at the Peramu Jaya Industrial Estate," he said.
"As the biggest employer in the district with a few thousand employees, we realise that we have a responsibility since our actions also affect many thousands more," he said, adding that there are now efforts to draw
component makers from the west coast to the Peramu Jaya Industrial Estate and create an even larger automotive-based industrial area in Pahang.