Tata Motors, which had two years earlier objected to the creation of quadricycles as a new vehicle category, citing low safety standards, now seems to be toeing a very different line. The automaker, India’s largest by revenues, is quietly developing under ‘project Bravo’ its own quadricycle with a new petrol engine, Business Standard has learnt. A launch date has not yet been fixed but industry sources say this quadricycle could be based on Tata’s Iris light commercial vehicle platform and hit the roads around 2018. Such a timeline could make Tata one of the last entrants in a category where Bajaj already has a lead with the RE60. Also, both Piaggio and Mahindra (Code: C101) are said to have sped up development of their products. Earlier, Tata Motors had gone public to criticise Bajaj Auto over the RE60. “The quadricycle project is in a very early stage right now and the product is being finalised in many aspects. One can expect requests for qualification to be sent to suppliers in a few months,” says a source close to the development.
In 2004, a proposal by its then passenger vehicle business head V Sumantran was attacked by rivals Maruti Suzuki and even Bajaj Auto, on the grounds of safety. Gaurav Vangaal, senior analyst for light vehicle forecasting at IHS Automotive, says: “The potential of quadricycles has been well recognised by Bajaj, and Tata’s entry into this segment should not be seen as a surprise. Most big manufacturers will follow suit. The worry, though, is Bajaj’s first-mover advantage.” As defined by the government, quadricycles will be limited to city use and replace three-wheelers as a new commercial transport option. Cheaper and lighter than a passenger cars and light trucks, which by India’s Central Motor Vehicle Rules (CMVR) fall under the M1 and N1 categories, respectively, quadricycles will have a maximum design speed of 70 km per hour, and will at most weigh 450 kg (passenger) or 550 kg (goods version). Though approved for rollout through a government notification dated February 19 last year, quadricycles are yet to hit the roads because of a stay order from several high courts across the country. Many individuals and autorickshaw associations have filed petitions seeking quashing of the notification to create the new vehicle category, a development that Bajaj Auto has said is “instigated”. Bajaj has invested Rs 550 crore in development of the RE60 and setting up of an annual manufacturing capacity of 60,000 units at its Aurangabad plant. Earlier this month, however, the central government had filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a transfer of all nine public-interest petitions on the new vehicle category to the apex court. The government hopes the court will lift the stay, paving the way for quadricycles to be launched.
The Tata Motors scrip closed 1.55% down to Rs 565.05 on Tuesday.