At 80, passion for cars still drives Ratan Tata

Murali Gopalan Mumbai | Updated on January 09, 2018

Launching the smallest car Nano in 2009

Ratan Tata with Cyrus Mistry

Launching the smallest car Nano

Getting set to fly a US F-16 fighter at Aero India 2007 in Bengaluru

Ratan Tata with Mario Garcia, President and CEO, Garcia Media, at the relaunch of new look BusinessLine, in Chennai.   -  The Hindu

Ratan Tata, Chairman of Tata Sons, rings the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange in 2004

The man who put the group onto the global stage

It was three weeks ago when Ratan Tata made one of his rare public appearances while flagging off the Tigor electric car from the assembly line at Sanand, Gujarat.

As he turns 80 on Thursday, it is quite apparent that his enthusiasm for cars is intact. After all, it was he who put the Tata group on the car map with the Indica over two decades ago, soon after he took over as Chairman.

Tata was also present at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year and was clearly the cynosure of all eyes.

The preceding months had been dramatic for the group with the abrupt ouster of Cyrus Mistry as Chairman. This was the time Tata came in for flak from some quarters with critics questioning the move.

After all, they reasoned, he had stepped down as Chairman in 2012 and there was really no reason for Mistry to be shown the door especially after all the fanfare that accompanied his anointment. Admittedly, this took quite a bit of the sheen off Tata but the way people queued up to him at Geneva clearly showed that his charisma was intact.

Sure, he looked quite frail and it was evident that his back was not in the best of shape. Keeping him company was the new Tata Sons Chairman, N Chandrasekaran but journalists still made a beeline for Tata who was visiting the Geneva show after four years.

“These cars are all fantastic,” he said, a reference to the models lined up at the company’s pavilion.

Insiders at Bombay House, the corporate headquarters of the Tata group, say the octogenarian continues to be active even while age has slowed him down.

The larger-than-life figure stems from the fact that this was the man who truly put the group onto the global stage even while some decisions like the Corus buyout did not quite work to plan.

As is well known, Tata is a fiercely private person and it also explains why he is the centre of attention each time he makes the occasional appearance as was evident in Geneva. There is also an old-school elegance about him which is apparent in the way he speaks and how measured his statements are.

Perhaps, this also has to do with the fact that he is shy and not very comfortable in a crowd. As a result, he remains an enigma to the world outside.

Yet, Tata can open up as this writer realised during an interaction with him some years ago when he spoke passionately for over an hour about the ₹1-lakh car (which was still to be launched) and why it was so important for a country like India. There were a host of other subjects he discussed during the course of this interview which only reflected his passion for Tata Motors in the mobility space.

Nano launch

When the Nano was unveiled at the 2008 Delhi Auto Expo, the crowds went wild especially when Tata referred to the ₹1-lakh price tag with the now historic words, ‘A promise is a promise.’ It was also interesting to see the reactions of some international journalists at the unveiling who were all praise for this effort in making the Nano a reality.

This was also the year Tata Motors acquired Jaguar Land Rover for a hefty $2.3 billion, barely 18 months after the far costlier Corus deal.

The global slowdown followed and the JLR buyout did not seem a wise move in hindsight.

Today, it is the lifeline for the company’s passenger car business and this is where Tata will have reason to feel doubly pleased with his decision.

Published on December 27, 2017

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