As told to Sirish Chandran
The Tata Motors – Jayem Automobiles partnership goes back nearly two decades when J A Motorsport built the Indica Sport, a faster and better-handling Indica that ran as forward cars for the Indian Rally Championship. Over the years Jayem has become one of India’s largest automotive testing and validation consultancies, employing over 1100 people, and a very close development partner of Tata Motors. Meanwhile the motorsport arm, J A Motorsport, has built India’s fastest and most sophisticated single-seaters, the carbon-tubbed MRF F2000, in addition to running Team MRF’s rally cars when they were active in the INRC. The partnership now steps up a gear with JT Special Vehicles (JTSV), a 50:50 joint venture that will make sporty versions of regular Tata cars and SUVs. We spoke to the men behind JTSV, J Anand (co-founder and MD of Jayem Automobiles), Nagbhushan Gubbi (CEO of JTSV and a 35 year Tata Motors veteran who formerly headed engineering) and Vivek Srivatsa (who is also Tata Motors’ marketing head).
“The first two products that we did under that were the Bolt Sport and Zest. We did review those products but felt that those were not good enough to express what we wanted to do”
Sirish Chandran: When did the project start?
Nagbhushan Gubbi: The inherent joy for motoring has always been there since we started the car business. If you recollect with the very first car, the Tata Indica, in the year 2002, we did the Indica Sport. That was the first time that Tata Motors and Jayem Automobiles came to work on this unique proposition. After Geneva Motor Show in 2017, that is when the idea of seriously getting into a performance brand was taken up by the management and the formation of this joint venture with Jayem Automobiles was signed in March 2017.
The first two products that we did under that were the Bolt Sport and Zest. We did review those products but felt that those were not good enough to express what we wanted to do.So we kicked off a project based on the Tiago and Tigor platforms which is a new and lighter platform for working on. We configured this product sometime in August 2017, a prototype was driven by all the senior management people and they liked it. The go-ahead was given at that point in time for this project and showcased it at the Auto Expo earlier this year.
“When it comes to performance brand, you need the thought process of a person who has been a race driver.”
SC: Why not ERC driven and why the tie up with Jayem?
NG: There were two reasons. When it comes to performance brand, you need the thought process of a person who has been a race driver. So if you see all the performance brands, the main person who has driven the thing is the person who has actually participated in these performance car events. Mr Anand being the expert in this business, we thought he should have the free hand to design, develop and configure the aspects of the car that need to be then engineered. The enthusiast has actually designed and configured the car and then the systems and processes of Tata Motors make it into a business product which can be sold – that way we added a lot of value and that’s how the combination was. I think it is a brilliant combination which probably is an example for the Indian automotive industry.
Check out our drive review of the Tata Tiago JTP and Tigor JTP here
SC: Anand, you have been working with Tata Motors for very long. Why did it take so long to come to this?
J Anand: First we started with Indica Sport, went to Vista, Bolt and then to the Tiago and Tigor. We do a lot of projects with Tata Motors as skunk work projects – some to explore and trying to get things done. We always had good support from engineering and management but then somehow we couldn’t get all of them on into the same boat.
NG: If I were to kind of intervene, sometimes the opportunities were there and the windows were very short. Sometimes the product themselves was on the way out and a new product was coming. Newer and better products from the competition, made us have a second thought and realise that we are not there yet. It is still a white space as nobody has come with a performance brand and this kind of product positioning in the market. So I think it is great timing and great product, and it is right for us to go into the market at this moment.
SC: Talk me through the JTSV setup
NG: You won’t believe that the men on the rolls of JTSV are about 10 today. But we heavily leveraged our competencies both in Tata Motors and Jayem. We are a very lean and agile company. We are also very flexible. So this whole thing about wanting to do this product in Coimbatore or Pune or in Sanand was still a fluid kind of situation. We were able to kind of fix all those points and get all those business case requirements in place so that we were able to make the decision quickly and more forward.
“You won’t believe that the men on the rolls of JTSV are about 10 today. But we heavily leveraged our competencies both in Tata Motors and Jayem”
SC: Who does the designing?
NG: We don’t want to create a brand-new product. Here we have already got a turbo charged engine and all the parts were already developed. It was a matter of putting them together in the right framework and then doing the tuning. So the entire concept was Mr Anand and his team’s idea of which aggregates and which parts to take, how they will fit in and how they will be executed. Where we came in was we were holding a mirror and saying that if this is what you want to do, these are the things to take care of, these are the tests to perform and these are the issues that might come up later so you need to guard against that. They were the makers and we were the checkers. Then we looked at where and how to source the parts and logistics, which factories are more suitable for this kind of a thing does it make sense to ship the entire body from one place to another or do the whole thing over there. All these things were looked at and then it worked like a well-oiled machine.
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Vivek Srivatsa: In terms of engineering design, it was led by Jayem team. But the design of the car, Pratap Bose is also a director, so there is a large influence of Pratap at how the JTP will evolve. Hence you see there is a good consistency in the way it develops from the base product. It’s not something that looks completely alien.
SC: Is it right to say Coimbatore is the home of JTP?
SC: Was it developed on the race track or the road?
JA: We used bad roads, near the windmill farms, so that we could accelerate failures. What can happen on the torture track it can happen here much quicker. Track was used for checking certain things like the hubs and wheels. It is a mix of everything. We also used the motorsport rally roads, the winding roads near Palladam [windmill farms] and the race track.
NG: The tribute to this way of testing has resulted in a suspension – I don’t know whether you have experienced this – no matter how fast or slow, you are never jarred out of your seat and you don’t feel that bump stopper come in and give you a shock. Those are the kind of things that very good tuners would know how to do it and manage this whole thing.
“The enthusiast has actually designed and configured the car and then the systems and processes of Tata Motors make it into a business product which can be sold – that way we added a lot of value and that’s how the combination was. “
SC: All your motorsport experience Anand, how does it translate into this car?
JA: When you drive the car, unless you see the speedometer, you wouldn’t know that you are doing 100 miles an hour (160kmph) and that’s what we felt it has to come in, because it has to give you confidence. Most important is the steering wheel. When you see the steering wheel, including the steering grip, the diameter of the steering wheel, you have a solid feel. The gearbox is also very slick – the shift and all the small things add up. The wheels are wide and the footprint is almost square. We have 185 section tyres and we asked the manufacturers to give the widest rim size so that we can use the maximum of the tyre without compromises. What we have is like a blue printed car. Even MRF went through seven iterations for the tyre.
VS: Going back a year and half, even before JTSV was formed, the first time all of us got together along with Guenter, Anand had retrofitted the engine onto a Tiago. The first time we drove on the car was at the Kari Track and we realised that the Tiago works well. It was actually the spark that started the whole thing. This was before the company – JTSV was formed. So it was born on the track and made for the road.
SC: What has been done to the gearshifts?
NG: First thing is that it had to handle the higher torque of 150Nm. We had to change the ratio of the middle portion because we had so much torque there. You can do 30kmph to 120kmph in third gear, which is a delight during those overtaking manoeuvres, when you want to negotiate the traffic and more. The ratios are different from the earlier applications and particularly, the third gear ratio is different.
SC: Why not that six speed gearbox?
NG: The 6-speed gearbox was meant for a bigger engine bay. Tiago and Tigor had already been constructed as a platform, therefore they had not been considered for its width. When you add one more pair of gears, you need space and have to rework the body mounts. It is a major intervention to the body. Not that it can’t be done, it can be done, but it means a new car and a new body. When we looked at it, the way car’s performance is mapped to five gears, the sixth gear is only needed for fuel economy. Since this wasn’t required for any kind of a customer profile, we went on with the five speed gearbox.
SC: The engine is obviously taken from the Nexon?
NG: That’s right. It is the stock Nexon engine, but the entire engine and exhaust system has been changed. The mapping and fuelling have also been changed. As a result, the throttle response you get here is completely different from that of a Nexon. And in the city and sport mode that you have, you will find that the throttle response is completely different. So when a guy who has driven a Nexon drives this, he will not say that it is the same engine. And the fact that it is a freer breathing engine, we are able to extract more horsepower out of it.
We have capped the torque. We don’t want the torque to get to a point where you get into wheelspin and stuff like that. And the fact that it’s a freer breathing engine, we’re able to get more horse power out of it so it’s 114hp [112.4bhp]. We said that we’ll make it safe but at the same time the fun factor should not be lost.
“Here we have already got a turbo charged engine and all the parts were already developed. It was a matter of putting them together in the right framework and then doing the tuning.”
SC: On the suspension front, are the dampers different, have you lowered the suspension, used stiffer springs?
NG: We’ve using slightly bigger wheels so the ground clearance went up. We had to compensate for that to bring it down, but we also realised that bringing it down too much, would make it difficult for bad roads. It is now lower than the stock Tiago and in terms of handling, you must have realised that it’s far better. Purely because of the way the suspension and tyres have been configured. We have been able to manage that with a very low intervention of the engineered parts.
SC: And also, the geometry of the suspension has been altered?
JA: The wheels now sit square, so with camber, caster and toe-in, those have been configured for this. So, when you normally drive a front wheel drive car, it needs to be set to toe-in so that when the power comes on it becomes parallel. You don’t want to go on toe-out on acceleration and that’s what we have done. And the most important thing is that camber is now negative and not positive. So, it gives you that planted feel in the car.
SC: Who are you targeting these cars at?
VS: There are a lot of people who have the passion in the heart, but they’ve forgotten that it’s there. I think, the minute they see this car, there will be that excitement and when they drive it they know that they want it. The vision of our company is to bring back the joy of motoring. In all our communication, it is to bring back that passion of motoring, and we believe every customer has that inside him. If you look at the demographics, it’s a younger customer. So, to answer your question precisely, instead of targeting a particular type of customer, we want to set flame to the passion in every customer. When they see and drive that car, hopefully that passion should boil over.
SC: Will this lead to a motorsport program?
VS: Yes, it a question of bandwidth and time, you will see that more products will be brought to the range carrying the JTP logo. We also want a branch of JTP performance accessorisation and merchandise as well. These are immediate priorities. But for sure getting into some kind of organized motorsport activity will be there. Just to show that the cars have that level of capability.
“Where we came in was we were holding a mirror and saying that if this is what you want to do, these are the things to take care of, these are the tests to perform and these are the issues that might come up later so you need to guard against that. They were the makers and we were the checkers”
SC: Will there be a diesel JTP?
VS: The thoughts have come but at the moment we have parked them aside. If you want to look at Harrier, possibly it is there.
NG: Anand is a torque man. But we will have to see how the diesel market moves. Right today 50 per cent of our Nexon sale are petrol variants. And with BSVI coming in, our diesel JTP cannot be on BSIV. It has to be on BSVI. So, we’ll have to see how our demand for diesel is after BSVI. And there’s a three-year window around it so probably we might do it.
SC: Will there be an automatic JTP?
NG: It can be there. One school of thought is that these guys don’t want automatics. They want to be in control of the car. But there’s another school of thought that says if it is also bringing the joy of motoring in today’s scenario in a city, there are times when you do feel frustrated and you want an automatic.
VS: Honestly, we’re not still frozen on the future. One of the advantages that we have is that we’re quick and agile. We learnt a lot from the response of the first two cars. And probably in the next six months we kind of know what we’re looking forward but the areas that I mentioned in terms of performance oriented accessorisation and merchandise. But engine, powertrain, and which products will get the JTP logo is still in progress.
SC: Where are the JTP cars made?
VS: One of the keys things is that these are rolling from the normal Tiago and Tigor assembly line [in Sanand], and we think this is the biggest strength. There’s hardly any retro fitment that is happening, the bumpers and all other elements get fitted on the line.
NG: We don’t want to disturb the rate of production of the assembly line and whatever the additional fitment is there we do it off-line in the sub-assembly or as a fitment in the station. We have engineered the entire process in a manner that it doesn’t disturb the line because that’s one of the fundamental things of any large-scale program. It’s worked so far on the Tiago and Tigor and that’s the way we’ll keep it. But tomorrow if there is a demand for an SVO, we’ll look at the opportunity.
“When you drive the car, unless you see the speedometer, you wouldn’t know that you are doing 100 miles an hour (160kmph) and that’s what we felt it has to come in, because it has to give you confidence”
VS: If you look at the situation Tata is in now, let’s be honest, people have been questioning the quality levels of a normal car and when we present to them a performance version we need to convince them that this car is a quality product. And if you say that I’ve taken the car out and removed the engine, it can’t work. You would have seen that it’s like an OE car, it doesn’t feel like a retro fitted car, that’s the confidence now we have. But going forward obviously it will become an SVO.
SC: The tyres, are they unique to the car?
NG: Yes, it is unique, the weight, the compound and the tread pattern is specific to what Mr Anand wanted in terms of performance. MRF specially developed seven iterations for us.
SC: How is the warranty done?
NG: Front end of the warranty is JTSV, but it’s backed by the product warranty which carried over from the Tiago.
VS: Not only the production is on the same line, select dealerships are also the same. The warranty mechanism, after sales mechanism, in fact after sales service periods and maintenance cycles also have not changed. The whole thing is that we don’t want to disturb the customer. At the same time, we’re giving them something which is not on the stock car and that’s been the key. Have I given maximum with minimum disruptions to the customer, as well as the maker of the car? That is the key to the whole thing.
“It was born on the track and made for the road.”
SC: Who has been your inspiration?
JA: You know I was a very good friend of Tom Walkinshaw. He unfortunately he passed away and we wanted to do something together
SC: How has your life changed now that you’re a manufacturer?
JA: [Literally pulling his hair] For example, if I want to change pedal, I have to think ten times because we have to make sure that lasts for the full cycle. If you want to change the seat you have to go through regulatory changes. You can’t make the car low because people rip the exhaust. You can’t run on 16-inch wheels and lower the car handles, then you have a flat tyre. Noise, throttle response, it all has regulatory constraints. And to go through all the constraints and still make it lively is the challenge.
SC: The whole idea JTSV is you do things that probably cannot be done under a larger umbrella?
VS: First, you need to be a believer. And you also need the ability to solve the issues that come up. You need a big heart for this kind of a business. Never say die and that’s our moto.
JA: Another important things is, when you drive the car you don’t need to drive kilometres, within first 500 meters you should know the difference.